Gauge student expectations with first day questions

Sarah Neville, West Virginia University 

On the first day of class, ask students to submit (in writing) answers to the following questions:

1) What grade do you anticipate receiving in this course?

2) What will you do if you discover that you are receiving a lower grade than the one you anticipated?

3) Why do you feel these strategies will work? 

Students' responses to question 2 typically vary from the reasonable ("go to the professor's office hours and ask for feedback", "visit the writing center", "complete extra-credit assignments, if there are any") to the deliberately silly ("beg, or possibly cry"). Other students use this as an opportunity to recognize that they may need to cut back on hours at their job if their schoolwork suffers, or that a failure to meet personal expectations might be signalling that they should get more sleep. 

The point of the exercise is to force students to consider their goals for the course at the outset, along with their new plan-of-attack should things not work out as they intended. I hang onto these writing assignments and bring them out when students visit my office hours; students get them back at the end of the term so they can consider how/whether they met their stated aim.