I'm sure many people have had a conversation with a school-teacher friend that goes along these lines:
You: "How are you today"
Teacher: "Uh. I'm in a bad mood. I've just had class 8C. Why do they have to be so difficult?"
You: "Is that just normal of year eights?"
Teacher: "No. Last year's lot were really good. Bad class this year for some reason."
Pretty well the same thing happens in the tea room here at university. We talk about 'bad' classes and 'good' classes, 'quiet' classes and 'noisy' classes. I've often wondered whether it's because occasionally there are some really outgoing students in a particular class that lead a class one way or another. But I've though that, once you've got a decent number of students in a class, statistics will take over and one year's class will be much like the previous's.
Well, no. I've just been going through comments on the student appraisal forms for one of my classes. At the end of each paper, students get a formal opportunity to submit feedback on how the paper and teaching went. The comments are often fascinating. In this case, I had a lot of comments concerning the test I set. In the last couple of years, I've been trying out tests that you can talk in. Last year, the response was very positive. The majority of students loved it, though there were a few who really didn't like it. I'd say it was about three-quarters (very) positive, to about a quarter negative. This year however, it was the other way around. About three-quarters hated it, and about a quarter loved it. Why the difference? I think what I did was much the same. So was it the class dynamics that caused the issue?
These students have been together for a while (about two years) so there's been time for the relationships between students to really develop. And, I'm wondering, if different classes develop in different ways, and develop different whole-class expectations of the teaching they get. Maybe there really are 'easy' and 'difficult' classes out there.
I don't know. Someone's probably studied the effect. The question I now have to grapple with is the following: Do I keep the 'test-you-can-talk-in', or abandon it and go back to the traditional style for next time?