Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Does A Spoonful of Sugar Help the Medicine Go Down?

With apologies to Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, I want to talk about using food to increase student engagement.  Although I originally would think of candy, donuts, and cookies, I have expanded my horizons after having students with special dietary needs who needed alternatives. 

Some days my students in class or workshops seem to have the ho-hums.  Our Tutors have noticed the same thing when trying to encourage discussion.  In a more general manner, I want to encourage students to come use the resources of the office.

Here are some of the ways food can help to engage students in learning:

  • For an early morning class, I sometimes bring breakfast for my students.  As they munch and sip, they are more willing to participate in discussion.  They are more alert and brain-nourished than other days.
  • For the mid-afternoon doldrums, I keep a large snack box filled with individual packs of cookies, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, and other items.  I arrive in class with the box and let students pick an item for a snack.  The results are similar to my morning breakfast offerings.    
  • Several Tutors take bite-size candies to their weekly group sessions and reward students who ask questions or participate in hypothetical discussions with the treats.
  • When reviewing material for my final exams, I often have competitions with teams in my classes.  The rules are a cross of Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.  Since I teach international law courses, the prizes are a variety of products from the countries involved in the subject matter.  For example, for EU Law, I find as many items as I can from the 27 (soon to be 28) Member States.  Students get more involved because they know everyone will get a prize, but there are bigger prizes for highest individual points as well as for highest team points.  
  • Whenever I hold make-up classes, I provide food.  I do so partially because the make-ups often have to be in the early evening and partially because it just makes it nicer for all of us - no growling stomachs and famished brain cells.  We get those ABA minutes with nourishment.
  • In the past, I had a candy bucket in the study aids library of my suite to lure students in with hard candies, chocolate, and gummy treats.  Many a student was willing to discuss a study issue with me informally while sorting through the bucket for a favorite treat - often leading to a later formal appointment.  Other students would ask if I would help them determine the study aid that matched their learning styles while they munched.  The stress reduction potential was always a plus, especially near mid-terms and exams.
  • Several faculty colleagues are known for providing homemade baking, snacks, pizza, or other food items for their classes.  Several seminar classes are known for regular dinner meals. 

How often I provide treats and what sorts of treats, depends on how flush I am at the time.  Most of these types of perks are out of my own pocket because of university accounting rules.  Some of my faculty colleagues with chaired professorships have hefty budgets with fewer restrictions. (Amy Jarmon)  

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