First Day of Class Questions

For most of us the school year has ended or will soon. We will all breathe a sigh of relief and promise ourselves a few days of R&R. However, most of us will already be thinking about our course load in the fall and what we will need to do to prepare for it. Even when I taught preschool and kindergarten my summers were devoted to “How can I improve my students’ learning?” It is no different since I have moved full-time to the college level.

I have mentioned Maryellen Weimer before in this blog. Her books and blog (Faculty Focus) have been inspirations for me as I have learned to be a more effective college instructor. I have used one idea from her first book (Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, 1st ed.) every semester for the past three years and have felt that is set the tone for each semester and each class. What is it? 41VTMiZBBbL._AC_US240_QL65_Well, part of one course I teach deals with helping children set the rules for the classroom. As I have reflected more and more on my college teaching, I have seen the importance of modeling for my college students those concepts I am trying to teach them about teaching young children. To that end, when I came across this idea (on page 108 of the book), I saw it as fitting right into my plans.

The idea is simple. Instead of listing in my syllabus my rules for the students and what I am willing to do to support them, I have them develop Instructor Responsibilities and Student Responsibilities. Just telling them to do this, however, does not give them anywhere to start. That is where the 5 Questions Activity comes into existence.

As the students come into class that first day, I have five sheets of post-it chart paper on the walls with markers next to each. On each paper I have a different sentence stem. Students are asked to complete each sentence stem before they sit down. They do not need to sign their contribution. The sentence stems are:

5Qs

  • In the best class I ever had, students…
  • In the best class I ever had, the teacher…
  • I learn best when…
  • I feel most confident as a learner when…
  • Classmates compromise my attempts to learn when they…

The students are then broken into two groups. One group uses the responses to the sentence stems to develop Student Responsibilities. The other group uses the responses to develop Instructor Responsibilities. Once the responsibilities (I like that word much better than rules) are written the groups are asked to make sure that there are no more than five for each. We all know too many rules makes it difficult to remember them all! The two groups switch Responsibilities and check the other group’s work to see if anything needs to be tweaked. I then collect these responsibilities and insert them into the syllabus online. Some semesters I also give the class a hard-copy.

Because the students developed the list of responsibilities, they have ownership. Worried that the ideas they come up with will not be rigorous enough? That has never happened in the three years I have been doing this.

As you contemplate your fall classes over the next months, consider taking a few minutes that first day of class to establish a learning climate that the students themselves helped to define.

k4348704Do you have any first day of class ideas you would like to share? Put them in your comment!