Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Knowing Your Students: What’s in a Name?

There is a unique feeling associated with being called by name for the first time by a professor. And I don’t mean the time during roll call when the professor proposes something that only vaguely resembles your name, a grotesque mutation of phonetics that would remain unclaimed and untouched if it weren’t important to be counted in attendance. What I mean is the first time a professor notices your hand raised in the air and doesn’t say “uh-huh” or “go ahead” or “you with the pit stains speak your mind,” but rather includes the word that suggests they actually know you, appreciate you, or have spent countless hours looking at a copy of the seating chart: your name.

Suddenly you feel real, tangible, distinctly differentiated from the sea of nameless strangers that surround you. You exist, you matter; you feel almost as if it was your destiny to answer that question about the consistency of paraffin wax. In the classroom of life, you have just been heralded into existence.

Feeling like you exist is a big thing for students (and people of all occupations I’d imagine). Studies have shown that classrooms where names are commonly used tend to be more relaxed, comfortable, and engaging. Learning the names of students can help them feel less isolated and anonymous, factors that lead them to shut down or not participate in class. Since learning names is never easy—especially in large lecture halls—here are some tips to help you create that more personalized environment:  
  • Use name tents-- ask students to write their names in large letters on both sides of a folded 5 x 8 index card and to keep this card on their desks for the first few classes.
  • Ask students to give their name each time before they speak. This can be continued until everyone (instructor and the students) feels they know the people in the room.
  • Strive to memorize a row of students per day. In the few minutes before class begins, review what you've already memorized and then add another row of students to that list.
  • Students with the same name as another person the instructor knows can be associated with that person in the instructor's memory. This association is a good memory-jogging tool.
  • For large classes—dividing the entire group into smaller "working groups" will help facilitate name recall. Classroom time can be used to give small projects for each group to work on. Only having to remember 8-9 people in a small group is much easier than looking at 250 faces. Work on visualizing which faces sit in which seats. Then work on memorizing every name from a particular group.

Be realistic with yourself and honest with the students: expecting to memorize every name in a lecture hall is unreasonable. However, learning students’ names is vital for creating an active classroom and making students feel worthy of your attention. 

Credit goes to http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/studentnames.html for bulleted ideas. 

Tip contributed by Jon Pumper

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