On Teaching Fashion: Surviving Large Classes

A few weeks ago, I discussed the challenges of teaching long courses.  Universities and colleges have had to become flexible in course offerings.  Many students have to work full-time or part-time jobs while completing their studies.  This requires many schools to offer night classes or classes that meet once a week for 3 or 4 hours.  Contributor Kelly Cobb posed a great question after reading my post: what do you do to survive large classes?


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Teaching a large class is extremely challenging.  In addition to fostering creativity, monitoring smart phone use, and gauging your students’ understanding of the material, large classes offer another layer of complexity to planning your course.  Be prepared to face the following:

  • Difficulty learning names, taking attendance efficiently, and getting to know your students
  • Copious amounts of paperwork: attendance; handing out, collecting, and recording tests and other assignments; grading
  • Management of distractions: talking, late arrivals, early departures
  • Lack of flexibility in class activities
  • Diverse background and preparation of the students

I survived my first large course by trial and error.  Halfway through the term, I found the Survival Handbook for Teaching Large Classes.  This was an extremely helpful resource.  I’ve adapted many of the tips from this handbook to work in my classroom.   These are some of my strategies:

Overall policies: Set your expectations on the first day and stick to them.  Make sure your attendance and grading policies are clear.  Create a rubric that illustrates grading, and includes points for attendance.  Attendance policies should include punctuality and staying until dismissal. Stress the fact that you do NOT accept late assignments.  Accepting late assignments disrupts your schedule, creates more work for you, and is unfair to the students who turned in their work on time.

Attendance: I like to do a roll call at the beginning of class and have students also sign in at the end of class.  A roll call is a great way to start remembering names.  It also marks the beginning of class.  A sign in sheet at the end of class helps you to review names, and monitor who is staying and who leaves early.

Paperwork and grading: Record everything as you receive it.  It is a fatal mistake to wait to formally record attendance and grades.  My first term teaching, I struggled to submit final grades because I was still entering assignments into a spreadsheet from my grade book.  If your school uses Blackboard or Moodle, always input the data immediately.  Otherwise, create a spreadsheet where the data can be kept electronically.  Update this spreadsheet consistently.  When possible, create multiple choice tests and quizzes that can be graded with a scantron.  This will reduce your time spent correcting.  For more creative courses, have students work on assignments as a group.  This requires collaboration and encourages learning via social interaction.

Gauging students’ preparation and understanding:  I’ve written about this before, but not in regards to a large class.  Since students can feel intimidated by a large group, they may not ask a lot of questions out of fear.  Try creating an anonymous question box.  Students can write questions on a slip of paper and place it in the box for you to review later.  Address these questions during the following class meeting.

If you have any tips for teaching large classes, please share them in the comments below!


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  • Monica Sklar November 09, 2012 11.44 am

    I taught a course in a lecture hall with 72 undergraduates. I found it was helpful to sometimes walk around the room, in order to make them feel like I wasn’t just a dot in the distance, and also to see who was on Facebook. I also dumped attendance, as I figured it wasn’t my problem if they came or didn’t. Breaking into groups, and getting them out of their seats at times helped too, to mix it up, and having assignments that ran the spectrum of learning preferences such as papers, presentations, hands on, tests, etc helped to hit the highs and lows of a diverse student body.

  • christina November 09, 2012 12.54 pm

    I agree with Monica about the dumping attendance policy. As a student, worrying about the roll sheet coming my way, sitting through the oral roll call seriously wastes class time. Taking roll at the END of class as well creates another bottleneck of students shoving to get their names on a sheet, or more downtime listening to names.

    The teachers I’ve had that eschew attendance policies altogether usually make their class material the most relevant, and don’t simply repeat information from the reading. Teachers who meticulously track attendance are wasting time on logistics. I had one professor who wanted to lower my grade to a B—even though all of my work and test scores were given As—by virtue of the fact that she felt I wasn’t in class often enough. It seemed uncomfortably personal.

    Teachers should worry less about taking roll and more about making their class time crucial enough so students understand for themselves the importance of attendance.


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