1st Days as Learning Days – Ideas and Resources

14 Jan

“It seems clear,” James Lang notes in writing for the Chronicle this week about ways of using the first five minutes of a first class session, “that we should start class with a deliberate effort to bring

Lang characterizes these minutes as a “rich opportunity to capture the attention of students and prepare them for learning. They walk into our classes trailing all of the distractions of their complex lives…It seems clear, then, that we should start class with a deliberate effort to bring students’ focus to the subject at hand.”

How might we that immediate immersion in the subject at hand?

What can I do now? Considerations for first day Immediate Immersion in: learning , learning practices, engaging difficulty concepts, learning by talking with each other, learning by teaching another, using course-linked skills , and being questioningLang suggests opening with a question or two that will frame the entire session, engaging students in recalling what they learned in previous courses related to this topic, and writing during the session – perhaps to share responses to the syllabus, to the framing questions, to your queries about their learning strengths and new goals for learning.

Articles for Further Consideration

Given that uncertainty as a factor of first class sessions.  With students’ default wondering often along the lines of How can I get a good grade? and What are the teacher’s expectations?, instructors’ uncertainties often link to that first day question: What should be done on that first day? Is it a day about learning?  policy? getting acquainted? grading?  Some research encourages teachers to review the syllabus, explain expectations and dismiss students early; other research recommends using the entire class period, especially if it is used for introductions for engaging students with course content.  Our experience calls for a weaving of all three strands.

The article by Anderson et al reviews several research studies that examine what instructors should do on the first day of class and then give examples from their field (recreation and leisure studies) about how that research could be applied.  Meyers and Smith also review the research about first day best practices and then discuss their own studies, which attempt to clarify what one should do.

The articles by Brouillette/Turner and Eves/Redd take a more discipline specific approach to the first day of class.  Brouillette/Turner discuss an activity that allows students to experience the “sociological imagination” in a memorable manner while Eves/Redd describe how they use the game of Jeopardy to refresh students’ memories about the chemistry that they have learned from previous courses.

We’ve added three handouts from our own recent courses for first-time teachers, as well as short journal articles on the topic into a single Dropbox Folder:  http://z.umn.edu/dayone


Denise M Anderson, Francis A. McGuire and Lynne Cory.  “The First Day: It Only Happens Once.” Teaching in Higher Education 16.3 (June 2011): 293-303.  1st days across disciplines.

John R. Brouillette and Ronny E. Turner.  “Creating the Sociological Imagination on the First Day of Class: The Social Construction of Deviance.”  Teaching Sociology 20.4 (October 1992): 276-279. 1st days in social science courses.

William Young Davis and Michael E. Waggy. “How Prepared Are You For The First Day Of Class – Or Blink, Does It Matter?” Journal of College Teaching & Learning 3.9 (September 2006): 13-19.  1st days in business colleges/schools.

Daniel Eves and J. Ty Redd.  “General Chemistry II: Setting the Stage on the First Day with Jeopardy.”  Journal of College Science Teaching 43.6 (2014): 41-45. 1st days in STEM courses.

Sal Meyers and Brian Smith . “The First Day of Class: How Should Instructors Use Class Time?” To Improve the Academy 29 (210):147-159. 1st days across disciplines.



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