Notes from “Getting Off to a Good Start with Student Engagement” #fsi2015

Notes from “Getting off to a Good Start with Student Engagement”, presented by Laurie M. Erickson, Harold Washington City College of Chicago and James Klock, Benito Juarez High School, Chicago, at the 2015 Faculty Summer Institute

A story of disengagement – low attendance, eyes glazed over in class, missing assignments

The first day of class is key!

  1. Create a personal relationship and build trust
  2. Use the familiar to introduce the unfamiliar
  3. Demand class participation
  4. Give generous feedback


  • Active learning is more effective
  • Active learning encourages critical thinking
  • Active learning increases confidence
  • Sets the stage for future classes
  • Begins building a positive culture of learning

Signs of a good first class

  • Each student speaks aloud during the first class
  • Each student answers one question successfully and receives positive feedback
  • Some of the students smile (and have a good time)


Create a personal relationship and build trust

  • Introduce yourself with the basics (name, work credentials, title) and some personal information (like your research/interesting issues, family, hobbies)
  • Use a sense of humor (gently), and key students in by saying it is something funny
  • Use student names ASAP, and ask for correct pronunciation
  • Get student names on cards (or whatever way works for you)
  • Be a role model for Learning from Experience (it’s okay to make mistakes, but handle them gracefully and learn from them)
  • Have students post pictures online to help with learning names
  • Ask students questions about themselves (maybe via a survey?)
  • Self-disclose something personal yourself before you ask them to share

Use the familiar to introduce unfamiliar material

  • Draw students in with something that hooks them
  • Sure-fire topics for personal stories (fictional if necessary)
    • Stories about a “friend of a friend” or celebrities
    • Dramatic stories – dangerous, romantic, or controversial
    • Unpleasant stories from the “old days”
    • Animal stories
    • Movies
  • Open-ended questions (what do you think about…? have you ever….?)
  • Use demonstrations and props
  • Examples from daily life (been sick? eaten at a Chinese restaurant? hated the ending of a book? seen a car blow up in the movies?)

Demand participation from all students

  • Explain participation rules immediately
    • “I don’t know” doesn’t count as an answer
    • Give me a guess/partial answer instead
    • Give me an intelligent question instead
  • Avoid volunteers – call on students (don’t rely on volunteering, because it allows students to disengage)
  • One round of required participation is a good baseline
  • Remind students when beginning class participation that everyone will be expected to answer
  • Pre-established answers, especially if there is a strong theme to the material (give them examples of things that are often right answers (in biology, the liver, the nucleus, or #2)
  • Good formats for participation:
    • Yes/no (hands, thumbs, color cards, clickers)
    • Multiple choices (A, B, C)
    • Open-ended – what’s your opinion?
    • Group work/partner work
    • Response to presentation (what’s wrong here?
    • Pronunciation – “repeat after me”
  • Prepare leading questions carefully
  • Anticipate answers
  • Have backup questions
  • Repeat open-ended questions with additional students, to compare

Give generous (positive) feedback

  • Good answer – thank you
  • Was that a guess? Good one
  • That’s a very thoughtful opinion
  • I can see the logic of your answer, but there is a problem with it…
  • You’ve convinced me
  • That’s a good answer, but there’s a problem – do you want me to tell you, or do you want to think about it more?
  • No reason to give a negative response on the first day – glad you’re here, thanks for coming, etc.

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