Make the back row off limits

Nicole Matos, College of DuPage

Before students arrive on the first day of class, use yellow “Caution” tape (available at any big-box office supply store) to block off the back row seats. After students arrive and sit elsewhere (it will be fun to note their reactions: many “get it” right away), use this device to discuss issues of student engagement and attention. Ask how many students would have elected those back row seats if they had been available, and discuss why. Reiterate your desire to have all students active and engaged—no hiding!—regardless of where they sit.

My experience using this strategy is that it usually generates two useful outcomes. First, it tends to elicit students’ worries and fears about the class. Quiet students sometimes admit to a fear of being called on in a predatory caught-you manner while others might explain that they fear the subject matter. Having these worries expressed openly from the outset allows me to soothe the nervous and explain my true reasons for seeking full participation.

Second, students who might otherwise have been troublesome are often the first to admit boldly, with a smile, that they would have chosen the back corner to be lazy and go unnoticed. Getting these students to immediately engage with me as an instructor, learning their names, and setting the precedent that they do indeed talk in class, is often the first step to winning them onto my side and, in the end, better assuring their success.