A couple of times past few years (see "Making the First Day Not the Worst Day" and "Making the First Day Not the Worst Day 2.0"), I've written--and asked for advice--about how to best approach the first day of class. Breaking the ice with students, getting off on the right foot ("setting the right tone"), and knowing what and how much to teach on the first day, etc., had always been things I felt like I struggled to get right. Indeed, I always sort of dreaded the first day, always worrying about whether it would go well--and it sometimes not going so well. Fortunately, a lot of the suggestions the Cocoon community provided were incredibly helpful, and yesterday, for the first time, well, ever, I felt like I had a great first day. So, before I say any more, I'd just like to say thanks, to all of you who chimed in with advice the past few times I posted on this. Your suggestions and advice was incredibly helpful! :)
Anyway, since I struggled with this for so long, I figured I'd share how I approached things this time, and once again invite you all to share your first-day strategies. I don't pretend, by the way, that the strategies I used yesterday will for everyone--and indeed, maybe they won't always work for me. However, here, in rough outline, is what I did:
- I put together a Powerpoint presentation that welcomed the students to the class, and outlined on its first page what we would be doing today.
- The first thing I did after the welcome (also in the powerpoint presentation) was briefly introduce myself, giving just a few personal and professional details, including my philosophical interests and research.
- I had students introduce themselves to a partner, and exchange (a) names, (b) year/major, (c) background, and (d) interests. The students in each of my classes seemed to love this. It really brought the classroom alive, and seemed to make students comfortable, and at ease.
- I had each student introduce their partner (which, in my experience, worked a whole lot better than students introducing themselves to the class--something that has always seemed to make them nervous and "clam up").
- After introductions, I gave a brief, broad overview of the major topics we would be examining the course, as well as a number of specific philosophical questions the course material will address--which students also seemed to like, as it gave them a clear idea of what the course will be about, without overwhelming them the first day.
- After that broad survey, I had them fill out a 14-15 item survey on their attitudes heading into the course on some philosophical propositions the course will examine (with Likert scale, "1=strongly disagree", "5=strongly agree").
- Next, I had students get into groups of 4-5, asked them to select one of the issues on the survey, and put together a brief argument defending a tentative position on the topic. This exercise seemed to really get students interested in the course content ("wanting to see what's next"), and seemed to get them in the philosophical spirit, already engaging in spirited philosophical debate.
- I then asked willing groups to briefly present their argument to the class, and we debated each group's argument for a bit, clarifying issues, raising philosophical concerns, etc., before moving onto the next group.
- Finally, after all this, I went through the syllabus, course expectations, etc., and sent them on their way.
I realize this probably sounds like a lot to cram into a first day, and it sort of was. But our courses at the University of Tampa are both relatively small (20 students or so) and relatively long (my Tue/Th classes both meet for 2 hours twice a week)--and so I had just enough time to do it all.
In any case, it was pretty cool to have a good first day--and a lot of what worked came from your suggestions, so thanks again. :) Finally, since I suspect there are others like me--people who have long struggled with the first day--I'd like to open up a thread on this once again. What do you do on the first day that you find works well?