Friday, January 21, 2011

First Day Recap

Yesterday was my first day of teaching for the new semester. I was certainly anxious as I waited for class to start. I never quite know what to do with my self during those first few minutes where students are trickling in, but class hasn't quite started. And unlike my last first day of class, I don't think anyone mistook me for a student... I don't think.

To kick class off, I had the students interview one another and introduce their partners to the class as an icebreaker, an idea I picked up from my own First Year Writing Department. From the first introduction, I could tell that this was going to be a completely different class from the typically reserved, P.A. students that I had the pleasure to have last semester. This class is much more diverse. They have different majors, for starters. They come from a variety of locations, not just the NY metropolitan area. I am excited to see what all of these students bring to the table. Diversity in the classroom is an awesome thing! It brings in fresh perspectives and provokes better classroom discussion.

After all was said and done, I had them write letters to themselves (and of course, read them all before I went home for the day). Again, the letters showed me what a unique group of students I have. I wonder what they will think about what they wrote when they get to the last day of class. It won't just be the last day of class, but the end of their first year of college.

To critique my own teaching, I need to slow it down on the first day of class. I tend to let my excitement get the best of me and forget that students can't absorb things when I quickly flip through them. For instance, I really should have taken the time to explain Blackboard. I took it for granted that even though these students were in their second semester of college, they might not have had teachers who used Blackboard. Timing, in general, is still my biggest challenge as a new teacher. I am curious how more experienced teachers get the timing right, especially on the first day of class when you don't know the chemistry of the group.


If you're a teacher, I'm wondering... what do you do on your first day of class?

If you're a student, I'm wondering... what do you expect from the first day of class?

And for everyone.... is there a most memorable or most effective icebreaker that you've experienced either in class or with some other group meeting?


Lee Skallerup Bessette, PhD said...

I like, on the second class, to ask them to describe their relationship to reading and writing as honestly as possible: what do they like, what do they not like, etc. Or, I'll ask them why they are here, in college.

I don't do a lot of icebreakers anymore; I just give them a group exercise on active reading or comparing an online text and textbook chapter that are both about active reading. But my favorite was to ask students to write their major, hometown, and year, along with something interesting and surprising about themselves, but not their name. I then collected them, shuffled them, and randomly redistributed them. Students had to then find the owner of the paper and introduce them to the class. I would always put my own paper in, too.

Maybe I'll start doing it again. Next year. :-)

NP said...

That sounds like a fun icebreaker. I might just give it a try the next time around. Thanks for the feedback!

Gray Kane said...

I use clickers in my course. On the first day, students share clickers as we go through a list of questions that target students' attitudes about writing, common misconceptions about writing, etc. The format of each question is the same: "Which of the following statements do you and your neighbor most agree with?" The activity not only encourages students to talk each other out of negative attitudes and inhibiting misconceptions, but it also builds an incredible sense of classroom community.

NP said...

What are clickers? This is definitely a new term for me.

Gray Kane said...

The device was featured in the PBS documentary, "Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk." Other terms for "clickers" include "classroom response systems" and "digital response systems," and there are a plethora of brands. [We use i>clicker (] Each brand has its own features, but in general, clickers allow students in class to respond anonymously to multiple-choice questions. The teacher then can display (if your classroom has computer projection capabilities) a histogram of the answer distribution (3 chose "A," 5 "B," etc.).

Writing instructors do not typically teach with multiple-choice questions, but you'd be surprised by how easily you can design multiple-choice questions to promote higher-order thinking skills -- particularly if later questions encourage students to rethink their answers to earlier questions.

The key is to devise a sequence of interlocking questions, each with best answers but not necessarily right answers. The questions can address anything from students' attitudes about writing -- to revision options for an example essay on the screen.

Here's a typical strategy: first have students answer, next post their anonymous results on the screen, and then if the responses vary greatly, ask the students to "justify your answer to your neighbor." In other words, clickers can promote peer teaching.

Before clickers, Eric Mazur of Harvard developed that strategy with students' raising hands or responding on note cards. So if you can't secure the technology at your school, there are other ways of incorporating a similar pedagogical approach.

But the devices do wonders for promoting engagement, a sense of community, and classroom morale.

Here are five students discussing the use of these devices in a freshman comp course I taught a year ago: BTW, I don't know why only males agreed to participate in the video, but I have not seen a discrepancy in gender participation with the devices. Also, here's a great bibliography on teaching with clickers:

I hope this helps!