I’ve posted several times to this blog about the importance of the first day of class for setting the tone, beginning to build a classroom community, and getting things going on the right foot.
But, the reality is that the first day is often very distracting and chaotic for both you and your students. You have to find out which students in the room are registered for your class and which are visiting, hoping to be added to the roster. Or, students just registered for your course because it fit into their “draft” schedule way back last spring and are just trying it out while they wait to get into some other class. Your class is their placeholder. They disappear in a few days.
That first day magic gets muddied by all this registration mayhem.
I find I never have enough time that first day to really pull off all that I want to accomplish: the ice-breaker, the teaser introduction to the course, AND the registration business. So…..I pin my hopes on the second day of the class. This is the time when I usually end up going over the expectations for the course and really begin to dive into the course material. Sometimes, though, if there’s a lot of registration madness, I feel like the class is off to a rough start.
During the Add/Drop period, there is a sometimes a considerable flux of students in and out of your classroom. You may not know for two weeks or more how many students you actually have in your class. Meanwhile, you are trying to get students engaged by orchestrating small group activities. You are trying to get to know their names. You are trying to get them to develop some good habits of mind and of classroom behavior that will serve the course well for the next four months.
Unfortunately, students may not have purchased the reading materials you hope they are keeping up with. Bookstore lines can be long. Students are trying to save a little cash by finding their books on Amazon. Many students begin the semester already behind in assignments and not really feeling committed to being in your class.
How does this period of instability affect your course?
My sense this semester so far is that the instability and chaos of these first few days is making it hard for me to get my classes in the right mindset. Here’s an example of what I mean. The second class day in one of my courses I had small groups working on some guiding questions for a discussion of an experimental paper they were supposed to have read. I visited each group, both to be there if they had questions about the paper (it was a very challenging reading for first semester freshmen) and to get to know them a little bit more. At the first group, I sat down with them and asked, “How’s the discussion going? Do you have any questions?” One student, whose chair was a bit on the periphery of the group and whose body was angled away from the other students, said, without looking up from his notebook, “I am not yet on the Course Moodle site, so I could not read the paper. I am not participating.”
It was like that ALS ice-water challenge that was all the rage on social media a couple weeks ago. “Oh, boy, we’re off to a great start,” I thought to myself sarcastically. “Well,” I said to him, “you could ask your fellow group members questions to learn a bit about the paper. That way you would be participating a bit.”
Magical communities of participating, engaged students sometimes take a while to develop. Keep working on it, trust the process and plan you’ve set up. Onward we go!