"Today We Will": A road map for each class

Here’s some good advice on in-class management from an excerpt, online at facultyfocus.com,  taken from a white paper published by Magna Publications, “Ten Ways to Engage Your Students on the First Day of Class.” The tip—to regularly make a “Today We Will” list on the board—is a good one, and not just for the first day of class.

The essence of the idea is to write, at the beginning of every class, a list on the board of what you plan to do in class that day. You write “Today We Will…” at the top, and then, underneath, chart the “road map” for that day’s class. It’s a sort of informal contract, a promise that gives your students a firm sense of what to expect at all times. Students who arrive late will know what they’ve missed and what they will be responsible for making up. All students will be able to see, at a glance, where you are in the class period’s overall plan.

For the teacher, the list is a handy reminder of what you planned to cover, keeping you on topic and discouraging long tangents that bring you further away from the topics at hand. Of course, there’s no need for the list to be rigid; you can feel free to erase items if you decide that you won’t have enough time to get to them.

Above all, the habit of a “Today We Will” list contributes to a teacher-student relationship based on clear expectations—a good basis for any pedagogical exchange.  -DG


Source: Jennifer Garrett. “Advice for the First Day of Class: Today We Will.” Faculty Focus. Magna. 12 August 2013. Web. 20 August 2013. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/advice-for-the-first-day-of-class-today-we-will/

Term-long informal writing exercises

Devote the first ten minutes of each class to an informal writing assignment: give the students a prompt and have them write an answer in a specially devoted notebook. You can collect these student writing journals several times throughout the semester to check on your students’ progress and perhaps give them a grade. Some portion of the final class of the semester is devoted to an exercise that asks students to reflect on their writing throughout the term. You have them respond to four prompts:

            1) Go through and choose their strongest response of the term and briefly explain why it is the strongest;

            2) Choose the response that was the hardest to do and briefly explain why;

            3) Choose the response that “does the best job of stating their values and beliefs, and then … discuss how those values and beliefs have affected their ability to understand course content”; and

            4) Compare answers written during the first few weeks of the term with those written near the end of the course and describe the changes they see.  -DG

Source: Weimer, Maryellen. “Informal Writing Assignments: Promoting Learning Through Writing.” Faculty Focus. Magna. 6 November 2012. Web. 22 July 2013. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/informal-writing-assignments-promoting-learning-through-writing/. Based on research by Hudd, S.S., Smart, R.A., and Delohery, A.W. “My understanding has grown, my perspective has switched: Linking informal writing to learning goals.” Teaching Sociology, 39.2 (2011), 179-189.


Low-stakes pre-writing

At the beginning of class, give students a question about their reading, the material covered in the last class, or a topic that will be relevant to that day’s class, and give them ten minutes to write an answer. This writing can go ungraded, or it can be turned in and count for a tiny percentage of the final grade. The writing gives students time to think, reflect on the material, and get into the right mindset for a discussion in class. It can also give shy students the confidence to speak up in class, because they only have to look down and read from their paper to make a contribution.  -DG

Source: Lang, James M. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2009, 90-92.

McEvoy Minute Around

 Begin class by handing your watch to a student in the front row. Explain that each student will talk for a minute—an initial contribution to the day’s discussion, a response to the reading, a question to explore—before handing the watch to the next person. This is only practical, of course in smaller classes. “‘The longer my students sit without saying anything,’ one professor told [Ken Bain], ‘the harder it is to bring them into the discussion.’” The activity’s title comes from its progenitor, University of Wisconsin professor Arthur McEvoy.

James Lang adds that you don’t need to use the watch-gimmick. “Simply establish that at the beginning of the class, each student has a brief time period either to respond to a question that you pose, or to explain what she thought was relevant, or interesting about the reading or material for that day’s class. As the students offer their statements, you take notes, and use their comments and ideas to fill out or alter whatever discussion questions you have planned.”  -DG

Source: Bain, Ken, What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2004, 130-31. Lang, James M. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2009, 92.