Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Winter Week 6: Maintaining Enthusiasm

This week we discussed enthusiasm and how it relates to maintaining student focus and student engagement.  Many of us have had a motivating and enthusiastic teacher and we know enthusiastic people when we see them.  However, a few of us in the GTC feel that our enthusiasm in the classroom could use some improvement.  To help improve this, we first discussed what enthusiasm really is and what the difference is between how students and teachers see enthusiasm.  Once a general consensus was reached about what enthusiasm in the classroom really is, then we were able to discuss how to generate and maintain enthusiasm.  We were able to figure out several points, listed below. 

Enthusiasm is what you feel when you enter a class and your expectations are met as a student.  In the role of teaching, you feel excitement about your subject and are able to transfer it to your students.  Enthusiasm has several physical characteristics that accompany the person which manifest as physical movement of the body, changing of the voice, and other mannerisms exhibited by the enthusiastic individual.  Enthusiasm is something that is not experienced the same by everyone – often half of a class is motivated by your enthusiasm, and the remainder will not be motivated.  Is there a way to really be enthusiastic to everyone in a classroom – can we be enthusiastic to a general audience as a whole?

Several distinctions are important when discussing enthusiasm.  This is because simply being enthusiastic will not guarantee effective teaching; we need to relate the material to our students.  In fact, too much enthusiasm can be communicated and in fact create a distance between students and the teacher.  Enthusiasm contains a certain component of social awareness, where we recognize student’s feelings and know when and how to assist others.  This role of connection is important between people in everyday settings, so we must remind ourselves of the emotional component in our students and reach that as well.  In general the physical symptoms of enthusiasm are not enough to bring into a classroom – a deeper appreciation must be present.

Reflect on what makes you excited in the first place.  This is one of the best ways to enable your own enthusiasm in a classroom setting.  If you can bring the excitement you once felt about the subject you are now teaching to your students, then that excitement can make its way to your students.  Another way to enable enthusiasm in a teacher is to engage with students directly.  Asking questions, generating a discussion, even asking opinions is enough to bring energy from the audience into any teaching environment.

We can try effective strategies for creating enthusiastic students and one of the biggest components of generating enthusiastic students is active learning.  In lecture, students often are just spacing out and are really only looking at the changing powerpoint slides.  Instead, bringing different ways to engage students with other senses, such as hearing and feeling will help students learn in different ways, and has been shown to help information recall.  Using a classroom demonstration, incorporating interactive video content, even good use of clicker feedback can help students do more in their learning environment.  In order to keep student attention from waning, we can bring something active into the classroom to wake up students and bring back their attention to the material. 

In the end, enthusiasm is like any other teaching strategy and it is certainly has its tradeoffs.   First, being enthusiastic will use a lot of energy, and we only have so much energy in each day.  It is important to know how much energy we have in order to plan out what each day requires and not overload.  In addition, being enthusiastic can allow ourselves to get off-topic on tangential anecdotes – something that is a detriment to the students when time is taken away from crucial material.  In order to balance these problems, we thought that having a plan for hous much time to use for each part of a lecture would allow for an enthusiastic individual to stay on focus with a plan, but still use time and energy effectively. 

1.      “INSPIRING ENTHUSIASM AND MOTIVATION IN THE CLASSROOM”, Prof. Chris Palmer, American University, School of Communication
2.      “Instructor's Corner #3: Teaching with Enthusiasm”, Prof. Qin Zhang, Fairfield University
3.      “Acting Lessons For Teachers Using Performance Skills in the Classroom”, by Cathy Sargent Mester and Robert T. Tauber
4.      “Enthusiasm and Feedback: A Winning Combination!”, Prof. Monica Parson, Elon College
5.      “Classroom Strategies for Maintaining Focus Among Latin American ESL Students”, Prof Jared Gerschler, Univ. Arkansas Fayetteville
6.      “Are You with Me? Measuring Student Attention in the Classroom”,
7.      “My Students Look Bored in Class”
8.      “Through the Shadow of the Valley How to Retain Attention in the Classroom”, Dr. Larry M. Robbins, University of Pennsylvania

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