Submitted by: Laura Simon, William Ridgway, Madeline Bruce, and Adam Green
Classroom Discussion and Attention Seekers
In The College Classroom: Conflict, Change, and Learning, Mann et al. (1970) discuss eight student classifications: compliant, anxious-dependent, discouraged worker, independent, hero, silent student, sniper, and attention seeker. Various needs underlie each classification, resulting in different approaches when it comes to classroom management. For example, consider the attention seeker — an individual who will continually try to be noticed, suggesting a cooperative orientation. When it comes to classroom discussion, attention seekers are appreciated for their ability to help keep the discussion going; however, the role of attention seekers can stand in the way of other students’ chances to participate in the discussion. In approaching such a dilemma, Svinicki and McKeachie (2014) recommend conveying to the class the importance associated with each student’s unique perspective. Instructors can also ensure that each student has had the chance to speak when calling on different individuals raising their hand to participate. In cases where the instructor is still experiencing an issue, a conversation can occur outside the classroom. While these conversations can be approached using different methods, certain comments can be beneficial in allowing for the instructor and attention seeker to be viewed as collaborators, such as “The other students are starting to depend on you to do all the work, so let’s make them speak up more” (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014, p. 178).
Prevention is Key!
● Ground rules: syllabus and first day. Firm but fair. Transparency and clear expectations
● Awareness of your environment: classroom sizes influencing how an instructor responds (structure of the course - sizes of classes and discussion; knowing exits for emergency)
● Creating a space
● Be aware of department and university policies
● Have a mentor: try to learn from their experiences, address the groundwork that is being laid before a problem arises.
● Heterodox Academy provides a sample syllabus statement to establish ground rules for difficult conversations
● To create a classroom environment that supports respectful, critical inquiry through the free exchange of ideas, the following principles will guide interactions among all of us in this class:
● Treat every member of the class with respect, even if you disagree with their opinion
● Reasonable minds can differ on any number of perspectives, opinions, and conclusions
● Know that constructive disagreement sharpens thinking and deepens understanding
● You will not be graded on whether your instructor or peers agree with your opinions
● You will be graded on the evidence and reasoning that leads to those opinions
● These principles guide the following expectations:
● Sharing diverse perspectives, informed by critical thought and presented with compassion for others, is highly encouraged.
● Respecting those who are sharing information and ideas. This includes actively listening to what others are saying and supporting each other by contributing to discussions.”
In the Moment
At some point in the semester, there will be a situation that you were not able to prevent or anticipate. Having situations is normal, how you react to it is what is important.
● Use your resources
● Do not hesitate to call your university’s classroom assistance, maintenance, IT, etc. as soon as possible.
● While being true to yourself and your communication style, you can appropriately use humor or exert an authoritative presence.
● Moderate the discussion
● Remind students of ground rules.
● Remain calm and model appropriate behavior.
● Allowing all students the opportunity to have a voice.
● Validate students’ emotions.
● Reframe or de-escalate to the best of your abilities.
● Being the authority in the room may be a new role for you but take comfort in knowing you can step up to the challenge.
● You are probably going to get uncomfortable questions at some point (whether it is about the content or classroom expectations, etc.). It is okay to say you do not know, research the question, and come back with information. This models a humility and tenacity that will help our students.
● If necessary, address the issue, whether that is directly or indirectly. "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented" -Elie Wiesel.
After the Fact
● Address the problem with your supervisor as soon as possible.
● Be sure to make incident documentation if appropriate. Depending on the situation, it can be very important to create a paper trail with a detailed report of what happened.
● Re-state ground rules and review expectations the next day.
● Take care of yourself! Classroom management can be stressful, be sure to use your support systems and coping skills.
Mann, R. D., Arnold, S. M., Binder, J. L., Cytrynbaum, S., Newman, B. M., Ringwald, B. E., Ringwald, J. W., & Rosenwein, R. (1970). The college classroom: Conflict, change, and learning. Wiley.
Svinicki, M., & McKeachie, W. (2014). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. Cengage.
Congratulations to GSTA Steering Committee member Madeline Bruce for proposing her dissertation with distinction this summer.