What to do on the first and last day of class

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Engagement

This solution derives from a set of brownbag conversations sponsored the CALS Teaching and Learning Council in 2007. We present ideas for things to include in the first and last days of class. I also introduce the concept that a class is a dynamic group that goes through the same developmental phases as any group. The first and last days of class are important to building classroom community.

From the CALS Council on Teaching and Learning Lose the Podium! Series
December 10, 2007

Great starts and Fabulous Finishes
The first day and last days of class are an opportunity to set the stage and reinforce learning in our classrooms. In our third CALS Council on Teaching and Learning sponsored Lose the Podium! discussion for Fall 2007 we explored what makes a successful first and last day of class. Every class we teach is a semester-long group experience. No matter what the course, students who enroll are entering into some level of relationship with the instructor and with each other. No matter who the instructor, s/he is also impacted by the experience.

The first day of class sets the stage and is a chance to get started off on the right foot. We model our expectations for behavior and interaction, we introduce key course concepts and learning goals, and we begin to create a sense of learning community. Similarly, the last day is critical in its role as an ending. We reinforce the semester’s learning, we provide an opportunity to reflect, and we say goodbye. Too often we pay more attention to the first day than the last. Both are equally essential. It is important to intentionally consider the experience we want for the last day of class as carefully as we consider the first. Below are some ideas that came out of our discussion for how we can accomplish these goals for our first and last days of class.

FIRST DAY OF CLASS:

1. Introduce the course logistics and expectations—usually this means introducing the course syllabus and ‘rules’ (attendance, exams, assignments etc.)

IDEAS:

a. Use the syllabus as a chance to set them at ease and/or start them thinking by using think-pair-share or active approaches to presenting the material in the syllabus

b. Use a different approach to present syllabus information, like a GRAPHIC syllabus that provides a concept map of the course rather than a linear sequence of topics.

2. Create a sense of community – provide opportunity for students to begin to know each other and the instructor, and for the instructor to get to know the class. Let them introduce themsleves to one another. Have them fill in a questionnaire to provide you with information about who they are and what their interests or goals are.

IDEAS:
a. Create a sense of community, get to know each other

  • Koosh ball or other ‘games’ – toss the ball to a student who then says their name, or interests, or…don't worry that it's "silly" -- it is, but the students won't mind.
  • Let them ask questions of each other or the instructor (‘Interviews’)
  • Be a real person to them – Don’t be afraid to let them know you a little – that you have kids, or a hobby, or…

b. Learn who is in class

  • Survey of interests and goals and background – compile and report later (could be in a handout or on a powerpoint slide)

c. Assess preparation or misconceptions

  • Pre-test of course concepts or content

3) Set the stage for the rest of the course
IDEAS:
a. Model and discuss expectations for behavior and attitutde in the course. For example, use their names, and work to learn names. Ask questions yourself, be curious.
b. Begin to ‘walk the talk’ – be on time, model the problem solving, or creative, or curious behavior that you expect from them.

4) Introduce the course material
IDEAS:
a. Provide ‘bookend’ introductory content you might return to later or on the last day of class
b. Start with a case study to get them interested - this could be challenging, and could be returned to on the last day
c. Course overview in pictures

LAST DAYS OF CLASS GENERALLY INCLUDE
1) Bookkeeping (evaluations etc.) – you may wish to do this prior to the very last day to save time on the last day for something more fun, or possibly riskier.

2) Reinforce and uncover learning - this is a critical component of a class that is often overlooked in our haste to "cover the material". In the last days it is especially important to give the students a chance to make their own meaning from the ideas and content presented to them.
IDEAS:

  • Post-tests to follow-up the pre-tests on day 1
  • Reflection – what did we (all) learn this semester? Did we meet our goals? Self-evaluation of learning.
  • Revisit key points from class – what did the students notice as key? What did you hope they noticed as key?
  • Plan an activity like a final case-study to integrate the material and ideas from all semester

3) What’s next? Consider ways to extend or apply course material and concepts
IDEAS:

  • Opportunities to apply or extend what was learned – how do people use this information? Give examples of internships? Research?
  • Give a handout with courses they could take that extend what was done in class

4) Acknowledge the class ending – closure, opportunity to say goodbye to those we’ve been in class with all semester. This is an important and often neglected part of community building and group dynamics. It is important to "close" a class.

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