Tracking Classroom Interactions

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At this year’s CCCC, I participated in a roundtable on “Feminist Rhetorics in the Age of Trump.” Noting that the narrative spun daily by Trump is filled with lies, mis- and dis-information, and “alternative facts” (a phrase that won Kellyanne Conway the 2017 NCTE Doublespeak Award), and that we must do everything we can to help our students resist this narrative, I offered a series of exercises and assignments aimed at helping students to STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN before they TALK (much less TWEET).


These exercises and assignments all aim at reflection, contemplation, and careful looking and listening. They aim for understanding rather than winning at all cost, for stepping back and analyzing the full context of any statement or situation before rushing to judgment or conclusions.


One “looking” assignment I have used throughout my career is to ask a student, unobtrusively, to serve as “observer of the day.” This student watches interactions intently, noting who speaks before and after whom, for how long, and in what clusters. How much the teacher talks and who responds. How turn-taking works and to what ends. Who never speaks. What body language can suggest about the ethos of the classroom that day. Then the observer reports findings the next day and we discuss just how well our classroom is working. I like this exercise because it engages students in careful reflection and self-reflection, and because I learn so much from it as well: on more than one occasion, I have been surprised to see how much I dominate discussion, how I seem to elicit comments from only certain kinds of students, how I may have silenced someone. This kind of quiet reflection and contemplation can help to counter, I hope, the narrative of “winners” and “losers” the president is so intent on fostering, and can encourage stepping back and taking the long view, so I recommend it.


But as I should have known, now there’s an app for this! Called Equity Maps, it’s an app for tablets, marketed by iPad for iOS devices (at a cost of $2.99), and aimed at helping teachers “Effortlessly trace and assess your students’ interaction, performance, and involvement.” I think I may spring for the $2.99 and take a much closer look to see how Equity Maps and its analytics may help me improve on my old-fashioned “observer of the day” method. But I won’t be too surprised if I decide to stick with my tried and true version rather than its electronic replacement!


You can check Equity Maps out for yourself, or perhaps you already have: if so, I’d love to hear what you think of it!



Credit: Pixabay Image 2557399 by StockSnap, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.