At least 30 min (can adjust). Used a whiteboard, timer on my phone, 8 1/2 x 11 card-stock I had in the office, a sharpie, tape, foil star stickers, a deck of cards, desks moved into pods of 4-5, enough notebook paper and index cards for the number of students enrolled. Movement/Activity: More than Moderate. I highly recommend as a data gathering activity and alternative to a more traditional paper/written first-day survey. Huge impact: determined parts of the curriculum and gave me a feel for how we intra-acted as a group with this particular spacetime.
In an exciting turn of events, I picked up an Advanced Exposition class the week before school started. Not having taught it before, I felt the pressure to get planning and do the usual look-up-your-colleagues’-syllabi-online research. Particularly considering Texas’ law requiring us to have a syllabus posted by the first day of classes. But one pro of scoring a class at the last minute is you get to lean into waiting and make plans based on the students you actually meet those first days instead of the ones you wholly anticipate.
As students came in the room the first day, they grabbed a playing card off the front table. Based on the number of students on my roll, I’d pre-selected an abridged deck of just the face cards, the tens, and the two Jokers–so twenty-two possible students, twenty-two cards that would break them into three groups of four and two groups of five where the students who drew the Jokers would choose their own (and not the same) group while everyone else found the pod of desks with their card’s sign on it (see Jacks sign above). Each pod of desks was a “station” and each station had an instruction sheet written on the card-stock and any supplies they might need already set in the middle of their desk-pod.
I went over the directions for how to move through the stations:
- Leave everything except something to write with at the side of the room and out of the way.
- Sit at your card’s station.
- I will start a timer (about 6 minutes)
- Read through and follow the directions as a group
- When the timer goes off, get up, bring all your work with you and, as a group, move to the next station clockwise from your current station.
- Repeat until each group has completed all stations.
The Stations/Directions were:
- Freewrite: Students wrote on any topic/thoughts they wanted, as long as they didn’t stop writing. I got a writing sample and an idea of who had probably encountered the idea of freewritng before and who hand’t at all.
- Group Texts: Students talked in their group about what texts or activities they thought we should read/do in this class and wrote them on the back of the station’s instruction sheet.
- Why?: On an index card provided at the station, students answered two questions written on the station instruction sheets: Why did you sign up for this class? What do you want to get out of this class? They discussed their answers if all students finished writing before the timer went off.
- Talk to Dr. Shelton: Students sat and talked with me. I had them go around and introduce themselves, tell us their major, and explain why they chose that major (i.e., what do they hope to achieve with it in the future?). Then I introduced myself by answering the same questions and quickly giving my own educational and writing bio.
- Stars on Board: I posted the 11 sheets of card-stock shown below on the front whiteboard. On a table in front of it, I put the strips of foil star stickers and each student grabbed one when they rotated to this station. They placed a start beneath the answer that best described them for each question/sheet. I got a quick, anonymous, visual map of where we were starting at and what we might need to cover. This was instrumental in helping me plan overall, particularly in picking the one required book, Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style.
This was an active class and by the time we were done I’d personally spoken to each student and introduced myself in a smaller, more one-on-one way than you usually get to on the first day. I got a feel for who my students were, why they were taking the course, what they wanted to get out of it, and where they were skill-wise. This information came through multiple methods and different kinds of data–written sample, oral conversation, notes I took when they were at my station, etc.
Most powerful and productive were the anonymous and visual star charts (see below) from the front board that now told me quickly and at a glance several facts about the class, about their views on language and writing, and about where they all were in their own writing process development. This was invaluable information that I was able to have in front of me while getting my skeleton plan/syllabus sketched out. And I believe that–as compared to a survey that has their name on it or that requires them to think up a response, this option allowed students to be more honest and to not feel the pressure to provide a certain answer or guess what the instructor wants to hear.
Overall, it was a successful activity that made for a much more interesting and active first day. Students didn’t just give me a lot of information and helpful data to work with but also left having made actual connections with other students and with me. I’ll definitely be using this tool again.