Essential First Day Practices For The Remedial College Classroom
First impressions are formed during the first day of class. It’s often during the first day students determine if the class will be manageable and welcoming and if the instructor is approachable.
Below are essential first day practices that will get the semester off to a good start and promote student success.
Have a plan
Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Every stellar educator knows this to be true. It’s important to plan for each class with specific objectives in mind. Planning for the first day of the semester begins with identifying first day goals. First day goals might include: setting the tone for the semester, creating a welcoming environment, building community and introducing students to the course and content material.
Everyone wants to be respected, instructors and students alike. Most of the time, the way to get respect is to give it. Instructors can convey respect by considering and understanding the needs and concerns of remedial students. Here are a few things to consider:
- Students don’t want to be called out or put on the spot.
- The greatest fear of most students is looking stupid. They’d rather be a slacker or quitter than be thought of as dumb.
- Not knowing what to do makes students uncomfortable.
- Sarcasm doesn’t belong in the classroom even if students seem to “understand” that type of humor.
Demonstrate care and develop connections
Its been said that students want to know that instructors care, more than they care what instructors know. Connections between faculty and students often support students’ motivation to succeed. Instructors can encourage connections with students by:
- Knowing students’ names
- Caring and inquiring about students’ progress
- Inviting questions from students
- Responding to students in a respectful manner
Posting the title of the course, the day and time and instructor’s name on the whiteboard or doc cam lets students know they’re in the right place. There’s nothing worse for students than to sit half way through a class and realize they are in the wrong course, building or room. Not only is the situation embarrassing but it also makes them late (or absent) for the class they are supposed to be attending.
The classroom door
Instructors who position themselves at the classroom door to greet students on the first day, provide a welcoming invitation to class and set the tone for a pleasant semester. All too often instructors make the mistake of dashing into class at the last minute, dropping their bag and beginning the day’s lecture. This kind of start to class brings a rattled energy with it.
The classroom door is a great place for instructors to be at the end of class as well. A warm sendoff that includes shaking the students’ hands and using their names sends a message of respect and care. The effects of the two positive classroom-door-interactions will linger long after class dismisses.
Remove dead time
Dead time makes remedial students nervous. Walking into an unfamiliar environment such as a college classroom and not knowing anyone can be an intimidating and frightening experience, especially for remedial college students. The experience can be exacerbated by the dead time that takes place during the first several minutes of the first class when students often feel out of place and unsure of what to do with themselves while the instructor talks to other students who aren’t sure they’re in the right class or who’s names don’t appear on the class roster.
From the moment students step into the classroom, remove the dead time and get them immediately engaged. Have course materials (syllabus, course schedule, name tent, content article, etc.) prepared and placed at each seat before students arrive. On the classroom whiteboard or doc cam post a list of things students should do during the first several minutes such as read through the syllabus, skim through the course schedule, record questions, write their first name on both sides of the name tent, etc.).
Providing students with reading material and specific tasks gets them actively engaged from the minute they enter the classroom acquaints them with the course material and sets the tone for a productive class environment.
Active learning is more likely to occur in a comfortable, safe environment where there’s a sense of belonging.
Building community allows students to feel comfortable, secure and connected. Remedial students often have a history of feeling like an outsider in an academic setting. As a result, they tend to be somewhat hesitant to participate openly in class. Having a sense of community encourages students to feel more comfortable speaking aloud, contributing to conversation and participating actively.
Community building activities should begin the first day and should continue throughout the first couple weeks of the term. Community building activities will help foster a sense of belonging that will permeate throughout the semester.
When selecting a community building activity consider ones that are fairly brief in duration, allow for movement, include the use of students’ names and require that all students participate. The goal is to have students have a brief and positive out-of seat experience with their classmates.
It’s important to keep in mind that when students are engaged in community building activities the instructor participates as well. When the instructor participates, it allows them to get to know the students, learn their names and observe how they interact with each other. Instructors who participate can model respect and good classroom relationships.
One of the most important pieces in connecting with others is knowing and using their names. Names acknowledge a person’s identity and convey the idea that a person is important enough to be known and remembered. For a classroom community to connect its crucial names are known and used by the students as well as the instructor. To ensure names are included as a part of the classroom culture the instructor should model the behavior by using students' names often. The instructor can also include a question on a syllabus quiz asking, “What’s your instructor’s name?” and include a “Student Name Quiz” to the course assignments.
The few minutes it takes to include community-building activities will payoff later and are well worth the time invested.
Introduce the course and content
A general overview of the syllabus should be presented the first day along with an introduction to the content and format of the course. If the course relies heavily on student participation, the first day should include a task or activity that requires student involvement. If the class is text heavy, the first day should include a brief piece of reading material, perhaps a content specific article that can be read and discussed in class. Giving students a glimpse of the course the first day lets them know what to expect and sets the tone for the coming weeks ahead.
These essential first day practices will encourage a comfortable, respectful learning environment that promotes student success and retention.