Tips from the McMaster Community

My Introductory class is too large for me to learn all of the students names.
Jim Deaville, School of the Arts

As the instructor of Music 1A6, I have 200 to 300 student names to remember each course. There are many reasons why I think learning student names is important. The learning process is more personal and motivating for students if I know their names. I find it easier to monitor a student's progress and give useful feedback once I know their names. Finally, I believe that students perceive the class as smaller if the instructor uses the names of the students when addressing them.

It is beyond my ability to learn 200 to 300 names but I do manage to learn up to 80% of them by using the following methods.

First of all, I tell the students what I am trying to do. Students find ways to help, are aware of my progress and are very supportive of my efforts when I do this.

Next, I try to learn ten to twenty new names each week, and I don't try to learn more than 150 names in one year. These are realistic, if difficult, goals. Some of the things I have done to accomplish these goals are:

  1. Study the class list as a starting reference point.
  2. Make up a chart of the class with the students names filled in. In order to do this successfully, of course, students must sit in approximately the same seats every time.
  3. Have students fill in their full name, major, and background in the discipline on cards at the beginning of term.
  4. Make up crib sheets to use in class discussions.
  5. Take a tutorial session and rotate with other tutors in order to meet the students in smaller groups.
  6. Examine I.D. cards when invigilating exams.
  7. Ask students to identify themselves whenever they come to speak to me.
  8. Return assignments one at a time, using the student's name.

I have found that memorable situations, even a disagreement, will help me remember the name of the student involved. Also, unusual characteristics, such as hair colour or height will trigger my memory. I find learning names hard work so I practice as often as possible by asking the names of early arriving students, writing them down, and then testing myself half-way through the class to see how many I remember. I call students by name whenever possible, even if I'm unsure. I'll take a guess and dare to be wrong.

Finally, I do some periodic self-evaluation. If I know 40% of the names by December, I figure that I'm on track. Students are impressed and very positive about my efforts, even those few who would prefer I didn't know their names!

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