Welcome back. I hope each of you found time for some rest and renewal over the summer.
The first day of class is our most important class session of the quarter. Students’ first impressions of you, classroom peers and the assigned tasks will influence their will to succeed. Here are a 8 tips to getting our students off on the right foot: envisioning themselves as capable learners.
- Smile, welcome and support. Students want you to know you care whether they learn. The first day is your opportunity to set a climate conducive for all learners. Be friendly, yet clear about the kind and respectful norms of your classroom. From a cognition point of view, intellectual, physical and social safety are precursors to learning; we must first felle safe, before we open our minds to the acquisition of knowledge. Be conscious of your body language; tell a funny story, relax and enjoy your students. You are teaching what you love: show it!
- Ensure equity and inclusion. Clearly state: in this class, all voices are welcome and will be heard. Reinforce this claim by using flexible grouping. When students are consistently allowed to self-select their groups they do not have opportunities to work with others who hold diverse views and cultures. Preparing students to appreciate multiple perspectives and kindly negotiate differences of opinion is preparation for citizenry (and an OSU institutional outcome articulated in the Learning Goal for Graduates).
- Review your syllabus prior to giving it to students. Syllabi are often the first direct communication between teachers and students. Because of our expertise (and busy-ness) we may write our syllabi with the same tone we use in our academic writing. The audience for a syllabus however, are your nervous students sitting in front of you. Imagine yourself as your student in your class, what impressions does your syllabus inspire? Do you feel welcomed? Encouraged? As though the teacher is fair? Tone and word choice, imply.
- Clearly communicate your academic expectations.Often students will pass by the first few pages of the syllabus (sigh) and move right to the “what do I have to do to pass this class,” section. Be clear. If you are requiring a paper, explain the purpose of the paper, the connections to be made, and how the paper will be assessed. Always provide students with rubrics when paers and projects are assigned; you need not include rubrics in the syllabus. (It is easy to post rubrics on Canvas). If you are planning on giving exams, review (on line) the top points and skills that are most worth knowing: target key knowledge and skills. The purpose of assessment is to determine what the students learned. Test what was taught.
- Check in frequently with your students.Use frequent “informative assessments” to monitor students’ progress. Not all brief assessments need to be graded; they are a form of communication between you and the students. These short assessments let you know what is going well, and what might need to be revisited.
- Use fair and equitable grading. Release yourself from detailed and extensive grading methods. The CTL has a “grading delineator” (se link below) which may be of help: grade calculation differs with the type of course. Never grade on the curve, a curve is based on the assumption that students’ performance will follow a bell curve: a certain percentage will fail. Instead, set an appropriate level of rigor for your students, then support them getting to that level of proficiency. It is our goal to help as many students over the hurdle as possible. If the majority of your students make it over, BRAVO!
- Pre-manage readings.Prior to assigning readings, clearly identify what points on which you want the students to focus. Preparing students to read is a highly effective instructional strategy. As academics, we are proficient readers, and are able to identify what is worth noting. Unlike our students we have years of practice (and may have been good readers prior to entering undergraduate school.) Help your students learn how to be critical readers by providing them guidance and associated assignments that support students in summarizing and clarifying the reading. Creating short comprehension tests on Canvas prior to class is also a method of ensuring students read prior to class sessions.
- Integrate writing and speaking practice into all classes.Our students can’t get enough practice in communication. Regardless of the major, citizens must be able to read, write and speak clearly. Short and frequent writing assignments are excellent practice. If you assign a paper, ensure students have the opportunity to write and revise, write and revise, prior to handing in a final.
Teaching is a highly complex set of skills. We all have our good days and our bad ones too. After 40 years of teaching though, I can safely say, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about relationships. Enjoy your students and share your passion for your love of learning.
Those of us in the Center for Teaching and Learning wish you all the very best for the upcoming academic year.
PS: There are many student academic support units on campus; please encourage your students to use them!