It’s the first day of class. They shuffle in, spot similar life-forms, and slip in with that group. Hipsters sporting wild hair and tats, buttoned-up and serious young scholars, middle-aged moms and dads, maybe a couple of aging hippies. One or two sad souls choose spots isolated from the others; they don’t want to identify with them for reasons of insecurity, arrogance, or something else.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Your students have questions, but they rarely ask them—especially at the beginning of the semester. They feel awkward or embarrassed, or maybe it’s just inertia. Whatever the cause, the vast majority of student questions go unasked. For teachers, this is wildly frustrating because we can’t answer the questions they don’t ask (though some questions can be anticipated). In many cases, the unasked questions represent anxieties and uncertainties that negatively affect students’ performance in class and inhibits their learning. This is a particular problem in the sophomore composition class I teach. It has a reputation as a difficult class, so many students arrive intimidated and nervous.
There’s no discounting the importance of the first day of class. What happens that day sets the tone for the rest of the course. Outlined below are a few novel activities for using that first day of class to emphasize the importance of learning and the responsibility students share for shaping the classroom environment.
In public speaking classes or classes where there are oral presentations, students often enter these environments with a bit of anxiety and trepidation about speaking in front of others. Providing in-class activities as early as possible in the semester, that allow students to share things about themselves in an informal and positive environment, can not only help contribute to their public speaking comfort level, it can also lead to community-building throughout the course. As the class progresses, students exhibit a greater likeliness to support each other, relax around each other, and even feel like they’re getting to know each other better.
I bring a box to the first day of class — especially if it’s a course with beginning students. At precisely the time class starts, I walk into the room with my box filled with random, quirky objects. I like to include a small Alf doll, a pad of Post-its, some scissors, perhaps a can of Slim-Fast, a candle, a rock, a comb, and maybe six or seven other objects indiscriminately gathered as I leave for class. As soon as I enter the room, I put the box on the table; take each article out; place it on the table; and finally, when all of them are out, return them to the box. Then I ask the students to take out a piece of paper and write down as many of the items as they can remember.