Looking up at elevated bridge; water on the groundElevating Preparation and Maintaining Engagement in the Introduction to General Psychology Course

Marlena Middlebrook Salters

I recently started assigning in-class assignments each time a new chapter in the Introduction to General Psychology Course is introduced. At the beginning of the semester, students are informed that in-class assignments designed to reiterate important chapter concepts will be delivered at various times during class. The grades earned on the assignments are used to help calculate the final course grade. Homework is due prior to the presentation of new material to encourage students to read assigned material so that they can start grasping concepts in preparation for class. However, I noticed an opportunity for growth exists as it relates to student class preparation and maintaining engagement during class. Specifically, I want students to think more critically and with more depth as it relates to course objectives and chapter concepts. The goal is to provide students additional motivation to more diligently prepare for class. My desire is to help move students to elevate the quality of their study.

In-class assignments vary. For instance, when discussing the brain and behavior, time is allotted for students to independently complete a crossword puzzle at the end of class discussion. When discussing classical conditioning, students are placed in groups and are tasked with solving two different problems. Students are instructed to gain a consensus among their group mates and once a consensus is gained, to move to a neighboring group and discuss their thoughts with the neighboring group. Once a consensus is gained with both groups they are to move to the next group, discuss and gain a consensus and so on until the class collectively agrees on the assignment responses. When discussing memory, students are placed in pairs and asked to respond to thought provoking questions presented about the topic. Then, responses are shared more broadly to serve as discussion starters for class. Incorporating varied assignments have motivated the students to come to class more prepared.

Pairing or grouping students vary as well. At the beginning of the semester, I tend to ask individuals to partner with their neighbor or individuals seated in proximity. Students are sometimes grouped by number. For instance, students are assigned a number and the ones, twos, threes and so on are asked to meet. Students may be asked to pair with someone that they’ve not yet worked with. Additionally, after I have gotten an understanding of who is grasping concepts more quickly than others, stronger students are paired with students who have more room for growth. Ultimately, students work with different classmates over the course of the semester to practice communicating their thoughts to different people and hearing the thoughts of others.

There have been positive reactions to the in-class assignments. Because in-class assignments can be offered at the beginning, middle or end of class, my informal observations have been that more students have been intentional about arriving to class on time, offering sustained attention while in class, and staying for the duration of the class period. Given the intensity around the completion of the assignments and the vigorous conversation while completing the assignments, it appears as though students are more engaged in class. It is noteworthy that students seem to feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts about course material more readily. Because of the time allotted for in-class assignments, I am unable to lecture as much as I have previously. Some students may argue that this is a bonus.

Often, students are asked to discuss their responses once the time allotted for the in-class assignment has expired. Students tend to readily provide their thoughts. It is possible that offering the space to discuss one’s ideas with one or multiple classmates prior to the larger invitation to communicate one’s thoughts in the general classroom format allows a practice ground and communicates the idea of a safe space to explore one’s understanding of the course material. Noteworthy, the incorporation of in-class assignments provides another opportunity to build community in the classroom more quickly. Reviewing the in-class assignments allows an opportunity to identify and address weak areas and gives me an opportunity to reiterate that everyone has a voice.

My impression is that the in-class assignments support student success in my classes. Indeed, I have incorporated in-class assignments into my other classes. However, the value of this teaching tool has not been formally assessed. The intent is to develop a way to scientifically determine the benefit of incorporating the in-class assignments in my courses.

Dynamic teaching is a way to adjust teaching techniques as needed. I am interested in motivating my students to add more depth to their class preparation so that they can be more engaged during class. In-class assignments were incorporated to address my concerns. Upon reflection, in-class assignments appear to be a helpful teaching strategy. Specifically, more students seem to be better prepared, more students are engaged in class and community in the class is established more quickly. Most students seem to enjoy the in-class assignments and anticipate when an in-class assignment will be delivered. While informal observations have been noted and the impression is that incorporating in-class assignments in all of my classes is beneficial, I am in the process of developing research to formally determine its value.