On this page, I will archive the email copy included in all the emails sent in relation to the live 5-part series, “Successful Start: Designing Your First Week of Class.” If you signed up to receive the workbook after one or more emails have been sent out, you can catch up with what you missed on here before continuing with the series.
I hope your design process is going well!
Email #1: Course Syllabus
Welcome to the first installment of the “Successful Start” series!
Creating a course syllabus can be such a long process when starting from scratch. That’s why the first section of the workbook is all about walking you through the steps of drafting the standard and nonstandard elements of the syllabus.
The workbook guides you through the syllabus creation process, but it doesn’t include examples of each of the syllabus elements. So, in today’s blog post (course syllabus elements), I’ve included examples of the various elements I’ve included in my own syllabi. Course descriptions and goals, behavior and late work policies, major assignment descriptions, etc. It’s all there.
In this email, though, I want to really emphasize three things I always include in my syllabi:
1. Visual Elements
I liven up my syllabi by including an illustration or two from the books we are reading in the class. And, usually, I try to find a funny meme related to the course topic or college more generally, as well.
These visual elements can help break up the potentially lengthy amount of text included in your syllabus. It can give students a feel for the texts they’ll be reading. And, with the meme, inspire a small chuckle and new knowledge that their instructor has a sense of humor. They’re not just a robot programmed to teach them literature or math or psychology.
Here’s a meme I use in my young adult literature course: [Click the image to see a larger version online]
2. Email Office Hours
I talk about this topic at length in the workbook and also in today’s video (syllabus creation inspiration). Here, then, I’ll only emphasize once again the importance of creating boundaries around the types of work you do. Including the email hours in the syllabus is essential, as it makes clear in written form from the first day that you are more than just your students’ instructor.
You are a whole person with many different responsibilities and interests, and balancing your life includes scheduling your email time.
3. A Participation Option for Introverted and/or Anxious Students
As you’ll see in today’s blog post, I always include an option in my syllabus for students who are terrified of speaking in class. Usually, these students have little to no trouble speaking in small groups. But, once the discussion shifts to the whole class, I likely will never hear from a handful of students (at least). In a discussion-based literature course where 10-20% of their grade comes from participation, this is a problem.
So, I include the option of posting their thoughts on our class material in our learning management system’s discussion forums. That way, their participation grade isn’t as heavily affected by the in-class silence, and I can get to know these students’ thoughts on and understandings of the course material.
Creating a welcoming and inclusive course starts with creating your syllabus. Just make sure you consider your own needs, as well.
If you have any questions when working on your syllabus, please feel free to comment on the blog post or video. Or, you can just reply to this email.
I’ll be posting (@EverEducating) about creating a syllabus on social media throughout the next few days, in case you want to follow along there, as well. All the links to my SM accounts are included below and I’ll also use the series hashtag, #SSDYFWC.
P.S. Join in with the rest of us completing this series live. Use the hashtag #SSDYFWC when sharing your progress on social media. I’ll be on the look out to post shout outs on Instagram and Twitter if you tag me, @EverEducating. Follow me to see if your posts are featured or to see what everyone else is up to!
P.S.S. Interested in having a say on what future content I write for my blog? Here’s the link to a survey I have requesting feedback on potential future content. All current or soon-to-be college instructors are welcome to fill out the survey, as I’d love to hear from anyone looking for targeted information on teaching college courses.
Email #2: Course Schedule
I’ve moved the links to today’s blog post and video up to the top of this email in case you just really want to dive into today’s supplementary materials.
I also have a couple extra pieces of advice that I want to share with you here.
When going through my step-by-step guide to designing a course schedule in the workbook, you might struggle with leaving a week aside for those “just in case” moments that tend to pop up at the worst times.
[And if you haven’t reached that point in the workbook, just keep reading and keep this advice in mind when you get to that point.]
I know it can be hard to plan for unexpected issues that will affect the pacing of your course. They’re unexpected after all!
I actually had the unfortunate experience of needing to call out sick on the SECOND day of class during this past fall semester. I managed to push down my nausea enough to teach my second course on that day. But the first? It wasn’t going to happen.
I talk a lot in the fourth section of the workbook about my reasons for introducing the major class assignments to my students during the first week of class. Since both my courses that semester were two days a week, my ENG 170 students missed out on me going over the assignment sheets in class.
So, what did I do?
I made screen-recorded videos of myself verbally going through the assignment sheets. I just opened the PDFs on my laptop and recorded myself (well, technically, the screen) scrolling through them and talking about them like I would have in class.
One video per assignment sheet, since having students watch a 45 minute video of me talking didn’t seem like a good idea. I didn’t do any fancy editing or anything like that. Just turned on Quicktime, started recording, and stopped once I reached the end of each sheet. Then I uploaded each short video to YouTube as unlisted videos. If unlisted, the videos can only be seen by someone with a direct link.
Here’s one example from that semester, so you can see what I mean. I go over the extra credit assignment sheets in this particular video.
So, if something unexpected comes up next semester and you’re worried about not having the time to push back the lesson to the next class period, consider digital alternatives.
Record a video lecture. Or just an audio lecture. Create a discussion forum on your LMS site for students to interact in as a replacement for that day’s class discussion. Create a digital assignment that would take up the equivalent of a class period and have them complete it before the next class.
I’ve actually done this last option and required them to complete the activity the same day as the absence, because I was able to tell them of the cancelation with enough time for them to stay at home/their dorm room and complete the activity when they were supposed to be in class. [I sent an email the afternoon before.] That way, they wouldn’t feel like they could wait to complete that assignment and therefore wait longer to start on their regular reading homework.
Of course, you can also go the more traditional route of having someone sub for you. But, since we tend to teach our courses with such different materials, this isn’t always a viable option.
The class pace that you plan out before your course begins more often than not doesn’t pan out exactly as you expected it to. That’s a normal part of teaching. You won’t know what your students will need from you pacing-wise until they arrive in your classroom and you have some time with them.
So, if you need to start cutting small things out because you’ve fallen a bit behind schedule, that’s okay. And if a major project needs to be redesigned because you just don’t have the time left to devote to it in its current state, that’s okay, too.
If your students already know about the original design, just be honest with them. I’m sure they’d rather have a redesigned project that they can actually accomplish well, instead of the full assignment shoved into too small a time period.
If you haven’t shared the full assignment sheet for that project yet, then just redesign it and introduce it to your students with the confidence that comes from knowing you’re doing what’s best for them and you.
Those are my two extra tips of the day. If you haven’t started filling out the second section of the workbook yet, please do let me know if any questions come up while creating your course schedule.
And if you’ve already started and want some feedback, I’d be happy to offer my perspective. Just reply to this email and we can talk. Or you can comment on the post or video with any thoughts that pop up while reading/watching.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
Email #3: Icebreaker Activities
There are so many icebreaker activities out there to use and tweak for your own classroom. I covered seven that I’ve used in the workbook.
In today’s blog post, I provide a few more examples, including ones that can work for very large classes (100+ students). The YouTube video is about keeping your icebreakers inclusive for all your students, so I definitely suggest taking the couple minutes to watch that video. It’s linked in the blog post.
I know that icebreakers aren’t for everyone. But, I do highly recommend them, especially in classes where there’s actually the potential for you to know every student’s name.
We’re officially over halfway through this series and about a month away from the new academic year. I’m hoping the material we’ve covered has been helpful so far. Remember that you can email me back with any questions that pop up as you go through the series.
Next week, we’ll move on to discussing major class assignments and their instruction sheets.
P.S. I’ve created an ebook version of the blog post, “10 Teaching Tips for the New College Instructor.” It’s in our resource library, in case you want to download it and read/annotate it on-the-go.
Email #4: Major Class Assignments
It might seem strange that I’ve waited until week four to talk about major class assignments and projects. I explained my reasoning in the workbook. But if you haven’t arrived at that point yet: There are so many assignment designs to choose from or create yourself, so this element of course prep is one that really depends on your field, you institutional requirements, and your personal interests.
Rather than focus on assignment types in the workbook, I focus on standard and nonstandard elements of the instruction sheets instead.
But, I don’t want you to leave this series with absolutely no ideas of the types of activities you can use if you’re completely unsure where to start.
So, today’s blog post includes six types of major assignments that you might find match well with your course topics and materials. I’ve included links to examples of each project type, as well. If you have any questions about these assignments, feel free to comment on the post or reply to this email.
In the video, I dig a little deeper into how I introduce these major assignments to my students. Why do I go over the assignments during week one? How have my students responded to this approach? When do I not go over the assignment sheets immediately?
There’s a lot to cover and work on for this element of your course design and prep. So, please feel free to contact me if you want to talk one-on-one about your major assignments.
We’ll wrap up next week with designing and assigning student self-assessment activities.
P.S. As we near the end of the series, remember that we are also nearing the end of the digital journal course launch. You can find more details here, in case you want to take advantage of the launch discount and bonus offer.
Email #5: Student Self-Assessment
We’ve reached the end of the “Successful Start” series! The final element to discuss is the student self-assessment activity I recommend including during week one of your course. This is the last activity I cover in this series because it can also be pushed back to week two if you don’t have the time to allocate to it during week one.
Assessing the knowledge and skills and expectations that students enter your classroom with can really help you tweak your lesson plans to better fit the students you actually have rather than the students you’ve been imagining you’ll have or the students you’ve had in the past.
I was required to assign a student self-assessment activity in my composition courses during my first semester teaching at ISU. The activity had been created for me and the other new ENG 101 instructors. It was a required activity rather than one I decided on myself.
Starting my teaching career with this pilot study taking place influenced the rest of my teaching experiences, as I immediately saw the benefits of including at least a short self-assessment activity when the semester began. Along with my autobiography assignment, this activity helps me immediately see and know my students as individuals and not just as a group of students in my classroom.
With this last element of week one covered in today’s post and video, this series has come to an end. The launch of my digital teaching journal course will end this Sunday at 11:59 PM. I wanted to make sure you had at least a couple days to work on the self-assessment element of the workbook before ending the course launch.
If you’re interested in using a digital teaching journal and want to take advantage of the 40% off price and the two free bonus digital notebooks, now is the time.
The price goes up from $12 to $20 this Sunday, 11:59 PM EDT.
With around 2 weeks left before the fall semester begins, you can take the time to customize your journal to meet your needs before the semester officially starts.
I hope you found this series beneficial. If you have any feedback you’d like to share with me, feel free to email me back.