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Fostering Student Morale and Confidence

Early in the term

  • A cheerleading squad lying in a circleIntroduce yourself to your class. Tell them about your background: how you first became interested in the subject, how it has been important to you, and why you are teaching this course. Genuinely convey your enthusiasm for the field and the subject. If you are comfortable doing so, introduce yourself so that your students know more than your name and contact information (e.g., outside interests, family, academic history, personal experiences).
  • Give students an opportunity to meet each other. Ask students to divide themselves into groups of three to five and introduce themselves. Or go around the room and ask all students to respond to one question, such as “What’s the one thing you really want to learn from this course?” or “What aspect of the course seems most appealing to you?”
  • Invite students to fill out an introduction card. Suggest that they indicate their name, year in school, major field of study, goals in the course, career plans, and so on.
  • Learn students’ names. By learning and using your students’ names, you can create a comfortable classroom environment that will encourage student interaction. Knowing your students’ names also tells them that you are interested in them as individuals.
  • Divide students into small groups. Give groups a small task, such as a brainstorming exercise, then place responses on the board for discussion and interpretation.
  • Encourage students to actively support one another. Help them connect with at one or two other students in the class whom they can contact about missed classes, homework assignments, study groups and so on. You might also use the learning management system to create an online discussion forum where students can respond to each other's queries.  

Throughout the term

  • Let students know that they are not faces in an anonymous audience. In large courses, students often think that their classroom behaviour (eating, talking, sleeping, arriving late, etc.) goes unnoticed. Remind students that you and their classmates are aware of -- and affected by -- their behaviour. 
  • If your class has extra seating space, ask students to refrain from sitting in certain rows of the classroom. For example, if you teach in a room that has rowed seating, ask students to sit in rows 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 and so on so that you can walk through the audience where there is an empty row.
  • Recognize students’ extracurricular accomplishments. Read your campus newspaper, scan the dean’s list, pay attention to undergraduate awards and honours, and let students know that you are aware of their achievements.
  • Listen to students with warmth and respect. Give them your full attention. Be personable and approachable – remember the positive power of a smile.
  • Validate all comments and questions, even those that might seem irrelevant or inappropriate.
  • Welcome criticism and receive it with an open mind. Model for your students how you would like them to reflect on the feedback that you will be providing to them. 
  • When you don’t know something, ask your students for help. For example, during class, ask someone with a laptop to do a Google search for a fact or piece of information that pertains to class discussion. 
  • Be inclusive. Use gender-inclusive language and when giving examples make them culturally diverse.
  • Capitalize on outside events or situations, as appropriate. Relate major world events or events on campus both to your class and to the fabric of your students’ lives outside the classroom.
  • Arrive early and chat with students. Ask how the course is going. Are they enjoying the readings? Is there anything they want you to include in lectures?
  • Seek out students who are doing poorly in the course. Write “See me during my office hours” on all exams graded C- or below to provide individualized feedback.
  • Acknowledge students who are doing well in the course. Write “Good job! See me after class” on all exams graded A- or above. Take a moment after class to compliment students who are excelling.
  • Schedule topics for office hours. If students are reluctant to come, periodically schedule a “help session” on a particular topic rather than a free-form office hour.
  • Talk about questions students have asked in previous terms. Mention specific questions former students have asked and explain why they were excellent questions. This lets students know that you take their questions seriously and that their questions will contribute to the course in the future.
  • When feasible, give students a choice in the type of assignments they can do. For example, rather than assigning a traditional essay, give them the option of making a podcast, analysing a case study, giving a poster presentation, and so on. 
  • Consider providing options for how the final grade will be calculated. For example,  individual students can decide that the midterm will be worth 25% and a major project worth 35% -- or vice versa. 
  • Listen attentively to all questions and answer them directly. If you will cover the answer during the remainder of the lecture, acknowledge the aptness of the question, ask the student to remember it, and answer the question directly when you arrive at that subject.
  • Try to empathize with beginners. Remember that not all of your students are as highly motivated and interested in the discipline as you were when you were a student. Slow down when explaining complex ideas, and acknowledge the difficulty and importance of certain concepts or operations. Try to recall your first encounter with a concept – what examples, strategies, or techniques clarified it for you? 
  • When a student seems disgruntled with some aspect of the course, approach him or her in a supportive way and discuss the feelings, experiences, and perceptions that are contributing to the issue.
  • Celebrate student or class accomplishments. Instigate a round of applause, give congratulations, share cookies! 

Resources

  • Eble, K. E. (1988). The Craft of Teaching: A Guide to Mastering the Profession and Art. 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Forsyth, D. R, & McMillan, J. H. (1991). Practical Proposals for Motivating Students. In Menges, R. J., & Svinicki, M. D., eds. College Teaching: From Theory to Practice. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, No.45. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, p.53-65.
  • Gross Davis, B. (2009). Tools for Teaching, 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Ralph, E. G. (1998). Motivating Teaching in Higher Education: A Manual for Faculty Development. Stillwater, Oklahoma: New Forums Press, Inc.
  • Wlodkowski, R. J. (1978). Motivation and Teaching: A Practical Guide. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association.

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