Relationships with students in a class setting are like relationships with colleagues and students outside. If students feel like the instructor is a part of the class and not a fixture in the room that makes talking sounds and changes PowerPoint slides, then they are much more likely to express their concerns, troubles, and enthusiasm. Showing good leadership skills rather than simply lecturing is, in my opinion, a good way to engage students whilst covering all that needs to be covered in the curriculum. I find that I am best able to gauge where students are by engaging them in discussion. This way, I can not only tell where people are day by day but also notice when written assignments don’t quite match the level of their knowledge that they demonstrate on the spot.
At the university level, we are no longer feeding facts to students in hopes that they do well on standardised tests. We are teaching them to develop and express their own ideas about the topics we present. Talking to students as though they are mature and intelligent adults creates a better dynamic than talking down to them or forcing ones own views on them. Taking individual learning styles, interests, and abilities into account is very important. It may not always be possible to tailor classes to completely suit all students, but an effort should be made. There is almost always something you can do to improve learning.
Ensuring that the whole class understands the material before moving on, especially in maths-based classes is essential to maintaining a cohesive group. It is easy to get a small clique of students who ‘get it’ and run the class according to what they understand. It takes reminding oneself to engage the rest of the class, including those who are slower to pick up the concepts, to finish with a class that understands the material well. This may necessitate explaining concepts to individuals or small groups outside of class, going over material multiple times in class in different ways, giving additional assignments and checking them, or whatever else may be appropriate to their needs. Students may find it easier to keep track of material that is presented in an organised way. Having an outline of the presentation on the board during class is one way to do this. Having a plan posted and sticking to it helps students know what to expect and where things are headed.
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