Keeping Student Stress from Devolving into Distress through Course Design

Contents:

  • Defining Stress, Distress, and their Origins
  • How Distress Manifests in the College Setting
  • Why Make an Effort to Reduce Distress Among Students?
  • Reducing Distress in the Classroom
  • Further Resources
  • References

Defining Stress, Distress, and their Origins

Stress is an omnipresent feature of most Americans lives (American Psychological Association 2010). The American Psychological Association defines stress as a “pattern of specific and nonspecific responses an organism makes to stimulus events that disturb its equilibrium and tax or exceed its ability to cope” (Gerrig and Zimbardo 2002) .

Stress affects all Americans regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status or prior life experience. Typically those who are experiencing stress report feeling “overwhelmed, worried or run-down” (Alvord et al., n.d.). Now more than ever, college students feel stressed in the campus setting (Yorke 2004). These feelings are particularly acute among first and second year students who may be away from home for the first time and trying to adjust to college life (Misra and McKean 2000).

Stress can be both beneficial and harmful. Stress is beneficial when it leads to the production of energy boosts that increase alertness and help individuals power through high stress situations such as exams and/or work deadlines. This type of stress is typically referred to as eustress. On the other hand, stress is harmful when it is experienced in excess (Alvord et al., n.d.). This form of stress is referred to as distress. According to the American Psychological Association, distress can lead to adverse health outcomes that affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems (Alvord et al., n.d.).

Within the academic setting, causes of student distress may include:

  • Test anxiety, a form of performance anxiety where a person experiences high levels of distress or uneasiness before, during, or after an examination. Test anxiety interferes with students’ ability to perform in testing situations
  • Perfectionism, the need to be or appear perfect
  • Imposter syndrome, a persistent belief or feeling that one is inadequate even in the face of success
  • Stereotype threat, a self-confirming belief that one may be evaluated based on a negative stereotype of a group in which they belong
  • Generalized anxiety, ongoing anxiety and worry that interferes with day-to-day activities

How Distress Manifests in the College Setting

Vanderbilt University’s Office of Wellness Programs & Alcohol Education has identified several behavioral, emotional and psychological signs of student distress. The repeated occurrence of any combination of the following may indicate a student in distress:

Behavioral signs:

  • Academic performance concerns, uncharacteristic changes
  • Declining grades or reduced class participation
  • Incomplete or missing assignments
  • Repeated requests for extensions, incompletes, or withdrawals
  • Increased absenteeism or tardiness
  • Disruptive classroom behavior
  • Apparent memory loss or difficulty concentrating
  • Cheating, rule breaking, or defiance
  • Poor organization skills or trouble with note taking
  • Bizarre, aggressive or morbid comments or written content
  • Expressions of feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty and/or worthless
  • Self injury or other self-destructive behavior

Psychological and emotional signs:

  • Chronic fatigue, falling asleep in class
  • Symptoms of being easily distracted, “spacy,” or a tendency to daydream
  • Nervousness or tearfulness
  • Marked changes in regular habits or activities
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Signs of intoxication, dilated or constricted pupils, or apparent hangovers
  • Poor or declining physical appearance, hygiene, and grooming
  • Hyperactivity or rapid, pressured speech
  • Extreme boredom, negativism, defensiveness, and secretiveness
  • Comments by others about alcohol or drug use
  • Erratic behavior, sudden mood swings, inappropriate anger, hostility, and irritability
  • Hyper-expansiveness or grandiosity
  • Withdrawal from others or loss of pleasure in everyday activities
  • Talk of suicide or harm to self or others

Why Make an Effort to Reduce Distress Among Students?

High levels of stress:

  1. Affect students’ cognitive capabilities including information processing and memory (Sandi and Pinelo-Nava 2007; Sandi 2004);
  2. Inform the mood and mindset that students bring to the classroom (Felstein 2004); and
  3. Can lead to student burnout and unnecessary attrition, especially among students of color (Smedley, Myers, and Harrell 1993).

Being proactive about managing student stress is beneficial for course instructors and teaching assistants for several reasons:

  1. A stressful classroom climate often increases the personal stress level of course instructors and teaching assistants (Jennings and Greenberg 2009).
  2. Heightened stress among classroom leaders can reduce teachers’ ability to empathize with their students, an especially important issue when teaching in culturally diverse settings (Gault and Sabini 2000).
  3. Decreases in teachers’ ability to empathize with students may eventually lead to compassion fatigue, a form of burnout that is characterized by extreme mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion (Schutz and Zembylas 2009).
  4. Compassion fatigue can lead to teacher burnout, or overwhelming feelings of exhaustion, frustration and anger that impairs personal and social functioning and may lead individuals to quit their job (Maslach and Goldberg 1999).

Taking a proactive stance toward student stress also provides classroom leaders with a unique opportunity to help students:

  1. Engage in self-reflection about the ways that stress affects their daily lives including the feelings they bring to classroom, course assignments and interpersonal exchanges with faculty and teaching staff;
  2. Become more personally aware of how to manage stress in order to improve academic performance and position themselves to achieve their professional goals; and
  3. Develop healthy practices with respect to time management, general work practices and study skills.

Reducing Distress in the Classroom

When there is an imminent threat of harm of a life-endangering situation, take immediate action to ensure the safety of the student and others. Call GCC Campus Safety (585) 345-6500 .

In non-life threatening situations, special attention to issues of course design has the potential to reduce unhealthy levels of stress. Options available to course instructors include the following:

Syllabus Construction

Assignments

  • Stagger due dates for course assignments
  • Include low stakes assignments that help identify students who may need additional instruction early in the semester
  • For course-long assignments, incorporate periodic “check-ins” during office hours or cancel regular classroom sessions to meet with students one-on-one

Making Office Hours Productive

Advise students on how to prepare for meetings with you. You might instruct them to bring appropriate materials, such as their lecture notes, books, homework problems, drafts of their papers, or readings with troublesome passages marked. You might tell them to write out their questions or points of confusion to help clarify and prepare before meeting with you. In addition, remind them that office hours are not an opportunity to receive a recap of a lecture or lesson. Make your sessions with students a chance to continue teaching them, by helping them work through their own confusions or problems. It may be helpful to respond to their questions with further questions that will lead them to their own conclusions. Provide guidance toward problem-solving rather than simply giving students the answer.

For more information, visit the CFT “Office Hours and Email” Teaching Guide.

  • Allow students to have one “do over” that provides students with an opportunity to either correct missed test questions or resubmit a revised paper draft for partial credit
  • Provide a clearly written explanation of your late assignment and extension policies. Source: Pat James Consulting “Samples of online Course Policies” 
  • Describe and/or model “unsatisfactory”, “sufficient” and “satisfactory” classroom participation for students.

What Does Class Participation Look Like?

Sample Participation Rubric:

  • Voluntarily and frequently offering appropriate, relevant, and creative or original responses/interpretations/observations beyond the obvious,
  • consistently offering plenty of effective textual support for observations,
  • involving others in class discussion by asking questions, seeking others’ responses, etc.
  • eagerly and thoughtfully attempting to anser questions,
  • offering follow-up responses, and
  • treating classmates and the professor respectfully

Incorporate multiple methods of assessing student participation in courses where it is a component of students’ final grade (e.g. completing a worksheet of main concepts, themes, etc. and turning in for a grade)

Grading

  • Provide students with a grading rubric prior to giving assignments or at the beginning of the semester (View sample rubrics from the Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education)
  • Provide grade and feedback for assignments before the next assignment is due

Providing Meaningful Feedback to Students

Use your comments to teach rather than to justify your grade, focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work.

Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment.

Comment primarily on patterns — representative strengths and weaknesses.

Avoid over-commenting or “picking apart” students’ work.

In your final comments, ask questions that will guide further inquiry by students rather than provide answers for them.

Suggestions About Making Marginal and End Comments on Student Writing

Campus Resources

  • Include links to on-campus and/or online resources that educate students about how to study, write, prepare citations, etc. (e.g. The Writing Lab, tutoring)
  • Alert students to other resources on campus that can aid in stress management
  • GCC Counseling Center

Communication Policy

  • Clearly articulate communication practices and preferences (i.e. email response policy, etc.)

Email Office Hours

If you’ve published office hours, students know when they can expect to find you to ask a question about the class. It would be helpful to them also to know when they might expect a response to an email message about the class. The notice here could be something rather general (e.g., “I generally check email only once a day.”) or specific (e.g., “I will respond to student email messages between 2:00 and 3:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”) You are free to respond at other times, just as you are free to be available for student appointments at times other than your stipulated office hours. But it’s important for students to know when they can reasonably expect an answer to an email message.

Find more ideas on how to communicate with students by visiting  Vanderbilt’s “Office Hours and Email” Teaching Guide.

Course Management

  • Allow students to select which date(s) they will take on a leadership role in class (i.e. leading discussion, presenting their work, etc.)
  • Consult with other faculty members in your department about due dates and assignments they have implemented on a regular basis
  • Ask students to communicate days/weeks that are especially packed with assignments in their other classes at the beginning of the semester

In-Class Meetings

  • Interact with students with an awareness of the effect of one’s body language (i.e. frowning, smiling, etc.) on student behavior and performance

“Nonverbal communication forms a social language that is in many ways richer and more fundamental than our words. Our nonverbal sensors are so powerful that just the movements associated with body language – that is, minus the actual bodies – are enough to engender within us the ability to accurately perceive emotion.”

Source: Psychology Today “How We Communicate Through Body Language”

  • Use affirming language when students provide correct answers, but more importantly, when they make an effort to contribute in class
  • Incorporate ongoing mindfulness practices that provide students with tools to cope with anxiety and stress in the moment

Course Communication

  • Provide students with a syllabus that includes complete course readings, assignments and due dates the first day of class
  • Promptly return student emails, particularly prior to assignment due dates and major exams

Exam Preparation

  • Organize review sessions outside of class prior to tests
  • Hold extra office hours the week prior to an exam or paper due date
  • Establish work groups for students at the beginning of the semester and encourage collaboration when preparing for major exams

Teaching about Learning

  • Schedule periodic workshops that impart skills and information needed to successfully demonstrate learning (i.e. how to construct a thesis statement, how to structure a analytical essay, etc.)
  • Post templates of model work on assignments in conjunction with providing students with feedback on their submitted work

Further Resources

Anxiety and Depression Association of America promotes the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and related disorders and works to improve the lives of those who suffer from these diseases through education, practice and research.

American College Health Association champions the health of college students and campus communities through advocacy, education and research.

References

Alvord, Mary, Karina Davidson, Jennifer Kelly, Kevin McGuiness, and Steven Tovian. n.d. “Understanding Chronic Stress.” American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress.aspx.

American Psychological Association. 2010. Stress in America: Findings.

Felstein, Gary. 2004. “Stress Reacitivity and Vulnerability to Depressed Mood in College Students.” Personality and Individual Differences 36 (4): 789–800.

Gault, Barbara A., and John Sabini. 2000. “The Roles of Empathy, Anger, and Gender in Predicting Attitudes toward Punitive, Reparative, and Preventative Public Policies.” Cognition & Emotion 14 (4): 495–520.

Gerrig, Richard J., and Philip G. Zimbardo. 2002. Psychology and Life. 16th ed. Boston, Mass., United States: Allyn and Bacon.

Jennings, Patricia A., and Mark T. Greenberg. 2009. “The Prosocial Classroom: Teacher Social and Emotional Competence in Relation to Student and Classroom Outcomes.” Review of Educational Research 79 (1): 491–525. doi:10.3102/0034654308325693.

Maslach, Christina, and Julie Goldberg. 1999. “Prevention of Burnout: New Perspectives.” Applied and Preventive Psychology 7 (1): 63–74.

Misra, Ranjita, and Michelle McKean. 2000. “COLLEGE STUDENTS’ ACADEMIC STRESS AND ITS RELATION TO THEIR ANXIETY, TIME MANAGEMENT, AND LEISURE SATISFACTION.” American Journal of Health Studies 16 (1): 41–51.

Sandi, Carmen. 2004. “Stress, Cognitive Impairment and Cell Adhesion Molecules.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5 (12): 917. doi:10.1038/nrn1555.

Sandi, Carmen, and M. Teresa Pinelo-Nava. 2007. “Stress and Memory: Behavioral Effects and Neurobiological Mechanisms.” Neural Plasticity 2007 (April): e78970. doi:10.1155/2007/78970.

Schutz, Paul A., and Michalinos Zembylas. 2009. Advances in Teacher Emotion Research: The Impact on Teachers’ Lives. Springer Science & Business Media.

Smedley, Brian D., Hector F. Myers, and Shelly P. Harrell. 1993. “Minority-Status Stresses and the College Adjustment of Ethnic Minority Freshmen.” The Journal of Higher Education 64 (4): 434–52. doi:10.2307/2960051.

Yorke, Mantz. 2004. Leaving Early: Undergraduate Non-Completion in Higher Education. Routledge.

by Brielle Harbin, Vanderbilt Graduate Teaching Fellow 2014-2015

Adapted/edited by Judith Littlejohn 9/7/18 for GCC – removed some Vanderbilt-specific office contact information, added GCC-specific info/terminology, corrected typos/grammar.

This teaching guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/keeping-stress-from-evolving-into-distress/

Growth Mindset Discussion

Help raise students’ awareness of how they receive new ideas by incorporating the following discussion into an online/hybrid course or face-to-face class.

Watch this five minute video on Fixed versus Growth Mindset: https://youtu.be/KUWn_TJTrnU  

Think about the quote from Samuel Beckett in this video:

“Ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.”

  1. What do you think “fail better” means?
  2. How does “fail better” relate to developing a growth mindset?
  3. Do you have a growth or fixed mindset?
  4. Can you share examples that show what type of mindset you have?
  5. How can we move from a fixed to a growth mindset?
  6. How can a growth mindset help us learn?

Refer students back to this discussion as new topics arise to which they are resistant or about which they have pre-formed biases.

Judith M Littlejohn, September 3, 2018

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This Teaching Tip is part of a series. Faculty and staff of SUNY Genesee Community College are encouraged to join the TLC Organization for more professional development opportunities. To request enrollment or suggest a topic, email tlc@genesee.edu

Designing Assignments that Encourage Academic Integrity

Encouraging Academic Integrity

In an ideal environment students would always cite their sources, write their own ideas, and turn in independent work. However, sometimes students break plagiarism rules, unintentionally or on purpose, and we are forced to penalize students instead of provide constructive feedback.

Changing how assignments are designed can help alleviate this problem. It is difficult to Google  answers for authentic assessments that build on prior learning and personal experience.

Here are some ways to design, or re-design, assignments that encourage academic integrity so that you can focus on providing feedback:

Use Assignment Sheets

Most important for any written assignment is the assignment sheet itself. Provide students with an assignment sheet for all written work; doing so clarifies the required task, the parameters for acceptable collaboration, and criteria for evaluation. Rubrics are helpful for clarifying expectations.

Change Assignments Frequently

  • Change your assignments slightly from semester to semester to discourage students from recycling previous students’ work.
  • For large classes, change assignments slightly from section to section to discourage the exchange of papers among friends in different sections (where students are likely to have different graders as well).

Use In-class Writing Assignments

Short in-class writing assignments provide instructors with opportunities to:

  • become familiar with and assess students’ abilities and styles early on so that sudden changes in their writing are more noticeable
  • give students a chance to write extemporaneously, when they cannot become tempted by or mired in others’ words
  • practice using sources: consider asking students to summarize, paraphrase, and/or respond to a source.

Make Your Assignments Specific

Students are far less likely to be able to plagiarize a unique assignment, since sources available to them will not meet the specific requirements of the assignment.

  • Consider a less well known piece:

Rather than: Discuss the importance of literacy to freedom in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative.

Try: Discuss the connection between literacy and freedom in Poynter’s abolitionist tract.

  • Pose a more focused question:

Rather than: What artistic movements influenced the Impressionists?

Try: In what ways does this particular Impressionist painting reveal the influences of earlier movements?

  • Ask a question that requires application, rather than explanation of knowledge:

Rather than: Explain the basic functions of the vascular, skeletal, muscular and nervous systems.

Try: A cat jumps off the end of a table onto the floor. Describe how its vascular, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems contribute to this action.

Rather than: Write a review of The Matrix (reviews are especially common on the Web).

Try: How well does The Matrix exemplify Smith’s “nostalgic futurism” in contemporary film?

  • Consider a tight comparison:

Rather than: Analyze Douglass’s attitude toward white abolitionists.

Try: How does Douglass’s notion of audience change between the Narrative and his Life and Times, and how do these two texts differ as a result?

  • Use a “touchstone” assignment:

Ask students to connect their ideas to another aspect of the class—use a point from lecture, a quotation selected from one of your readings (try to choose a less-obvious quotation), an image, or a graph.

Rather than: Discuss how the accused/condemned were treated in Salem.

Try: Using Mary Easty’s petition, explain the condemned’s perspective of the Salem trials.

Assigning Research Paper Assignments

Some suggestions other faculty have found useful in discouraging plagiarism are to:

  • Assign short writing assignment(s) early in the class; this activity will give you the opportunity to see students’ writing capabilities (which makes noticing anomalies easier) and give students a chance to practice
  • Avoid open topic research paper assignments: either select a question (or a series from which students choose) that limits their range OR require a research question in advance of students’ starting their research
  • Consider using shorter, focused assignments alongside long longer papers, or in place of one longer paper, if several are assigned in the course
  • Require that students use local sources—pamphlets, local newspapers and journals, flyers, interviews, etc.
  • Require a bibliography in advance
  • Avoid general annotated bibliographies that only require a summary of the sources themselves; many of these are readily available on the Web
  • Require a bibliography with short summaries of how students see each entry fitting into their topic
  • Require that students turn in part or all of print sources with the final draft
  • Require long papers to build from shorter, earlier papers
  • Utilize SafeAssign in Blackboard and allow the students to see their results

Use An Honor Agreement

You might consider asking your students to sign a statement of agreement concerning academic misconduct. Although not legal documents, these agreements do signal to the students your seriousness about the subject and deflate students’ counter charge that your policy concerning “what you wanted” was not made clear to them. Click here for an example of an Indiana University faculty member’s honor agreement.

Use GCC’s New Plagiarism Policy

At SUNY Genesee Community College we have a new Plagiarism Policy in Procedure 220:

Plagiarism and Cheating: Cheating is obtaining or intentionally giving unauthorized information to create an unfair advantage in an examination, assignment, or classroom situation. Plagiarism is the act of presenting and claiming words, ideas, data, programming code or creations of others as one’s own. Plagiarism may be intentional – as in a false claim of authorship – or unintentional – as in a failure to document information sources using MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), Chicago or other style sheets or manuals adopted by faculty at the College. Presenting ideas in the exact or near exact wording as found in source material constitutes plagiarism, as does patching together paraphrased statements without in-text citation. The purchasing or sharing of papers or projects between students or the re-use of papers or projects submitted for more than one assignment or class also constitutes plagiarism.”

This statement must be posted in every syllabus.

Following this statement, faculty should clearly explain their policy and/or procedures related to managing instances of plagiarism.

For example:

“Plagiarism will not be tolerated. I will ask you to upload your papers to SafeAssign in Blackboard. If plagiarism is found in any essay or assignment, the assignment will receive a “0” without an opportunity to rewrite. You may also be reported to the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.”

Or:

“The penalty for violating the plagiarism policy is severe. Any student violating the plagiarism policy is subject to receiving a failing grade for the course and will be reported to the Dean of Students. If a student is unclear about whether a particular
situation may constitute an honor code violation the student should meet with the instructor to discuss the situation.”

It is definitely better to design assignments that inherently discourage plagiarism than to engage in the disciplinary process that results from plagiarism.

Original post courtesy ofhttps://citl.indiana.edu/teaching-resources/academic-integrity/designing-assignments-encourage-integrity/

Edited by: Judith M Littlejohn, 8/27/18

Academic Integrity Image from the University of Waterloo,  https://uwaterloo.ca/library/get-assignment-and-research-help/academic-integrity/graduate-students-and-academic-integrity  CC-BY-NC

Icebreaker: Find Someone Who . . . .

Icebreakers help us create a sense of community which is essential when we are going to collaborate with people.  In the classroom, especially in a foreign language class where students need to try to get their mouths to pronounce unfamiliar words and sounds, people need to know that they are in an environment where it is safe to take risks and make mistakes.  Using icebreakers at the beginning of a semester facilitates the process of getting to know one another; this one is a favorite in face-to-face classes.

This icebreaker is a game of BINGO.  It’s important to take a few moments before playing to make sure that everyone knows the rules of the game and understands how to play because not all of our students are from the United States and some might not be familiar with it.  Ask the class for a volunteer who can explain what the object of the game is and how you get a BINGO by having 5 answers vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.

It is easy to customize the BINGO with questions that relate to a specific discipline or instead use general questions that simply help students to get to know one another, as in the example below.

Remember:  When giving the instructions to students, emphasize that the game is an excuse to meet people; everyone is to get up and move about the classroom.  When they approach a classmate, each student should introduce him/herself and then ask the classmate a question. If the person responds positively, the asker should record his/her name and answer a question for that person in return. Again, it’s more about getting to know classmates than about winning the fabulous prize for getting a Bingo!  Also, for that reason, students can only use each classmate’s name for one square.

Demonstrate:  Do a few practice examples – either you can approach students and model the interaction you desire or you can ask students to model one or two examples.

Play:  Then, have your students begin the game.  They should approach a classmate, introduce themselves, ask a question, and if the person responds in the affirmative, write the person’s name and a detail or two in the appropriate box.  If someone gets four in a row, the student should say BINGO and then call back their answers as this step will allow students another opportunity to hear classmates’ names and learn a little bit about them.  If you have small prizes (pencils, bookmarks or candy, for example) to award to the winners, it adds to the fun.

BINGO Board:

Has studied at another college besides GCC

Has a child Has taken public transportation Has visited another country Plays a musical instrument

Plays on a sports team

Was born outside the United States

Exercises every day

Works while attending college

Has friends or relatives who speak another language

Takes more than three classes

Has visited both Niagara Falls USA and NF Canada

*

Commutes more than 30 minutes to study at GCC

Has the same major as you

Is the first in his/her family to attend college

Wears glasses to read

Has attended a concert during the past year

Speaks a language other than English

Has a pet

Likes pizza Has studied at GCC for more than 1 year Has taken classes in another community college Has completed an internship

Takes classes at more than one GCC campus center

Use this as a template to create your own board – edit away!

Download yours here: BINGO Board – Find Someone Who

 

Submitted by:

Jeanne Mullaney

Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Cultures

Community College of Rhode Island

jmullaney@ccri.edu

Edited By:

Judith Littlejohn, Genesee Community College, 8/19/2018

Image of three people interacting is “Conversation at Wikimania 2014” by Ragesoss, CCBY, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Conversation_at_Wikimania_2010_4.jpg

Teaching Tip Image

This Teaching Tip is part of a series. Faculty and staff of SUNY Genesee Community College are encouraged to join the TLC Organization for more professional development opportunities. To request enrollment or suggest a topic, email tlc@genesee.edu

August 19, 2018, Judith M Littlejohn

First Day of Class

The first day of class is your opportunity to present your vision of the class to your students. It is helpful if you can introduce yourself as a scholar and educator and provide insight into how you will teach the class and what you will expect them to contribute to the learning process.

Consider that several of your students may be “shopping” for a schedule the first week of classes. They may be looking for a class that will fill a particular time slot, include a particular learning environment (i.e. lab-based or lecture style), or a class with a certain workload to balance the demands of their other courses and extra-curricular responsibilities. Thus, students will appreciate a clear roadmap of what you will require of them over the course of the semester. You may also want to model, as specifically as possible, the classroom environment you intend to foster during the class. For example, if they will spend a good deal of time doing group work over the course of the semester, you may want to break them into groups the first day.

Welcoming:

How to Create an Inviting Classroom

Professors who established a special trust with their students often displayed the kind of openness in which they might, from time to time, talk about their intellectual journey, its ambitions, triumphs, frustrations, and failures, and encourage students to be similarly reflective and candid.

–From the chapter “How Do They Treat Their Students” in Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard Press, 2004).

Introduce Yourself

The point of an introduction is to establish yourself as a unique individual sharing the classroom with other unique individuals. Other than providing your name and the name of the course you’re teaching, here is some information you may consider sharing:

  • Personal biography: your place of birth, family history, educational history, hobbies, sport and recreational interests, how long you have been at the college, and what your plans are for the future.
  • Educational biography: how you came to specialize in your chosen field, a description of your specific area of expertise, your current projects, and your future plans.
  • Teaching biography: how long have you taught, how many subjects/classes have you taught, what level of class you normally teach, what you enjoy about being in the classroom, what do you learn from your students, and what you expect to teach in the future.
  • In making your decision about what information to share, consider how much you want them to know and how much you want to reveal about yourself.

Allow the Students to Introduce Themselves

This is your opportunity to focus on students as unique and diverse individuals. Consider how introductions can lead into a productive and welcoming classroom environment. Instead of just asking general questions concerning their name, major, and years at GCC, ask them questions that are pertinent to the subject and the atmosphere you want to build through the semester. Here are some examples:

  • In a geography or history class, you may want to ask students to introduce themselves and explain where they are from. You could mark these places on a map of the world as they talk.
  • In a math class, you may want to ask the students to introduce themselves and state one way mathematics enriches their lives every day.
  • You may also want to have the students break into pairs, exchange information, and introduce one another to the class.

This may also be a good time to give your students an exercise that enables teachers to assess the state of their students’ previous or current learning. For example, the Background Knowledge Probe is a short, simple questionnaire given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ pre-conceptions about the area of study. Additional examples of Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be found on Vanderbilt’s Web site.

Discuss and Evaluate the Room Environment Together

As your students are introducing themselves and you are talking to them, ask your students to comment on the acoustics and remain conscious of how well you can hear and see each of them. Consider, with their input or alone, how you would change and optimize the seating arrangement. At the end of the introductions, ask them to move to optimize communication and make note of unexpected needs for a microphone, lighting changes, seating arrangements or other environmental controls.

Truth in Advertising:

Course Expectations and Requirements

What happens between you and your students in your classroom or lecture hall depends largely on what you want to happen. How you treat each other and how you and your students feel about being in that place with each other is modeled and influenced by you.”

–From the chapter “Classroom Contracts–Roles, Rules, and Expectations” in David W. Champagne’s The Intelligent Professor’s Guide to Teaching (Roc Edtech, 1995).

  • Course overview: Provide a map of where the class will start and end, and what you expect them to understand at the end of the semester.
  • Departmental Requirements/Expectations: If your department sets standards and requirements, you may want to establish that you are required to work within those parameters.
  • Presentation of material: Tell your students how you will provide them with the materials they need to be successful in class. Do you post Web-based materials in Blackboard, or rely on electronic course reserves through the Library? Will your students have to schedule evenings to watch films or attend performances? Will you lecture and expect them to take notes on your presentations?
  • Expectations for class time: How will the student feel confident and competent in your classroom? Is the class discussion-based? Do you follow your syllabus or do you improvise? Do they need to bring their books every day? Tell them what they can expect and how they can interact within those expectations to thrive in your classroom.
  • Expectations outside of class: Provide them with an idea of what they will need to prepare for the course outside of class. Is their preparation primarily reading and writing individually, or will they be working in groups? Will they need to turn in assignments electronically outside of class hours? Give them enough information so they will be able to plan their schedules accordingly.
  • Instructor responsibilities:
    • Establish what you will provide for your students to be successful in your class. This may include in-class material, study guides, meaningful and prompt feedback on assignments, facilitation of discussion, attention to students with special needs, and a positive and welcoming classroom environment.
    • Assert your boundaries: Let your students know how to contact you and when. For example, communicate or provide your office hours, office phone number, availability for instant messaging, email, and when you do not respond (evenings, weekends, and traveling, for example). If you are traveling during the semester, you may want to explain the dates that you will not be available.
    • You may also want to alert your students to their actions, habits, or situations that detract from your ability to fulfill your responsibility. For example, if late assignments, lack of participation, or sleeping during your lectures distracts you from timely and persuasive teaching, explain why you cannot tolerate these events and how you handle them when they occur.
  • Student responsibilities: If attendance is required, participation is mandatory, or you want them to read the assignment before class, explain to your students that this is expected of them throughout the semester. Explain policies on absences, make-ups, emergencies, and accommodating special needs, as well as the consequences of plagiarism and/or cheating. You may also remind them that they are responsible for their success and communicating with you when they have need assistance or have other concerns.
  • Assessment: How will you assign the course grade at the end of the semester? How many assignments will you grade? Do you have grading policies and/or rubrics or criteria for grading? How soon after an assessment is due can they expect feedback?
  • Cooperation/communication/resources: Finally, you may want to spend a few minutes discussing college, department, library, or other resources for students to use through the course of the semester.

By giving students an interesting and inviting introduction, I was able to reduce anxiety about the course and help students view the class as a collaborative learning process. Every field has its own exciting research or striking examples, and it is a good idea to present a few of these up front. The teaching challenge is to find special ideas within your own field. Your class will thank you.”

–From “How to Start Teaching a Tough Course: Dry Organization Versus Excitement on the First Day of Class” by Kevin L. Bennett, in College Teaching, 52(3), 2004

Additional Resources:

  • Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
  • Erickson, B. L., and Strommer, D. W. Teaching College Freshmen. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
  • “The First Day of Class: Advice and Ideas.” Teaching Professor, 1989, 3(7), 1-2.
  • Johnson, G. R. Taking Teaching Seriously. College Station: Center for Teaching Excellence, Texas A & M University, 1988.
  • McKeachie, W. J. Teaching Tips. (8th ed.) Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1986.
  • Scholl-Buckwald, S. “The First Meeting of Class.” In J. Katz (ed.), Teaching as Though Students Mattered. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 21. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985.
  • Serey, T. “Meet Your Professor.” Teaching Professor, 1989, 3(l), 2.
  • Weisz, E. “Energizing the Classroom.” College Teaching, 1990, 38(2), 74-76.
  • Wolcowitz, J. “The First Day of Class.” In M. M. Gullette (ed.), The Art and Craft of Teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Summary Checklist

  • Introduce yourself
  • Allow the Students to introduce themselves
  • Discuss and evaluate the room environment together
  • Course overview
  • Departmental requirements/expectations
  • Presentation of material
  • Expectations for class time
  • Expectations outside of class
  • Instructor responsibilities
  • Student responsibilities
  • Assessment
  • Cooperation/communication/resources

This teaching guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/first-day-of-class/

Edited by Judith Littlejohn, August 1 2018

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