Handbook: First Day of Class

First Day of Class: What to Expect

From DevLab

Rob LeBlanc (2010-present), Photo by R.E. Burnett

Make the first day of class memorable rather than mechanical. Yes, you do need to find out who is present and absent, but do so quickly. You also need to give an overview of the course:

  • The general focus of the course—the topics they’ll address, the assumptions
  • The rhetorical and multimodal approach—that every analysis they do will be rhetorical, every artifact they create will be rhetorical and multimodal
  • Whether the course includes sensitive materials—for example, topics that provoke controversy and strong emotion, topics that may make some students uncomfortable. [NB: “Sensitive” describes virtually everything we do, but here we’re largely taking about sex, religion, horror, violence, and political bias. All of these topics are acceptable, but you need to let the students know in advance what they’ll be addressing.]
  • Whether you’re using a community service or client-based approach. Most students find such approaches exciting, but a few will choose to drop your class because extra time and travel might be involved.
  • The print and e-books they must purchase; other expenses they can expect (e.g., photocopying, posterboard)
  • Expectations about absences, assignments, homework, individual and collaborative work, and so on; overall assumptions about cell phones, texting, etc.
  • Expectations of accountability, such as taking unannounced quizzes to demonstrate knowledge of assigned readings
  • The assumption that they have their own laptop and will bring it to class to use every day (or whenever you specify); the software they must have; the good manners they must exhibit when using their laptops in class

Beyond these relatively standard things, though, students need to be engaged and excited about the course. English 1101 and English 1102 might be some students’ first college course and most likely their only one that has fewer than 30 students. LCC 3403 won’t be a first college course, but it still may be students’ only course that has fewer than 30 students. Virtually all students will enter the class fairly sure they’re really smart but not so sure that they’re good communicators (first-year students might be a little insecure about having so many other really smart students in class). They’re generally eager, cooperative, creative, curious, and willing to work very hard. And they care a LOT about grades.

What helps on the first day of class?

  • Learn names. Learn each student’s name as quickly as possible and refer to each student by name on the first day (and thereafter). Also, tell them what to call you in class and out of class—Sandra or Dr. Smith.
  • Provide basic information. Do the mechanical part of the first day of class information as expeditiously as possible.
  • Engage in an activity. Plan an activity on the first day of class that captures the topic, rhetorical, and multimodal nature of the course—some activity that conveys the processes they’ll frequently engage in (e.g., collaborative planning, information design, gameplay, individual writing, group feedback, reflection, etc.) so that they leave the class feeling excited and challenged.
  • Give homework. Give homework on the first day of class. Make part of the first day’s homework accessing T-Square, completing a short assignment to be shared with the class on T-Square (one relevant to your course, whether it’s a response to a one-page reading or a short autobiography), reading your syllabus, and returning the signed acknowledgment form. Make it count toward the final grade.

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