Every semester I teach two sections of the same class, using the same content and method, just so I can marvel at the differences.
This semester I had the best U.S. history section ever – best grades, most social activity, best learning. Why?
It’s the students. They form their own dynamic, they come in with decent skills, they get into working online, and the whole class takes off.
We don’t like to talk about this. We prefer to think it’s our teaching that leads to students success. Well, up to a point. But I’ve watched this class as I’ve taught it for years, and the main variable is the students themselves, what they do and how they do it.
I can tell by the very first posts. If they’re answering each other’s introductions on their own, we’re good. If I require that, it means nothing. If they just start responding to the prompt, it tends to stick.
And the pattern depends on who posts first. If the first posters stick to a standard intro (name, grade, future plans, work), the tendency is for everyone to follow suit, and they standardize their responses for the rest of the class, regardless of what I model, say, encourage, etc.
If the first posters are original and creative, everyone reaches a higher level.
I wonder if there’s a way to ‘seed’ this. My comments and feedback mean very little, which is how it should be. It’s good that they heed each other. I’m not sure enough research is being done about students setting the tone of a class, but after this class, I think it’s crucial.