With the new academic year just around the corner for many public schools (almost everything in Canada, including university, begin classes the Tuesday after Labour Day each year), the anticipation of a new classes, new students and in some cases new programs, is building among the teacher community. Is it met with anxiety or excitement? For me, there’s a little of both. How will our changes to the program from last year work better for students this year? How will new instructors mesh with the existing crew? How will I really react to my brief vacation ending? Along with readin suggestions from other great blogs, I’ve put together some thoughts on how to make the first week set a positive tone for the upcoming term.
Incorporating students’ real experiences and backgrounds into activities
…is an important way to bring students out of their shells and help everyone to learn more about each other from the get-go. For example, let’s say you’re starting off the year talking about family issues, like the strictness (or not) of parents. Instead of giving a text about some random family’s story and having students read it, answer questions and then give their opinions of it afterwards, have students generate the text by writing about their parents (eg. give a guideline, like one example that supports that your parents are or aren’t strict). I’m sure a lot of us already use warmers to initiate interest in the topic by relating it to their own situations, and that’s great, but I’m really emphasizing that the material used in the lesson itself be generated by students about themselves in the first week. When one student knows more personally about another, it can help to foster concern and sharing, provided the classroom environment feels safe.
Having said this, exposing your personal side as a teacher, be it family information, preferences or as Brad Patterson puts it about sharing social values, needs to be “a very subtle game, and playing it any other way than subtle can jeopardize trust, though, playing it right gains quite a bit of trust and respect.” From the early days of my teaching and training, I’ve never felt that sharing much personal information about myself was appropriate. For respect in the classroom, there needs to be a balance between total distance and intimate engagement. Where’s the line? It’s a hard one to distinguish.
If you want to start off with a little more anonymity, but still would like to get a feeling about your class, you could try making text-vote polls using Polleverywhere. You make the questions (do some personal ones so everyone can get to know the general sense of the class better), project them on to the screen with a generated text number and students reply with their mobile devices. Easy and free.
…can help build bonds among students who don’t yet have a rapport and also help familiarise them with their surroundings. With the university campus as my context. I particularly like the idea of giving students a list of places to find that will be helpful for them during the year (e.g. libraries, other classrooms, other campus buildings, landmark places on campus, etc.). To prepare, make four lists with different places on each (and either a photo or a clue about where it is). Divide students in to four different groups. Give one member from each group their corresponding list and a blank map of the campus. Students need to find the places around campus with their group. Each time a listed place is found, students take a photo of it as proof and mark its location on the map. When completed, they return to the classroom (until all groups return, students collaborate together in pairs in a writing task that asks them to describe how to get from the classroom to two of the destinations. Unfinished writing tasks can be for homework). Once all groups have returned, students are mixed up and work together to introduce and identify all their places onto the same map. Finally, with a blank map projected onto the board, students in turns show their places on the map to the class. A final map can be uploaded to the course website.
Tripline is a course-plotting web tool that you can upload photos too. Could be a great addition to this challenge by having students plot their path.
Keep a reasonable level of photocopying.
It’s easy to go overboard in the first week. Try a couple of these ideas.
So have a fantastic first week of class everyone (for those of you just going back) whether it’s at the primary, secondary or tertiary level! In addition to teaching at University of Toronto, I too will go back to school in coming weeks as I’m starting the Masters program (Educational Technology and TESOL) through distance at the University of Manchester! I’ll have a new menu section for it coming soon!
By the way, if you haven’t already, please take a look at this post and enter the contest to win one of my favourite teacher’s books by September 2nd!