Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day One

On the first day of class, I have a few goals:
1. Learn students' names. I usually have about 80% success the first day and about 90-98% success by the second day.
2. Go over the syllabus to make sure they understand a few very important things:
a. Don't plagiarize
b. Don't text in class
c. Pay attention to what I have to teach you about writing.
3. Buy the book or somehow get the readings another way.

Our classes are two hours long, and we are expected to hold class the entire two hours on the first day, so I also add in some sort of group activity on the first day. For the advanced comp class, I do a "review" of the intro comp course. I make 5 copies of an essay and cut each copy into paragraphs. I put each cut-up essay into an envelope. In class, I break the students up into 5 groups, give each an envelope, and ask them to put the paragraphs in order.

I have a few goals with this activity. Once the students have assembled the essay, I ask them why they chose the paragraph they put first. They explain to me that it's an attention grabber (usually they choose a paragraph starting with a quotation), or that it tells what the author is going to do in the essay, or it contains the thesis statement. I point out that they are telling me what they expect from an introduction. I was trained in "reader expectation theory," only a few elements of which I still use in my teaching, and this is one time I do.

My other goal is to talk about purpose. I ask the various groups what they think the purpose of the essay is. It becomes obvious that their interpretation of the purpose of the essay governs the way they organize it.

Finally, I let them know that the essay was written as a med school application essay. Once they know that, it's usually easy for them to reconstruct the essay as I originally found it. But it's also a good time to remind them that there is no one right way to organize the essay; there is no "right" answer, only the answer that matches the original. Writers reorganize and revise their writings all the time, and it's quite possible this writer revised hers at a later date for a different purpose. If she had time during med school. ;)

After this exercise, I gave students a quiz on the syllabus. Yes, on the syllabus. I let them consult the syllabus and work with their groups. There were 15 questions, the last of which asked them to guess a song that's on my iPod. I was pretty embarrassed when they guessed (incorrectly!) Jimmy Buffett, Kelly Clarkson, and Elton John's "Tiny Dancer"! That was a little bit of an icebreaker moment, for them to try to figure me out. On Day 2, I plan to give students a shorter version of the quiz to see if they retained anything.

Finally, I was thrilled today to have the opportunity to share with a student information about open source software. She told me she didn't have enough money to buy Microsoft Office and put it on her laptop. I showed her the web site for Open Office and explained how to use it. I also showed her Google Documents and how easy that is to use. I don't know if she'll follow up, but if she does, it's nice to win a convert!

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