My teaching this semester is driving me nuts, but not because of the content or amount. I am in the midst of teaching two courses and the material overlaps significantly. Despite this, the classes could not be any more different.
Size: ~60 students
Meets: 50 mins, M/W/F around noon.
Size: ~30 students
Meets: 75 mins, T/R morning (college morning, not real morning)
For Class 1 I am teaching the portion of a broader class that specifically relates to my more specific Class 2. As such, a large amount of the early material for both classes is similar. Both courses are upper-level courses populated by a similar level of students. I therefore assumed that the two classes would react to the material is roughly the same way, but I could not have been more wrong.
Class 1, despite being the larger of the two, is actively engaged and I rarely have to wait for a response to the questions I often pose during the lectures. Looking around the room I typically see the vast majority of students either taking notes or looking back at me, at least doing a decent job of appearing to be paying attention. The students ask good questions and seem interested in the material.
Class 2 is like teaching the undead. Same material, same questions, same (probably bad) jokes and only the sound of crickets to greet my pauses after a question for the class. When I look around the room I see as many tuned out blank stares as I do students paying attention. WTF is going on? The only real differences are the time of the class, the length they are sitting there, size of the class and the room, otherwise we are covering roughly the same stuff.
The difference between the two is as perplexing as it is maddening. If I were not dealing with Class 1 I would be concerned that my teaching style is completely wrong for this stuff, but I now have an experiment suggesting that is not the case. My best guess is that the length of T/R classes puts students in a mindset to be less engaged, but I could be completely wrong. I would be curious if others have experienced something similar.