That Which We Call a Rose…

I have a friend, a linguistics PhD, who on the first day of class completely memorizes all of her FIFTY students’ names.  She has them introduce themselves, and then without consulting her class list she runs through the names forward throw the rows, then  backwards, then has them change seats and does it again.  I call it her superpower.

I can’t do that, but I do learn all of my students names within two weeks of the course starting–although its much easier these days with my classes capped at 25 than it was when I too had 50 students and was still struggling by the time of the first exam.  I have lots of tricks for this, and could cite a number of pedagogical reasons for why learning the names of students is important, particularly when you want to engage in active learning techniques.

But this post is not about the merits of instructors learning the names of students.  Rather, I want to adovocate for forcing our students to learn the names of EACH OTHER.

This is my top pet peeve in the classroom–students engaging in discussion and debate in class after class with each other, and never knowing or using the names of their fellow students.  The implied lack of respect, the disengagement, the lack of true listening skills, and the focus on engaging with the professor directly rather than the group–all of it drives me bonkers.  In debate, students can go wrong in two ways: either they refuse to disagree with or criticize their peers out of politeness, fear of social ostracism, or shyness, or they end up disagreeing very loudly and openly, sometimes falling into the realm of personal attacks. Neither of these is productive.  Forcing them to know–and USE–each others names in the discussion opens up the classroom for true, respectful interaction.  It doesn’t guarantee it, but it does cut down on the ‘yeah, what HE said’ type of responses.

There are several ways to accomplish this.  First, reinforce names by using them yourself in class, and when students respond to each other and say ‘he’ or ‘she’, gently correct them with the name.  This by itself establishes the norm, but does not usually help them learn the names.  Thus we turn to everyone’s favorite type of game: the ice breaker.  In the first class, don’t have students introduce themselves one by one, but play one of the standard games: have them chat with a neighbor for 2 minutes and then introduce each other, or do a person-based BINGO game, or stand in a circle, and everyone has to offer their name with a theme-based adjective (eg, I’m Sporty Simon” or “Charming Chad”) and repeat all the names of everyone before them.  Pick your favorite, as juevinile as you like, but just be clear with the students as to WHY you are doing this, and keep reinforcing the lesson as the semester goes on.  Finally, you can always take advantage of our secret weapon: extra credit.  Offer the students a few points of extra credit if they can put a name to everyone in the class.  That will quickly motivate them more quickly than any of the above!