Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Ten Percent Problem and Large Classes

In any class, somewhere between five and ten percent of the students have a hard time following directions. This tends to be closer to 10% for intro classes and perhaps closer to 5% for senior seminars although I have not studied this systematically. The problem, of course, is that ten percent of 600 is 60. So, the two big challenges of teaching the huge class are: managing a large team of Teaching Assistants (TA's) and dealing with the 60 or students who seem unable to follow directions.

I have long been tempted to ask those students to move to one part of the classroom so that we can keep track of them, but I know they would not respond too well:
  • Some would stand on their head
  • Some would lay down on the floor.
  • Some would turn to face backwards.
  • and most of the 60 would not realize I was talking about them.
Don't get me wrong--I love teaching the big class. It is pretty exciting and fun when it is going well, getting 600 hundred people to pay attention and have them react to what you say (Severus Snape killed again!). And I have the highest respect for McGill undergrads--they are very, very bright, work very, very hard, possess very critical minds and are quite creative. Just a handful of them make it a bit more challenging because they have a hard time figuring out how these courses work and following the instructions.

If you want a tough teacher, with a heart of gold, take Mr. Hand.

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