First Day of Class: What to Expect

The WCP Common First Week has been developed as a way to provide students with a consistent introduction to multimodal composition and to make the first week of classes easier to plan for instructors. Briefly, the Common First Week includes the following elements:

  • A welcome that introduces the course, the teacher to the students, and the students to each other.
  • An introduction that provides an overview of WOVEN composition and the section’s specialized course topic (e.g., the theme of the course: neuroscience and composition, Victorian culture and literature, post humanism, etc.)
  • A review of the syllabus, particularly the WCP Common Syllabus, the course’s major projects, including the end-of-course reflective portfolio, and a Q&A session about the syllabus.
  • A brief diagnostic assignment and class activities to engage students with a multimodal project in microcosm and provide a diagnostic to assess students’ understanding at the beginning of the course.
  • A brief reflection after students complete their diagnostic assignments.

Prior to each semester, Brittain Fellows will receive a formal email regarding details of the upcoming Common First Week.

Communicating the Specifics

Make the first day of class memorable rather than mechanical. Yes, you do need to find out who is present and absent, but do so quickly. You also need to give an overview of the course:

  • The general focus of the course—the topics they’ll address, the assumptions
  • The rhetorical and multimodal approach—that every analysis they do will be rhetorical, every artifact they create will be rhetorical and multimodal
  • Whether the course includes sensitive materials—for example, topics that provoke controversy and strong emotion, topics that may make some students uncomfortable. [NB: “Sensitive” describes virtually everything we do, but here we’re largely taking about sex, religion, horror, violence, and political bias. All of these topics are acceptable, but you need to let the students know in advance what they’ll be addressing.]
  • Whether you’re using a community service or client-based approach. Most students find such approaches exciting, but a few will choose to drop your class because extra time and travel might be involved.
  • The print and e-books they must purchase; other expenses they can expect (e.g., photocopying, poster board, software)
  • Expectations about absences, assignments, homework, individual and collaborative work, and so on; overall assumptions about cell phones, texting, etc.
  • Expectations of accountability, such as taking unannounced quizzes to demonstrate knowledge of assigned readings
  • The assumption that they have their own laptop and will bring it to class to use every day (or whenever you specify); the software they must have; the good manners they must exhibit when using their laptops in class

Beyond these standard things, students need to be engaged and excited about the course. English 1101 and English 1102 might be some students’ first college course and most likely their only one that has fewer than 30 students. LMC 3403 (technical communication) won’t be a first college course, but it still may be students’ only course that has fewer than 30 students. Virtually all students will enter the class fairly sure they’re really smart but not so sure that they’re good communicators (first-year students might be a little insecure about having so many other really smart students in class). They’re generally eager, cooperative, creative, curious, and willing to work very hard. And they care a LOT about grades.

Tips for the first day of class

  • Learn names. Learn each student’s name as quickly as possible and refer to each student by name on the first day (and thereafter). Also, tell them what to call you in class and out of class—Sandra or Dr. Smith.
  • Provide basic information. Do the mechanical part of the first day of class information as expeditiously as possible.
  • Engage in an activity. Plan an activity on the first day of class that captures the topic, rhetorical, and multimodal nature of the course—some activity that conveys the processes they’ll frequently engage in (e.g., collaborative planning, information design, gameplay, individual writing, group feedback, reflection, etc.) so that they leave the class feeling excited and challenged. While the topic may ultimately be related to the reading chosen for the Common First Week, the activity may be tailored toward the assignments or use of multi modality in your specific section.
  • Give homework. Give homework on the first day of class. In addition to the reading that is required as a part of the Common First Week, make part of the first day’s homework accessing T-Square, WOVENText, or a course website. Completing a short assignment to be shared with the class on T-Square (one relevant to your course, whether it’s a response to a one-page reading or a short autobiography), reading your syllabus, and returning the signed acknowledgment form gets students actively engaged in the learning process from Day 1. Make it count toward the final grade.