Monday, November 21, 2011

Situational Factors - the unexpected and uncontrolable bits of teaching

The making of a stellar teacher involves more than planning the perfect lesson, or studying teaching philosophies and the latest models. The making, or rather the development, of a truly stellar teacher also comes from dealing with the unexpected and stubborn bits of life. Learning grace under pressure and working constructively with limitations makes us not only more reliable, but also more creative. We call the funny bits of life that you cannot change in the classroom 'situational factors.' The following are examples of situational factors that members of GTC have had to deal with. How would you deal with them?

You have a great introductory class planned for your discussion section in which students will sit in a circle and toss a ball of yarn from one person to another to demonstrate both class diversity and similarities among the class. You are very excited about this year’s discussion section and plan on doing a lot of interactive group activities involving people moving around the classroom and conversing in a large circle to help the students feel more included. When you get to your classroom you find that the desks and chairs are fixed in place, facing forward toward the projector and board. You will not be able to move them into a circle and do not have the table space to do small group work. How do you modify your class and activities?

You are teaching a language class would like to hear the student’s pronunciation of the words. To do this you are having the students repeat sentences back to you as a group. You can detect discrepancies and easily practice more where students need practice. Suddenly jackhammering begins outside and you cannot hear your students unless you are standing 2 feet from them. How do you continue to improve their pronunciation (which will be important for their oral text the next day), while the noise is going on?

You are in the middle of a power point presentation watching media footage when the power in the building goes out and you loose the video and access to the rest of your power point. How can this become a teachable moment, and how can you continue your discussion?

Your class falls in the afternoon 3, a generally safe time, except that you have a bunch of baseball players who come in late from practice on a consistent basis and are constantly riled up and excited. They are a predictable and constant disruption to your beginning of class routine of journaling silently about a prompt.

You would like your students to be able to access websites discussing sex for their paper on human sexuality, but their internet searches are blocked from your classroom. How do you deal with the blocks on their potential research?

Your classroom is new and still smells of fresh paint and construction materials. During the first day of class 4 students complain of headaches due to the smells. You are doubtful that the smell will go away any time soon and you know that there are limited rooms available on campus. What do you do?

You are teaching at a school where many of your students come from low income families and have little money. During the first week of class you discover that very few of them have purchased the text because it is too expensive and there are arguments breaking out about the reserve copy at the library. How do you rectify the situation?

You are at UC Davis. You would like to take your students on a field trip to the Vernal pools to have them identify the native plants there, however there is not funding in the budget for this excursion. How can you still expose them to plant identification with those rare species (that you cannot collect from the wild) without physically taking them to the place?

Your bike has a flat tire and you are going to be 15 minutes late to the class you instruct. Luckily you have a few of your students phone numbers / emails so you can let them know. How do you prevent the class time from being wasted? You were planning on lecturing and then reviewing previous material for an upcoming quiz.

After giving this some thought, feel free to comment. We would like to continue this discussion on the blog.


  1. 1) One of the things I've seen done in lecture classroom when discussion is desired, is to have students turn and talk with their neighbors, left, right, front and back. While this is by far less desirable than actual groups there are upsides in that students are actually closer to each other in lecture seating than in the more open spaces of labs. Another option depending on the size of the space and the enrollment is to use non-seating space for instruction. Students could move out of their seats and work in the aisles and in the space at the front of the class room.

    2)In a language class were I an instructor who needed to hear the pronunciation of the students I would have only few ideas. In the face of jack-hammering I would likely move the class outside and away from the racket. Where the weather inclement I would search for some atrium or hall space I could use for a temporary class. Another option would be to break the class into small groups and have them practice pronunciation by playing "telephone" You could give each group a word that would need to be translated and have it propagate down the line, with students rotating their relative position in the line.

    3)If the class is during daylight and the weather permits, I would grab some chalk and try and do a "chalk-talk" outside. Additionally I would make sure to post the PowerPoint, and if there was an online discussion forum I would add an assignment to post/reply in that forum.

    4)I would speak to the individuals involved after class, making sure they understood their action disturbed the classroom and ask them what they will do to make sure that they can help facilitate a positive learning environment for both themselves and their peers. I might also make clear that the silent journaling is a good way to transition from a very physical activity to a more cognitive one.

    5)I would for the first day move to discussion of sex, towards censorship and sex. There should be plenty of material available on censorship and the students could explore the cultural influences that lead to censorship of sexual materials. During the time between the first and second meetings I would work with both the university tech support to see if their was a way to not have the internet censored, and look for technical ways to circumvent the censorship.

    6)If students are complaining of foul paint fumes I would look to see if their are other sections of the same class that the students could attend. I might also out of class talk to the office of students with disabilities, to see if they had any suggestions for students with sensitive olfactory receptors.

    7)I would first request an additional copies of the book be put on reserve, and I would looking into making copies of the relevant portions, legitimate under fair use educational exemption. I would also look to see if their is a way to get electronics reserves set up for the course.

    8)I believe the university has video equipment that can be checked out, if so I would use the university's high quality video to make video of *my* trip to Vernal Pools. I would then have the students from the video try and make identifications of the wild life. I might also use digital photos.

    9)I would contact the students I could an ask them to make an announcement about my tardiness and that class was still being held. Additionally I would ask the students to start brainstorming a list of topics that they wanted reviewed for the upcoming quiz so that I might make better use of the remaining time in class.

  2. Well the students who belong to low income group families must be aided by the authorities.

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