By Anna Duning (May 3, 2007)
After a series of deliberations and discussions, the newly formed Academic Council recently distributed a list of recommendations to teachers, its first substantial stride toward sharing their views on ways to enhance the academic environment at George Mason. Throughout the second and third quarter, student members of the Academic Council, which include 12 members, four each from the sophomore, junior and senior classes from a variety of academic backgrounds, along with Mr. Snee, met periodically to consider what steps it might take to engage students in the way classes are conducted.
The discussions, which involved both positive and negative responses about life within the classroom such as anger over tiresome amounts of homework and contentment with block scheduling, finally materialized in a letter addressed to the faculty. The letter lists 10 recommendations for teachers that are aimed at “ensuring productive classroom environments.”
The recommendations include the following:
- Allow students to move occasionally during class time; encourage students to take stretch breaks.
- Break apart lectures by rearranging seating assignments.
- Facilitate group activities.
- Relate lessons to students’ experiences (e.g. current events, their lives, and other classes.)
- Challenge students by providing opportunities to make connections between lessons in different subject areas.
- Throughout the year, ask the students for feedback on the course. We strongly encourage this to occur during an open class discussion, a format that, we feel, is the most conducive to positive deliberation and effective solutions.
- Meet privately with students periodically to discuss their progress in class and to offer recommendations for improvement.
- Create a sense of community in the classroom by encouraging students to help one another and to collaborate on some assignments.
- Clarify what constitutes an honor pledge violation on collaborative assignments.
- Leave time in class after lessons for both personal reflection and group response and discussion.
To come up with the recommendations, Council members focused on both frustrations they felt in certain classes as well as teaching strategies they thought were particularly effective. “A lot of input came from outside of the Council as well,” said junior member Soorya Namboodiri. Another junior member, Adam Gann commented, “It seemed students were mostly concerned with communicating more effectively with teachers, so this was the letter’s main purpose.”
The letter was completed shortly before Spring Break and then distributed to all the teachers, who discussed it at a recent faculty meeting. “Most teachers agreed that the recommendations listed are good standard practice,” said Mr. Hoover, “and it engendered a lively discussion among teachers.” Now, Mr. Hoover, who originally assisted in the formation of the Council, hopes to see the Council establish a list of recommendations for how students can contribute to the improvement of the George Mason academic community.
Earlier in the year, the Council also met with Language Department head Madame Johnsen to discuss student sentiment about language classes. Eventually, although likely not within the current school year, the Council hopes to meet with each department head to promote communication between students and faculty. Mr. Snee has been especially adamant and supportive in this endeavor, relaying discussion points at meetings to teachers and administrators.
The Council consists of seniors Anna Duning, Will Marshall, Hannah Nystrom and Cynthia Campero; juniors Adam Gann, Soorya Namboodiri, Christian Trasmonte and Oliver Douglas; and sophomores Elise Krachman, Nick Settje and Jack Cashin. Juniors Peter Davis and Michael Costelloe have also been especially involved in dialogues and decision-making. All students are welcome to attend open meetings to contribute thoughts and ideas. Meetings are usually held right after school on short Wednesdays.
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