Monday, November 29, 2010

Rustleless

A reader wonders how to stop students from starting to leave class early, creating a cascading effect of rustling sounds that are distracting and that make the last few minutes of class difficult for teaching and learning.

I don't know if my method will work for everyone, but I do have a preferred approach to this problem for large classes. Others may have more effective strategies (feel free to share), but this one has worked very well for me:

On the first day of class, I go over the usual logistical stuff at the beginning of class, and then I start talking about the actual course material. Near the end of class, but not exactly at the end, I tell the class that I understand that many of them need to get to another class or to a job, and that it's a large campus so they need every minute possible. I say that I will make a deal with them. I will never go over the scheduled class time, and I will even end a minute or so early if they do not start getting ready to leave in advance of the end of class; i.e., when I have announced that we are done for the day.

I explain that the putting away of notebooks and laptops, the collecting of gear, and the zipping of backpacks adds up to considerable sound and distraction, that sometimes near the end of class I sum up the material in a way that might be helpful for reviewing/studying but this gets lost in the "rustle", and then I repeat that in return for their not preparing to leave early, I will make sure that we finish on time.

Then I talk for a few more minutes, and keep my promise on the very first day.

And it works. I don't know why, but it does. After that, I never have a problem. I may not have their full attention to the very end, but at least I have their quiet inattention.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find chains and padlocks work best. Lock the doors from the inside, your students can't get out, and the students for the next class cannot come in.

Clarissa said...

There is a very simple solution: just let them go 5 minutes early.

Anonymous said...

Pop quizzes can occur at any time...including the last 5 minutes of class.

They're general topic questions that most students score 100% and are only worth about 2% of the final grade, but students don't like missing them.

curious said...

anon @ 9:21 am: if you give a pop quiz earlier in the class, do students then know that they can leave early that day.... or have you ever given a second pop quiz right at the end?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I have only small classes, but I have the opposite problem: students asking so many questions in classs that I run 5-10 minutes over without intending to. I've asked students to warn me when I'm running over, since I don't want to keep looking at my watch while we talk, but they never do.

Usually this isn't a problem, but the classroom I use is also where the faculty meetings are scheduled, 5 minutes after my class is scheduled to end.

Jen said...

My university solved the problem by having non-functional clocks in all rooms (the one in my room is stuck at 6:15). The only way students know when it is time to leave is when I dismiss them. I also have very small classes (never more than 20 students, even at the intro level), so I think students are aware that the sound of even one student packing up is very distracting. It honestly has never been an issue.

Anonymous said...

Curious:

I have actually never given a pop quiz at the start of class. I imagine if I did some students might feel it "safe" to leave early. I wouldn't be opposed to giving two in one class. They're easy enough that the students present don't seem to mind the quizzes.

Oddly, for my classes the leaving early problem tends to be more of a problem with the normal length (1 hr 15 min) fall/spring semester classes, and not the long (3 hr) summer session classes. Maybe it's because I give breaks during the 3 hr classes?

Anonymous said...

I do give pop quizzes in the last 5 minutes sometimes, but I don't like to do it because there ARE some students who legitimately need to leave early. It also defeats the purpose somewhat, since if you lose the last 5 minutes to rustling or you lose it to a pop quiz, you've lost those minutes regardless. And 5 minutes is 10% of a 50-min lecture, nothing to sneeze at. And yes, I've noticed that this problem only happens in large lecture classes, and not small classes.

Anonymous said...

I tend to lecture on all the important topics in the first 30 minutes of the 50 minute lecture, then do example problems. If students don't want to stay for the examples (which are similar to exam questions) then they can go.

whenever a class or meeting goes over I feel it is disrespecting of my time. It could be because of a long lecture or a student asking a question, if you are still speaking after class time, you are disrespecting me.

Amber Lynne said...

My favorite trick a professor pulled was to tell us that if we did not email him asking for a better grade he would automatically give us a free 2% at the end of the semester. He was not unreasonable... if we were positive he graded something wrong (he went over the answers) or added something wrong he would be very helpful. He just did not want people to email him asking to boost their grade for various reasons.

I only once asked for a better grade in my whole college career. I walked out of the final unable to answer a single question, it was my senior year and I had no opportunity to retake the required course. I told the professor I had mono and I had been struggling because my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Though both excuses were true they are not the true reason I should have failed... I just hated the class.

Anonymous said...

Much like FSP, I have found that frank talk about behavioral expectations really, really helps things. I prefer to be explicit about my expectations rather than trying to "catch" students with a pop quiz. I have been really surprised by behavior that I find to be disrespectful that students think is fine unless someone says something. Leaving class to go to the bathroom is another example. If I, as a professor, don't help them learn common professional standards of behavior then who else will?

Rosie Redfield said...

I've solved this problem by giving a clicker question at the end of each class (and never going over time). The clicker questions are for bonus points only, but they motivate the students to stick around.

But I like your 'contract' approach better.

Anonymous said...

gasstationwithoutpumps: I also teach in a classroom without a clock. After the first day, I set a silent alarm on my cell phone and I keep it in my pocket while I lecture. It vibrates when class is over and I stop immediately if I haven't already stopped. It works great, and I don't have to check my watch unless I'm wondering if I should launch into a new topic or not.

Anonymous said...

I had a psychology professor who the first day of class announced that if someone started packing up, he would direct the entire class to look back at the one student. In a 300 person lecture, that can be very embarrassing. He only had to do it once all semester. There was absolutely no sound the last fifteen minutes.

adultundergrad said...

One of the facts of college life is that most students are taking multiple courses and can't necessarily avoid having classes scheduled back-to-back. Sometimes this means having to leave one class five minutes early in order to get to the next class five minutes late. If the next class is a lab or test for which they can't be late, it may mean leaving your class ten minutes early.

Given this reality, it's not reasonable to take a punitive approach (and I would consider having a last minute quiz for credit, bonus or not, a punitive approach - why should the student with the awkward schedule not have the same opportunities to earn marks that the student with a convenient schedule). I like the suggest of addressing the issue frankly during the first lecture. You may want to add something like "if it is absolutely unavoidable for you to leave class early, please take a seat near the exit so you can leave as unobtrusively as possible."

I once had a professor who was getting behind in his lecture material (in a class of about 40). He asked for our unanimous consent to extend a lecture for 15 minutes so he could finish a topic. Nobody objected, and he thanked us for it when he was done. I appreciated his evident respect for our time.

Anonymous said...

I always finish the class a few minutes early, that works perfectly :))