January 20, 2009

Learning Students' Names

Teaching and LearningA recent string of ideas came across the Lilly Conference on College Teaching listserv recently. Here is a sampling of some ideas you can try in your large lecture class to remember students’ names:
From L. Dee Fink (author of a great book - Creating Significant Learning Experiences):
...(L)earning names is extremely helpful but challenging in large classes. Here are two ideas that have worked for some:

1. This worked for me in classes of nearly 100, N=75. I used small groups extensively in the course. So, after forming the groups on the first day of class, I took a Polaroid picture of each group and as it "came up", they wrote their names by their individual picture. I then posted these pictures by my desk in my office and worked on learning the names within each group. After learning the names in the first group, I would learn a new group and review the names in the previous groups, and so on.. I took a week or two to get them all done, but I eventually did. What seemed to work for me was: it was a lot easier to memorize 12 groups of 6 students, than it was to memorize 72 students. And students really appreciated it.

2. A math professor I knew had a very large class, over 100, and knew it would be valuable to learn their names. So he used assigned seating, made a chart, and then each day of class, worked on memorizing a block of 6 students (3 in front and 3 behind). Then each day when he came to class, he made a point of visiting with students in each new block and in the ones he had already learned -in addition to the class in general.

In took awhile, but again by working continuously at it, he eventually got their names all down so that even if he met them while walking across campus, he would recognize them and be able to address them by name.

The point seems to be: You have to commit to doing this because you know it makes a difference in how students respond. If you commit to doing it, you can do it even if it takes some time. To read more about L. Dee Fink’s book, please click here.

Here are some more ideas from the listserv and other faculty suggestions:

  • Index card w/ name/contact info and 2-5 questions about them; review these early & often, especially during class discussions (call name and associate w/ their face

  • Students create/use name tents each class session; some faculty have students take/bring these each class, while others collect them and use this as an attendance check (but this requires space to lay out the cards, usually alphabetical or clustered, and time to collect/organize them at the end of class). If the name tent IS collected, combine with the index card suggestion, having students answer questions on the inside for you to review.

  • When handing back papers, call their name and personally hand it to each student

  • Mandatory brief office visits (2-5 min.) are requested by some instructors during the first 1-3 weeks of class (which may be unmanageable for very large classes)

  • Just “good ol’ memorization” of the roll sheets and then associate with faces during first classes

  • Take pictures of groups of students and write their names out (be careful of the legalities of this at your school); study these groups with names/faces frequently; helps if they sit near each other in class

Do you have any creative ideas to learn the names of your students?

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