Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The first week: revisited

There's something wonderful about the first days of class. The students are energized, the environment seems exciting, and faculty are engaging. Wouldn't it be nice if we could bottle it all up and store it for those other times in the semester (midterms, finals) when the energy level starts to drain?! I've had two beautiful days in the first week of this new term, and I can already tell my students are going to make it a great semester. Isn't it comforting to see the students bring ALL of themselves to the class? To see students go beyond "checking in" to a class and push to really be involved and a part of the class...it is magical.

But facing that group of desks can sometimes be a challenge. Over the years, I have found a few easy steps help to foster that exciting energy in the classroom during the first week of class. These are easy, no-cost ways to start the semester off with a bit of zest and a little zing:
  • Be prepared. Have all of your materials in order before the first day. Students can easily find the items (online or on campus) and see that you have a detailed plan for the semester.
  • Spice it up a bit. The first week can be tedious for students as they wander from class to class hearing lists of requirements read verbatim from the syllabus. Add examples, dynamic questions, or sample situations that help students visualize what you want from them while providing information. Consider student activities where they move around, meet one another, and begin with the course content. Activity idea: The first day of class I collect the common note card full of student contact information. I add to it the prompt: "List one unique factor about yourself" -- then I take that information and make a sort of BINGO sheet using the unique factors as squares. Students on the second day of class go around trying to find the person who matches the factor...and try to find enough in a row to make a BINGO. I have pens/pencils/mini-staplers/sticky notes that I buy at super discounted prices as a prize option to keep it interesting.
  • Variety. The first day should involve a little burst of what students will see from YOU this term. So, engage them accordingly. Activity idea: I do this by showing my energy for the topic, providing a brief narrative, and then turning it around to the students so THEY tell ME what they will get out of the class. It is a great way to foster student buy-in and allow them to think through the needs of the course. I divide students by major, then have them work out why EACH major would benefit from the class. Basically, I say "Social Work majors...why are YOU all here today?" and they craft a response that already has them thinking about the benefits of my course, meeting others in their major, and committing to public speaking. They also see that I value their voice and I believe in a co-constructed learning environment.
  • Put yourself in their shoes. What will a student need to know the first week? What could they struggle with? What might be a comfort to them? What might they need to challenge them? Think through these questions as you craft your plan for the first week of instruction. Activity idea; Be the student: In my introductory public speaking course, I always share my example of nerves and shyness where, as a student, I threw up in front of a public speaking class because I was so anxious. This helps us all understand the path we are on and it breaks the ice. Share your student stories (or just reflect on them) to help remember the first week from the students' perspective.
  • Make it enjoyable. You can make class interesting and fun without losing any of the content. Show the students the first day that you are in the front of the classroom because you ENJOY what you do. This can go a long way for both YOU and the STUDENT to see the semester ahead as a journey. It doesn't have to be an easy journey, the challenging parts help us all learn, but you can make it an enjoyable journey. Seek student feedback often so you can improve this element of your teaching. Incorporate current events, popular culture, campus issues, and what you know about the students (even if you ONLY know they are all sophomores) into your approach to tailor the information and improve the relevance of your dialogue.
  • Model what you want the students to do. Be on time, be organized, be accurate. They will respect this and you can note you expect the same from them.  So often we've 'done all of this before' and don't realize that we can sound mechanical, rote, or even (gasp!) boring on the first day. Try to zest it up by planning ahead with the steps above or share your ideas for more ways to help students see the way your class will unfold during the semester.
These are few simple approaches that can open your classroom up for students and allow them to see the possibility of your course during those important first days of the semester.

Good luck and best wishes for a GREAT term ahead!

I had a few emails about the class bingo idea. Here's what the bingo sheet looks like (used this week for a class). I hand it out and then the students wander around meeting one another and initialing the box that matches their "unique fact" -- it is fun as I award 3-5 "bingo prizes" so there is a fun sense of urgency and competition and it only takes a few moments! Let me know if you give it a try and how you found it to work. Thanks for all of the interest!

No comments:

Post a Comment