#WYOA: week one

The first day of class went okay—nobody went straight to the Registrar’s office and transferred to another section, which has happened to me before.

I don’t like first days: they’re necessary, but always feel unproductive. I feel a need, especially with first-year students, to go over the syllabus—it seems to reduce the number of already-answered-on-the-syllabus-type questions I get—but it’s also kind of boring, for them and for me. It doesn’t help that I mentally rehearse the first day so much that I forget to actually say half the things I intend to say. Someday I’ll learn to make my first-day outlines more complete…

We could discuss the common reading, I guess, but the students participate in discussions as a part of orientation, and (in my limited experience) are already tired of whatever book by the time they get to my class. Also, I have no desire to discuss the books that get chosen as common readings: they aren’t particularly substantive, and dealing with their more problematic aspects would require more time and context than I’m going to devote to a text chosen by a committee without any real contribution from the faculty expected to teach it. </rant>

The one thing I enjoy doing on the first day is speed introductions. I number the students—1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3…—and have them form five groups, with one of each number in them (fifteen is a good number for this). They have 90 seconds to meet each other, and then one number rotates to the next group clockwise, one number rotates counterclockwise, and the final number stays put. It’s loud and chaotic, and the students seem to enjoy it (and this group of students grokked the concept really quickly, unlike some previous groups).

One consequence of the speed introductions is that I don’t really learn anything about the students on the first day—but I never really learn anything from the “go around the room and introduce yourself to everyone” model, either. This semester, I had the brilliant idea of having the students send me introductory emails. This was their first homework assignment, and it seems to have worked fairly well. There was a range of responses; several were quite long, and one was so terse that it told me nothing that I couldn’t have learned from the roster. So the students had a chance to make a crafted first impression, and the care they took in doing so told me more than they might have realized, and this exercise provided a point of reference for our discussion of the “rhetorical triangle” on Friday.

(On Wednesday, the students wrote an in-class essay—required by the department for reasons that change depending on whom you ask—which will serve as a “zero draft” for their first essay.)

Friday didn’t go as well as I’d hoped—a full third of the class was absent, presumably preparing for the evening’s football game against TCU. It’s distracting to have that many students gone—and on the third day!—but we went gamely on, anyway.

I introduced the students to the rhetorical triangle; not the most exciting lecture, but the terms and concepts are foundational to thinking about the process of writing, which is what I them to do. I brought up their emails as an example, and asked them to think about what they might have done differently if I’d assigned them before our first class meeting, and how they would approach sending an introduction to a professor who hadn’t asked for one—that will be the beginning of our discussion next week.

Finally, we looked at a few ads, and tried to think about them in terms of the triangle (this required standing on a desk to turn on the projector, as a crucial piece of technology—the remote—was missing). This went fairly well: it was a fairly short discussion, but most of the students seemed willing to talk, and to express opinions that were different than mine. We were talking about low-impact stuff—white iPhones and Siri—but it’s a start.

Not an amazing first week, but not a terrible one either. I remain cautiously optimistic.

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