Magazine article European Business Forum

Innovations in the Classroom: Simple Techniques to Foster Participation by Students Can Improve Learning at All Levels

Magazine article European Business Forum

Innovations in the Classroom: Simple Techniques to Foster Participation by Students Can Improve Learning at All Levels

Article excerpt

Student-centred university classrooms not only support student learning but also provide a forum in which to practise the skills of democratic participation, a particularly important set of skills for citizens in young democracies like Turkey. Yet often, classroom assessment methods do not match methods, and therefore do not encourage students to increase their participation and to learn from it. This article describes how innovative classroom instruction and student participation can be achieved through the use of a detailed, written description of in-class participation. To build the foundation for democratic skills, more specific information is needed on not only how to create student-centred classrooms but also how to link the assessment system to those new methods.

The work on which this article is based took place at a private Turkish university where students are not generally exposed to or accustomed to student-centred learning. The Turkish elementary and high school system is dominated by rote learning and memorisation. There is a need for students to have a place to express their ideas and subject them to public scrutiny. Therefore, in a transitional society like Turkey, where democracy is still young, students need all the practice they can get in expressing their ideas, listening to dissenting opinions and being held accountable for their beliefs.

The purpose of this article is to describe and evaluate our attempt to create a student-centred classroom. We describe:

1 A way to change assessment practices by including a written description of in-class participation

2 A set of student-centred activities

3 Student responses to these student-centred classrooms and assessment practices

Development of in-class participation assessment

Turkish students are not accustomed to discussion in class, or to other active and interactive methods. In fact, during their schooling, few if any Turkish students have experienced student-centred classrooms. They are more accustomed to teaching that is based on transmission. The teacher is the authoritative source of expert knowledge, who passes on a fixed body of information to be practised alone and reproduced by students on demand.

We needed to find a way to bridge our classroom innovations and student participation. We wanted students to take our innovations seriously. Since assessment schemes give students information about where to allocate their energy and effort, we told students directly and specifically, in writing, what we expected in terms of classroom participation. We used the following three methods to communicate to students the importance of in-class participation:

1 Allocation of a percentage of final grade to in-class participation

2 Distribution of written criteria sheets describing high levels of in-class participation

3 Thorough class discussion of the criteria sheet

First, we allocated between 15-20 per cent of final grade to in-class participation. This in itself is not particularly unusual in Turkey. Turkish students are accustomed to receive some portion of their grades from in-class participation, but the important issue lies in how professors view and evaluate this activity. To many professors, in-class participation is merely a place-holder for attendance.

Second, to make it clear to students as well as ourselves what we understood about in-class participation and how we assessed it, we distributed a written description of in-class participation. This was presented as a criteria sheet, with detailed descriptors of appropriate behaviours that indicate to the professor whether the student is participating. The sheet could also be used as a self-evaluation tool for students who might be confused about how to participate.

* Attendance

* Doing the assigned readings

* Classroom behaviours that communicate participation

Third, we answered all student questions regarding this criteria sheet. …

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