Friday, April 21, 2006

Possible page for my Possible book

First Day:

  1. Eat a good Breakfast

  2. Getting to know your students

  3. Planning Goals

  4. Setting the tone

I love to see students walk in on the first day. No pencils, no paper and no expectation to stay in class the full duration. Its a stressful time for us to. New names and faces and one million new copies of the class roster. This is a great time to get to know your students and let them get to know you. In the very first class I taught we did a visual response project to a few getting to know you questions. The questions varied from those trying to dig into their previous experiences to ones gauging their interest and desires for the course/semester. These are way better than the standard name, major, and reason for taking the class. I just don't think I could listen to 30+ students tell me that the only reason they are in front of me today is because somewhere in the greater state of Illinois the matriculation gods decided to require art appreciation for their biology major, that's just depressing! Instead I used this time to set the stage for experience, goals and process to play a major role. It also allows for some humor and honesty. In response to the question on biggest fear for the semester I drew a picture of myself ( a stick person of course) on the ground with a dry erase marker stuck in my eye (accompanied with cartoon blood and the standard X where my eye used to be). I told them my biggest fear was falling while lecturing (as I tend to pace a lot) and injuring myself with a blunt object. It helped lighten the mood a little and at the end of the semester I received a congratulations from one of my students on not injuring myself! (A for that student!)

First Day:

  • Eat a Good Breakfast
Really self explanatory

  • Getting to know your students
You need trust among students and between you and them to be critical in the classroom. How do you begin to build that trust? A great opening day activity!


Windows: Ask students to fold paper into four window panes. In each pane they will visually respond to a question you ask. Words may be used only if necessary and should be limited. (Setting the Tone: This is a chance to place visual response in the spotlight and give it some much earned credibility as a way of communicating) Possible questions may be about goals for the semester, hopes and fears for the class, proud moments, a time they used or saw art that was impactful, A meaningful experience that was hard to describe in words. (Setting the Tone: If incorporating experience in the class is important to you ask a questions about it, if a specific issue like gender or race will come up ask a question about that.) Spend some time looking at and sharing each students’ responses.

Imagined History: Any interesting or odd object will do here. I typically use a small rubber fish I call Fred. Sitting in a larger circle if possible, students begin to create the life story of the object and add on to the previous addition from a random starting point to class that day. To challenge students you may ask them to have the object do something they have been through to get to school. For example, “Fred was born in a small pond but knew he would do great things one day.” Pass the object, another student may add, “Early in Fred’s life he was caught in a net and moved to store where he had to make a lot of new friends…” And then on to the next person. (Setting the Tone: While the story may get crazy you are letting students be creative and inventive. They are listening and engaging as a group which is challenging in many classes. It is also a simple step in interpretation and thinking about the history an object may have, significant points in a class covering art historical content) This project can be done as one large group or small groups with multiple objects depending on size and ability to move around.

Round Robin: The old standard of each student sharing their name is not bad with a twist. Give them a few questions and ask them to respond to at least one in their introduction. Questions may be about experiences with art or a significant work they have seen. (Setting the Tone: Students in art appreciation have an odd irrational fear that you will expect them to be good at drawing, asking them to describe their artistic abilities may ease some of those concerns.)

Note: All of these activities will be more meaningful if you are able to use the information throughout the semester. In one class every single students fear was getting and F. I made a conscious effort to keep them informed of their grades to help dispel this fear.

  • Planning Goals
AKA talking about the syllabus (See Writing the Syllabus)

It is a good idea to read, discuss and clarify the syllabus. This may be the only time students actually go through the entire document. However, you may not have to go verbatim through the entire draft. Some suggestions:
  • Define the overarching goals of the course as described by the school and counter that with your personal goals for the course. (Setting the Tone: from the beginning students will understand that you as a teacher have made decisions on content and structure and that you have goals for them and yourself)

  • Describe grading (for the first time). You will probably do this countless times throughout the semester but think about this first time as an extension of your goals for the class. (Setting the Tone: Placing a point value or percentage of the total grade shows your priorities loud and clear. Be sure that these match your stated goals. Students will notice any discrepancies.)

  • Make your expectation and schedule clear. Being open and honest with students will allow them to decide whether or not this is the class for them.

  • Give Tutorials. If you will be using any type of extra materials like web applications, school systems, blogs, discussion boards, writing centers and libraries show them how to use them. (Setting the Tone: Students given the right tools and time to learn to use them will have more equity in the course and all of these processes are helpful across the board in all of their classes) This includes materials that may come with their textbooks.

  • Setting the tone (Recap)
After the process of writing your syllabus and preparation for the class you are teaching you may have already defined the goals you have for your students. With those in mind use the first day to show them to students in a tangible way through activities. If you plan to do a lot of group work and discussion it does not make sense to lecture about the syllabus the first day. Setting the tone early on will help students to adapt to learning styles they may not be familiar with.

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