By Elizabeth Decker
By the time our students reach their seat in a college classroom, many of them are indoctrinated in the American style of passive learning: sitting in a seat that may have been assigned, or which has become their default seat in the class. One way to activate participation in the classroom is to switch this up. At varying points in the semester, create activities that mix up the students into groups, or even pairs, and that require them to move to other parts of the room. Even if they are working individually, ask them to move to a different part of the room for that activity. Throughout the semester, invite students who choose to sit in the back or sides to the front of the room. As the instructor, try to move in and around student seating during class.
Mixing up the physical space can help combat the feelings of “settling” that happen in the first weeks of class and encourage more voices to emerge in both written group work and spoken participation. As you do this, be mindful of students who may not be fully mobile in the classroom—be sensitive to their needs, and proactively imagine ways they can access the same benefit of the classroom movement the same way as their more mobile peers.
Elizabeth Decker is the Program Assistant for the Teaching and Learning Center and an alumna of the Ph.D. program in English.