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Student-Instructor Classroom Interaction

What is student-instructor classroom interaction and how does it affect learning?

This theme addresses the climate of communication between the instructor and students in class. Lessons where students have multiple opportunities to communicate with the teacher are essential for the effective construction of student knowledge. By welcoming curiosity and encouraging students to raise their own questions about the content or claims being discussed, the instructor can guide students to develop habits of mind for framing and answering questions. When an instructor creates a climate of respect in the classroom and encourages students to generate their own ideas involving scientific ways of thinking, students are more likely to think deeply and persist in the face of challenges (AAAS, 1989; Weinstein et al., 2006). The Pedagogy in Action module on Interactive Lectures can provide guidance for drawing students into the lecture by engaging them in working with the material.

Characteristics/examples of classes with low and high student-teacher classroom interaction

Classes with an emphasis on lecture are effective for delivering large volumes of content in limited time but provide few opportunities for student-instructor interaction. While this teaching method may appeal to a few highly motivated students, it can often leave much of the class disengaged from the content. Such classes are often characterized by instructors who take the first shout-out answers to questions (often from the same few students) or answer their own questions too quickly.

In contrast, more student-centered classes provide adequate time during activities for students to think about concepts, receive feedback, and/or participate in discussions that may guide the direction of the lesson. Some activities may allow students freedom to engage in their own learning (e.g., online search for relevant information) and/or may involve the students using the instructor as a resource to provide information as needed. This "guide-on-the-side" model is indicative of highly reformed, student-centered classrooms.

Consider structuring your class so that it:

  • Contains activities where the instructor can receive student feedback to determine if there is a need to adapt the direction of the lesson.
  • Has multiple opportunities for interaction between the instructor, individual students, small student groups, and the whole class.
  • Capitalizes on the diversity of student experiences to generate alternative solutions to (open-ended) problems and to explore student ideas within the context of the lesson.
  • Includes sufficient time to have meaningful discussions around student activities and arrive at fully realized responses.

Tips and examples for improving student-teacher classroom interaction

  • I want to use specific teaching strategies so that I can adapt the lesson on the basis of student feedback.
    • To achieve this goal, it is necessary to provide opportunities to hear student voices and act on ideas originating with the students.
    • Immediate low stakes, formative assessment of concepts can be readily achieved using ConcepTests, conceptual multiple-choice questions about themes from the lesson mingled with peer instruction. The use of clickers can facilitate this technique.
    • More detailed feedback that will be sufficient to shift the direction of the lesson to meet key student learning needs will often require open-ended questions that allow students to identify what they already know and where the instructor can best invest time and resources. Techniques such as cooperative learning or gallery walks may support this approach.
  • I want to capitalize on the diversity of student experiences to generate alternative solutions to problems and/or encourage different ways of interpreting evidence.
    • The more structured and organized a task, the less opportunity there is for students to bring their experience and creativity to bear on finding a solution. Activities that provide the problem, procedures the students should follow, and type of analysis to be conducted leave little room for the students to contribute original thought. Consider adapting open-ended questions where the problem is presented but some combination of procedures, method of analysis, and/or communication of results are left for the students to design.
    • Exercises such as structured academic controversies may provide a model for this type of cooperative learning strategy in which small teams of students learn about a controversial issue from multiple perspectives and attempt to come to consensus. Alternatively, case studies may provide a mechanism for encouraging creative solutions that synthesize content.
    • In these more student-centered learning environments, instructors can serve as resource persons, navigating the room to keep groups on task and provide assistance in guiding discussion.
  • I want to provide sufficient time to have meaningful discussions around student activities and arrive at fully realized responses.
    • It is necessary to provide sufficient time for students to process class information and transfer it to new problems. Such efforts ensure that learning is happening during class. One simple method to begin this process is to provide structured breaks for students to be reflective in their response to questions. Whether using techniques such as ConcepTests or think-pair-share, indicate how long students have to work before requiring an answer (30 seconds to a few minutes).
    • Longer activities will typically allow for greater student creativity and encourage synthesis of more concepts. Building these activities into a traditional lecture class will require some lesson redesign. For example, some material may simply be omitted, other items may be shifted to pre-class readings or post-class homework.
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