Friday, August 13, 2010

First Impressions in the Classroom

Our first day of class at UT is coming up soon!  What can you do with your students to make a good first impression, including setting the tone for serious academic work? Here's some tips for your first day.
  1. Start with some interaction and save the syllabus for later!
  2. Smile and introduce yourself with some more personal information to make yourself accessible and "real" (say something light, such as telling them where you are from, about your favorite food or movie, for instance, or tell an illustrative story about why you chose your field).
  3. Start using names immediately.  For instance, use your roster to note who is who, draw a seating chart, have students make "name tents" for their desk or table, or call on students randomly in a lecture hall. ("Jerome, where are you?  Could you tell me what motivated you to take this class?")
    Joan Middendorf writes, "In his 1993 book, What Matters in College, Alexander Austin reviewed the literature on college teaching, finding two things that made the biggest difference in getting students involved in the under-graduate experience: greater faculty-student interaction and greater student-student interaction. Though learning student names may seem a trivial matter in the entire university enterprise, it is a powerful means to foster both of these interactions" (see for the full article). 
  4.  Ask students to introduce themselves.  In a lecture hall, you could use clickers to survey students.  In smaller classrooms, they could introduce themselves and say where they are from.  You can also use this opportunity to gather information about their learning up to this point.  For a class of under 50 students, bring in index cards and have them write down information about previous learning experiences and their expectations of your class. You can also ask them about their schedules and what is competing for their time this semester.
    For more about informal assessment of learning, visit the National Teacher Forum page on classroom assessment (or CATS).
  5. Finally, enjoy your class and show this enjoyment.  Remember that despite any nervousness or your hectic schedule, this is time for you to enjoy your subject and your students!

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