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First Day of Class Jitters

The first day of class is arguably the most important day of the entire semester. It is often overlooked by faculty and students alike. On a typical first day, faculty take the opportunity to hand out the syllabus, discuss expectations, and remind students to get the textbook and then dismiss the class. Sound familiar? These are important and necessary conversations to have on the first day of class. Beyond these, educators need to plant the seeds of passion and community to be a success in the college classroom.

First Day of Class and Conditions of Learning

In 1985, Robert Gagné proposed a theory known as The Conditions of Learning. Support staff affectionately refer to the this theory as Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction. These are the nine events:

  1. Attention grabbing intro
  2. Inform learner of the objectives
  3. Stimulate recall of prior knowledge
  4. Create goal-centered content
  5. Provide guidance
  6. Practice
  7. Provide timely feedback
  8. Assess early and often
  9. Transfer knowledge by tying to real-world situations

While it is important to address all nine events during the length of a semester, this article will focus on the first four as they relate to an initial class meeting.

Jump Start the First Day of Class

Go ahead, handout the syllabus. Plead with students to buy the book. This addresses number two on Gagné’s Conditions of Learning. Faculty earn money, and students are a success when they work together to make meaning. Faculty have passion for the subject they teach (if you don’t, I have a article coming soon). Students may or may not have a passion for the 16 week journey they area about to embark. Thank goodness, there is a tool that can be employed to jump start the first day of class!

Enter the KWL Chart, or the “What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned Chart” (access a version of the chart here). Faculty that integrate this into their teaching challenge students to look inside themselves for answers. It also sets an example for the kind of introspective thought that is necessary to be a good learner. Finally, it gives the instructor some valuable intelligence on the strengths and needs of your students before even giving the first homework assignment. Hand the KWL to students and ask them to complete the first two columns. Record what they know about the subject of the course as well as what they want to know about the subject. The mere fact that you are asking them to work on the first day will certainly be attention grabbing!

Next, ask students to share what they recorded in their first column of the KWL. As they share, facilitate the discussion and share interesting facts, or phenomena that the class will investigate in-depth during the semester. Faculty have a wonderful opportunity to draw students in to a conversation. Fostering community and modeling this behavior on day one sets the expectation for the rest of the semester.

Close and Prepare

Finally, ask students to complete the final column “What I Learned.” Give them plenty of time to think about and record their thoughts. Collect their charts. Spend some time reviewing the charts. Pay close attention to what students want to know and what they learned on day one. This is a great indicator for faculty as to the type of students they will work with during the semester. This information also helps faculty to align course content closely to the perceived needs of the students. Using students’ own thoughts to map out your course content allows them to more quickly see content as being goal-centered (number 4 in Gagné’s Conditions of Learning), while also reinforcing a sense of community.

Keep in mind, this was only the first day of class. Faculty need to continue to integrate these kinds of tools throughout the semester to engage and make meaning for students. The KWL Chart can also be used multiple times during the semester. Faculty that use this particular strategy in the right moments will set the bar high for their students and themselves. The KWL will allow faculty to pass the first day of class rather than take a pass on the first day of class.

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