We’re four weeks into the fall quarter.  Typically after four weeks I’ve established a good working relationship with the students: they respond quickly to questions, they e-mail me frequently about the assignments, and things reach a dynamic state that makes teaching (and, I hope, learning) more fun.  Sometimes, though, things take longer to gel, as is the case with my introductory Python students this quarter.  They still aren’t asking enough questions.  They’re slow to answer in class.  And, most tellingly, they almost never smile.

So I’m finding myself reaching into my grab bag of tricks to try to liven things up.  I’ve memorized all their names, and I use them consistently.  I find something positive to say about every contribution in class.  I compliment the students who frequently speak up and, if they seem to have a good sense of humor, tease them.  I even dragged out an outright bribe last week and gave people who worked in pairs a chocolate kiss for having collaborated.  Despite all this, they remain one of the quietest Python classes I’ve ever had.

So now I’m resorting to misdirection.  I continue to pass around a roster for them to sign, even though attendance isn’t required.  And today I told them that a benefit of asking questions about the assignment is both that they’ll get help, but also that it will highlight things I haven’t explained clearly.  And while that’s not false, the things I ask them in assignments are typically things they’ve seen at least three times during class.  Still, at this point I’ll say just about anything to get more interaction from them.

Comparing the first-quarter and second-quarter Python classes is also highlighting to me how each class has a personality.  While the first-quarter Python class is the quiet student, the second-quarter Python class is the clown.  I’ve never had to try to liven them up.  In fact, I remember last spring trying to get some of them to shut up long enough so that I could talk, which I still deal with occasionally.  Having two such different classes this quarter is a strange experience.

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