What do you want to learn?– first day question for students
On August 23rd I began my teaching journey at State Tech. My lesson plans were written, my Introduction PowerPoints ready to go, syllabi were photocopied, and my broom was ready to fly. (More about the flying broom will be discussed in later posts.) What I was not prepared for was the openness my students would show towards learning.
To kick things off in my COM 101 course, I created a grammar pre-test. It was important to know what grammar skills my students possessed. It consisted of 15 multiple choice questions and was not for a grade.
Within a minute or two of starting the test, I could see frustration forming on the faces of my students. After four or five minutes, their grumblings were audible. By the time they finished their pre-test, I could almost smell a mutiny. In my most professional and reassuring manner, I tried to persuade them it would ok.
We finished up the pre-test and headed back to our regular classroom. I observed head shaking and defeated student reactions as I followed them. I had just learned that grammar was not my students’ strong suit.
Fortunately, I had anticipated this and had a question ready for them.
After everyone had returned to their seats, I gave them a second. “Well, how do you feel?” I asked. The responses were not positive. “Okay,” I said, “what didn’t you know on the pre-test?”
“Everything!” some of them said.
“What’s a modifier?”
“I know I should know what an infinitive is, but I just don’t.”
“Are we going to have to memorize the prepositions?”
I took these questions with stride. Grammar is hard. We have a lot to learn this semester.
So I asked them one more question.
“What do you want to learn in this class?”
They looked at me like I had two heads.
“Seriously, aside from writing our six essays, what do you want to learn in this class?” I asked.
Everything stopped for a minute.
The first young man spoke up, “I guess how to start a paper.”
“Excellent!” I replied, “I can so do that!”
“I guess how to have better English,” another quietly shared.
“I can’t spell,” was another response.
“I only got two right on that quiz, so I need to know everything,” blurted out another.
“Whoa, I’ve only got 16 weeks,” I told them. “How about we start with the basics and go from there?”
They all eagerly agreed and started talking out loud to one another. I was so pleased to hear that they really did want to learn. They were really and truly eager to become better writers.
I had one last question. “How many of think you are not strong writers because you are not strong reader?”
All but two raised their hands. I learned something else I needed to know about this class.
The two questions I asked opened up the flood gates. They were all discussing what they were good at and their weaknesses. I could hear them sharing horror stories of past classes. Most importantly, I could feel their excitement to learn.
My syllabus and timeline were ready to go when I walked in that door, but after taking the time to learn what my students needed, I went home and redid my game plan.
They will still write the required essays, but I have some even more exciting lessons in store.
I can’t wait to see what they teach me!
By: Melanie A. Peters