Saturday, November 15, 2008

Teaching 129 students human rights

With now 129 students in my Human Rights and Democracy class, I’ve adopted a few necessary techniques to keep discipline while still encouraging discussions: even low-voiced talk from that many students becomes a roar that drowns out any speaker, including me. (My co-teacher, Ibrahim Bangura, is off to the Democratic Republic of Congo with a non-government organization for about ten days. I'm impressed with his teaching skills.)
We’ve reached an agreement that when I raise my hand, everyone stops talking. I don’t do it a lot because for the most part students are respectful of each other and of me. But one of my arguments to help keep the noise down is to suggest that those talking over the recognized speaker of the moment are robbing students of an educational moment to learn. Still, it’s a constant effort. Though the other day when I gave a rare full-hour lecture, students were pretty quiet.
They’re getting a lot of new challenges. They now realize I’m serious about their doing ten hours of community service, teaching human rights in local schools or organizations. They chose their topics; they now have a letter of introduction from the department, and have clustered with others choosing similar topics. Their choices include: children in war; sexual abuse of children; the right to education; early marriage issues; genocide; various women’s issues.
They also have to do a research paper, something most of these recent high school graduates have not done before. We hold periodic workshops in class on research methodologies.

American Government class reminds me of the British Parliament. I was impressed with my class (now up from 10 to about 50) in their first presentation. I have divided the class into teams to present the week’s readings. The first team, on the constitution, had done the readings and not only reviewed the key points but explained their significance.


marija said...

i wish i had of thought of the hand raising thing to quiet my students down. i will have to remember that for next semester. it is difficult to talk with so many students. the good thing is that i think their talking means there is some enthusiasm and interest in the subjects we are discussing.

if i have 60 students in my 101 class again next semester i am thinking of splitting them in half and having each half come every other friday so that more people can be involved in discussion.

Jeff Mattison said...

Large classes present unique challenges to group work and interactivity that you're asking of them. I think the hand raising is a great non-verbal management tool. What are your resources for teaching the class? Are there photocopiers and handouts to deliver? or just lecture and notes with pair-sharing or group work to process and produce new content? Community service sounds like a great way to make students practitioners of what their learning in your class.