Creating Classroom Connections
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Creating Classroom Connections

If we believe that everyone is connected to everyone else, then why do some students feel lonely and disconnected? And how can connecting these students to others in the classroom increase the likelihood of success for all? My name is Joseph Trimble and I am a professor of psychology and professor in the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. As a psychologist I am keenly aware of the fact that everyone is hardwired to connect with others. Dr. Allan Schore of the UCLA School of Medicine stated, and I quote: “The idea is that we are born to form attachments; that our brains are physically wired to develop in tandem with another’s through emotional communication beginning before words are spoken.” With this principle in mind, I organize my seminars and small classes to build on our fundamental need to connect with others. To accomplish my connection teaching objective, I have students participate in a series of activities and projects that emphasize their strengths as well as the importance of working with others in small group settings. I would like to provide you with a brief description of these activities, keeping in mind that my goal is to build on our intrinsic need to connect with one another by emphasizing student strengths. More detailed information is available about each technique on the website accompanying this module. Feel free to explore and discover for yourself why I find these activities to be useful in creating educational partnerships. As a result of the activities, the class becomes connected to the topic of inquiry and to each other as they experience the exploration of information. Originally developed in the 1930’s by the controversial psychiatrist Jacob Levy Moreno, ‘sociogram’ is a graphic representation of social links that people have based on many different criteria such as social relations, channels of influence, lines of communication, etc. Student responses to a series of questions about their classmates can be used to construct a visual diagram. One, then, can identify pathways for patterns for social acceptance among many other possibilities. In my seminars, I construct a ‘sociogram’ at the beginning and end of the quarter based on student responses. Because I’m interested in how the shared relationship patterns change over time, I’m especially interested in the influence seminar activities have on the sociometric choices after 10 weeks of working and studying together. The steps necessary for constructing a sociogram are straightforward: 1. identify 3 or 4 questions that will provide you with information about the connections between and among your students. The wording of the questions should be consistent with the information you want to obtain. For example, typically I asked the following: “Who would benefit from more interaction with you?” Sometimes it is difficult to interact with everyone that you need to. That is, there may be some students who, if you interact with them more than you do now, would be helpful to you in conducting class projects and activities more efficiently. Who might these students be? Another question: “As of today, who are the students in your class you are most likely to talk with outside of class?” Another question: “If you missed a class, to whom would you go to obtain class notes?” 2. The next thing to do is indicate on a class list the number of times each student was selected by others for each question. 3. It’s now time to construct the sociogram. Draw circles on a large sheet of paper for each student in the course. Make certain they’re roughly the same size. Write each student’s name or initials inside a circle. Then, write the number of times a student was chosen inside his or her circle. Once done, draw arrows from each student to student or students select by them. If the choice was one way, indicate that by drawing an arrow at the end of the line. If the choices are reciprocal, put arrows at both ends of the line. By the end of the diagramming process, the sociogram will resemble a complicated spiderweb. 4. Analyze the sociogram to capture preferences and interaction patterns. Look especially for students who are not chosen frequently or not chosen at all. They are the ones, the outliers, you want to positively connect to their classmates in a constructive way. 5. Using the university student tracking system, review the courses taken by each student not connected in any significant way in the sociograms. Identify the course or courses in which they do very well – I look for grades in research methods and statistics because that’s a skill that can be very useful in my course activities. I’ve observed outliers, students who had no one connecting to them at the beginning of the year, become the one most connected or star at the end of the course for certain key questions. In large part, the increased connectedness occurred because the student had a skill that was essential for small group success. Respect, appreciate and admiration emerged from the experience.

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