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Blog » Ask Students to Set the Tone for Your Class

Jeremiah Parry-Hill--As part of RIT’s 2017 New Faculty Orientation, I led an interactive exercise called “Best and Worst Class” that comes from Maryellen Weimer’s Teaching Professor blog (link: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/first-day-of-class-activities-that-create-a-climate-for-learning/) Weimer proposes that by getting students to take an active role in defining and constructing a classroom climate, they will be more likely to want to participate in the climate they create. In her class, she asks students to reflect on their best and worst class experiences; a procedural outline follows:

  1. On one side of the board write, “The best class ever,” then on the other side write, “The worst class ever."
  2. Below each heading, write: “What the teacher did” and “What the students did.” Tell students that you are focusing on behaviors.
  3. Ask the students to share their experiences (without naming people or classes). Two pictures of classrooms will quickly emerge in sharp contrast.

What emerges from this exercise is a student-generated description of the classroom they want to be in, along with a list of behaviors that detract from class without shaming anyone specifically.

I ran this exercise during New Faculty Orientation as a way of modeling a quick icebreaker that goes beyond names and introductions. How did faculty define the behaviors associated with best and worst classes?

  • Teachers in the best classes bring passion for the subject, and make classes interactive and fun.
  • Students in the best classes are motivated, arrive ready to learn, and ask good questions.
  • Teachers in the worst classes are unorganized, try to cram in too much content, and signal to students that their job is to copy the slides.
  • Students in the worst classes are passive, show up only to sit back and listen, or simply check out.

The executive director of the Innovative Learning Institute, Neil Hair, has shared his strategies for first day teaching on this blog.

For more thinking about the first day of class, see these Faculty Focus blog posts:

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