Thinking about week one

My plan for 2017 is quite similar to what I did last year, so those familiar with my blog will see this is largely a repost of last year’s week one plan.  (There are some changes to account for the new R&M project and other lessons learned.)

It’s also just a plan.  I will likely make changes based on my PC, my students, and other unforeseen circumstances. Flexibility is key.

What are you doing?  Share your plan in the comments section!

Week One, Day One

Phase I is all about developing trust, so day one is a day for developing relationships, setting my nervous students at ease, and for introductions.

I don’t talk about the syllabus until day two.  I don’t start by “laying down the law.”

I greet each student with a smile.  I try to repeat their names back so I can get to know them quicker.  I circulate around the room – I don’t hang around the desk – the symbol of my authority.

When all of the students have arrived I introduce myself and my PC.  As noted, I don’t offer what we’ll do in the course, I offer what they’ll be when they’re done: Intellectually curious critical thinkers who can form judgments about information, collaborate with their peers to co-create new knowledge, and make mindful decisions.  In short, I tell them that they’ll be better equipped to handle the knowledge economy – their economy – not the industrial age economy I grew up in (when dinosaurs roamed).  I will mention how we crafted the learning objectives along these lines.

Than I turn things over to my PC, who conducts an ice-breaking activity.

By remanding the time back to my students, I’m communicating from day one that I am not the center of gravity for this course.

One of my favorite activities has been to watch my PC draw a random line on the whiteboard.  She introduces herself again, saying bit about what makes her nervous and what she’s most curious about.

She invites students to come up the board, one by one, to add to her line (to create a drawing together) and offer similar introductory comments.

When all 21 students are finished, we usually have quite a work of art on the board.  Sometimes they construct a piece of abstract modern art, sometimes a recognizable drawing (like a landscape).

But the central message (and we do share it at the end) is that we may start the process, but they’ll finish it..and we won’t know how’ll it’ll wind up until they’re done.

Week One, Day Two

This is another opportunity for me to reinforce that FYS is student-centered…and I do so by asking them to construct a social contract based on my syllabus (and comments from day one).

This contract should include how they’ll conduct themselves vis a vis class values (as manifested by attendance, debate, electronic devices**), how we should assess class presence, writing, and speaking (percentages and nascent rubrics) and how we’ll resolve conflict.

They’ll usually look to me to organize this effort, but with my PC’s help, I’ll put as much of the hard work back on them.  I’ll facilitate their decision making…suggesting tactics that work (such as small groups making proposals to the entire class after a short period of deliberation) and I’ll reiterate the seminar’s learning objectives.

I often add that we can amend this social contract as the class progresses, so as their understanding and perspective change they aren’t locked into a document crafted during week one.

It’s interesting to note that in some cases they create documents that they think will satisfy me, and in others they act in a self-serving manner.  As they progress in the course and become more empowered (and proud of their work, they invariably seek to modify these standards to account for their new found maturity.

And…given that forming social contracts is a complex problem, I will look for opportunities to call everyone’s attention to why it’s a wicked problem.  It’ll serve as a week three preview.

I request my first writing assignment on day two:  I ask them to write (to predict) what co-curricular and Experiential Learning opportunities they might wish to take advantage of during their time at QU.  We take a few minutes to do this in class.  It’s meant to prime them for the involvement fair.

** FYI – in past years I’ve been okay with having electronics in class.  But after doing a bit more reading on how the brain really can’t multi-task, I’m now going to lobby against their use, with a full explanation as to why.  That said, it’s our – not my – social contract.  We’ll see what happens.

Week One, Day Three

If we need more time to develop the social contract, we’ll do so on day three.  And here I begin to outline the syllabus – the way in which we’ll use our university resources to achieve our course ends.

Then, building upon their day two informal writing (and participation at the involvement fair), I will ask the seminar to break into groups and discuss the pros and cons of getting involved in University life.  I’ll ask them to form a thesis around how involvement effects their academic work.

When they’re done – about ten minutes – I ask a group rep to share the group’s ideas.

This project has as much to do with relationship building and student-centered teamwork as it does with the Roadmaps project.

For the weekend, I’ll ask them to watch the YouTube video on arguments (vs fights), and read the Battersby and Ballin essay, Critical Inquiry: Considering the Context (Many won’t, and many others will give up quickly.  That’s okay – my plan for week two accounts for this.)

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