We’re switching our usual ‘resource’ and ‘feature’ posts this week to bring you the LSE examples of classroom rapport building mentioned in last Thursday’s interview post, in the hope that they’ll prove useful for your early classes of the term. A related resource will follow on Thursday.
Nick Long, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, uses the first topic in his course on The Anthropology of Kinship, Sex and Gender – on the relationship between sex and gender from an anthropological perspective – as a means of rapport building as well as a way in to the discipline. Following the lecture which introduces the students to Harriet Whitehead’s notion of ‘gender systems’, he asks each student to use her model to develop a diagram of the gender system in a part of the world that they know well: wherever they call home, or have spent a large portion of their lives. They then compare their gender system diagrams with other students at their tables (at small ‘cabaret’ tables in groups of four or five students). Nick circulates from table to table as they do this, joining in the conversations, and making sure nobody dominates their sub-group, and then uses what he hears to structure a class discussion that draws out interesting themes, contrasts and connections that emerge from the exercise. As Nick notes, ‘It’s a great ice-breaker, because the students are thinking about something on which they already have authority and expertise. That’s especially important for our MSc students, who are often converting into anthropology from another discipline, and can find the first seminars a bit intimidating. It also encourages the students to share aspects of their own lives, and to realise that the group and teacher will take an interest in their experiences. Finally it sets us up very well to think about the intellectual strengths and weaknesses of the “gender systems” concept in the remainder of the session.’
In her first lecture of the year, Jennifer Baka, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environment, seeks to ‘humanise’ herself by talking about her research and telling the students something interesting about her summer. She then asks the students to introduce themselves and to tell the class something about their summers/first week of term. She also repeatedly reminds the students about her office hours and encourages them to come and see her with questions.
Karin King is a GTA in the Department of Management. For her, building rapport starts before the students and teacher meet in the classroom. Before the first class she sends a welcome note by email to the students to introduce herself, along with a link to the online course resources. During the first class she leads a simple ice-breaker exercise in small groups to help kick-start collaboration and set the culture for highly interactive learning through small group learning activities which will continue throughout the course. The activity provides time for students to introduce themselves and share their objectives for taking the course which further helps them engage in their learning. She also takes a few minutes to explain how she sees her role as not only a teacher but also a partner in their learning, setting the expectation for shared contribution by both teacher and students in order to achieve an enjoyable and engaging learning environment. Finally, as Karin notes, ‘Taking the time to quickly learn each student’s name is an important signal that as teachers we are supporting each student’s learning experience and are looking for participation from each student.’
Developing rapport in classes for interdisciplinary courses can be especially important. Abby Innes, Assistant Professor in the European Institute, says about her first interaction with students: ‘I introduce myself and explain what my interests are and what brought me to the subject and then I ask students to do the same – say where they’re from, what they studied before and what drew them to the course. Then – this being interdisciplinary – I point out that they’re all going to have periods of discomfort and comfort/familiarity as the course proceeds so they should consider that totally normal and be suitably sympathetic when they see colleagues in the first mode. I also commend them for their bravery in choosing a subject that’s going to stretch them and assure them that the seminar is the place where we try to translate across disciplines and that this is the place to bring their confusions – that it isn’t a beauty contest but a conversation. I stress that the seminar is informal in style, which doesn’t mean flaky in terms of reading and deadlines but it does mean passion and engagement, that can come out in any form so long as it’s not expressed in personal comments to other people!’
Finally, Sarah Paterson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Law, shared her advice for the first class of the year: ‘My tip would be not to spend too long describing the course, what is going to happen, etc. My experience, certainly with the master’s students, is that rapport is much better if you start straight off with a topic and an exercise which they can work on together. I asked them at the Orientation Fair to do the reading even though it was Week 1 and did one of the ideas from John Bean’s book1 – the idea about thesis writing, which involved me giving them a disciplinary problem to which they had to write a one line thesis response. It worked very well and we got a fantastic discussion going with well over half the group contributing on our first outing. I spent more introductory time with the undergraduates and it didn’t work nearly as well.’
1 Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (second edition, Jossey-Bass, 2011) – see the ‘Read an Excerpt’ link under the cover image.
These are just some of the ways that rapport building is being practised at LSE and we know there will be many more. Please send any comments or your own ideas for future posts to firstname.lastname@example.org