A search of the Internet asking “how to start the first day of the semester” results in many hits and suggestions. Many are from famous and not so famous university teaching and learning centers throughout the world. Below is a synthesis of five suggestions that are common across many if not all of the sites. There are many additional good suggestions on the various sites. To keep this blog short and the number of suggestions to ones you can count on one hand I have limited my list to five that require minimal time and little or no effort.
1. Arrive early and greet students as they enter the class. This builds community and signals that the class is a safe and conducive place for learning. You may also want to have students introduce themselves either the student next to them or the whole class if the enrollment is low.
2. Involve your students in some type of learning activity. This serves two purposes; it signals that this is a class focused on learning and equally important it provides an opportunity to help students feel that they belong and to get to meet and works with peers. Most students will be new and not know other students in the class. The learning activity could be; a puzzle, a problem, short quiz, or making a list of some aspect that is related to the course material. It should be fun, engaging and relevant. For example, in an introductory biology class I often have students work in pairs to list five or more properties that distinguish living from non-living objects. If you would like to do the exercise electronically consider using Poll-Everywhere (see https://ctle.um.edu.mo/resources/pollev/)
3. Introduce your discipline and why your discipline is important for everyone to have a basic understanding of and how it impacts or relates to everyday life. If students do not see the relevance of the course and material, then it will be difficult to engage them in meaningful learning.
4. Go over the key components of the course outline/syllabus and course expectations/policies, however it is generally not necessary to go into detail and a better approach is to tell them there will be a short in class quiz on the course outline/syllabus at the beginning of the next class meeting. You may want to establish class policy with respect to computers and mobile devices. If you choose to prohibit their use during class it is important that you have a justifiable reason that will make sense to them. My personal suggestion is, to not banned the use of mobile devices, – since this is impossible to enforce- but to encouraged their use for academic course related activities and stress that other activities such as surfing the web, WeChat, social media, etc., have been shown be distractive to fellow students and result in lower class grades. Additionally, if you want students to use their devices for class related activities then you should build learning activities into the course that use the devices for academic purposes. One easy way is to use Poll-Everywhere for quizzes (ungraded) student feedback, brainstorming, etc.
5. Spend at least 20 to 30 minutes teaching as you would throughout the rest of the semester. This allows students to understand what the courses is about, experience your style of teaching and decide whether the course/section is one they want to be in. Students have choices about courses and sections so it is in everyone’s best interest to have the best possible fit between student and teacher, teaching and learning preferences.
1. Convey the impression that you would rather be somewhere else. When students are surveyed as to what makes for a good class or a good teacher the number one item is that the teacher is “enthusiastic caring and accessible”. This appears to be universal and irrespective of the educational system, country, or discipline. So, even if you’re having a bad day or been assigned to teach a class that you have no interest in teaching you need to be perceived as “enthusiastic caring and accessible”.
2. Ending early, some instructors simply go over the syllabus stress the rules and protocols and then dismissed the class early. This sends the message that the course is about rules and content and not about learning. Often students then default to an un-engaged mode and are likely to put in minimal effort and give minimal course and teacher SFQ ratings.
Stanford Teaching Commons Preparing for the First Class
Colorado State University 9 Things to Do on the First Day of Class
Faculty Focus Five Things to Do on the First Day of Class
Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center Make the Most of the First Day of Class
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