Posts by Shawn Jensen

Class Motto

“We were born to succeed, not to fail.” Henry David Thoreau

I found this great idea on the Oncourse website:

I use this as an icebreaker for one of the first classes.  I put the students into groups and give each group about 5-6 different motivational quotes.  In their groups, students decide on one quote.  I have each group write their quote on poster paper and display it in the classroom.  I give the students star stickers to vote on the quote they like the best.  This quote then becomes their class motto.  I send the quote to Print Service to have laminated bookmarks made.

It is great to see the students using their bookmarks throughout the semester and it serves as a positive reminder when they are struggling during the semester.


Interactive Syllabus

As I mentioned in an early SPARK, the first week of classes can be very monotonous and mechanical.  We give the students the syllabus, expect them to read it ( some are about 15+ pages long!) and sign it.  I suspect most students jump to the last page and answer a few questions about the syllabus/course and sign it.

I teach English Language Learner (ELL) courses.  These are non-tuition bearing courses, so without students having any “skin” in the game, tardiness and absenteeism were becoming an issue in my courses.

I decided during the first week of class, the students would have input into the attendance portion of the syllabus. I was nervous the first time I did this as I was unsure what they would create for their attendance policy.  However, I was pleasantly surprised how professional the students were and detailed in their policy.  Below is a “typical” attendance policy the students come up with for the class:

Attendance Policy- Students may be absent two times in a semester as long as it is an approved absence.  Approved absences are illness, child is ill, car accident, car problems, work, or a death in the family. Students must email the instructor if absent.

Tardiness Policy- Students are considered late if they are more than  10 minutes late to class.  Two tardies will equal one absence.

Since the students created the attendance/tardiness policy, I really do not have to enforce it as they hold each other accountable.

A Sylla What???

As instructors, the first week of classes becomes very mechanical for us. We have the students print the syllabus, read the syllabus and sign the syllabus. During one of those monotonous  classes, I decided to ask the  students to define the word syllabus and I was surprised that not one student really knew what a syllabus was.

Now, I  have the students look up the word syllabus and write a definition. I spend time in class discussing that a syllabus is contract between the instructor and the student. We talk about expectations students can have of the instructor and what expectations the instructor has of the students. I also emphasis that they should never sign a contract without reading it in its entirety.

By taking the time up front to discuss what a syllabus is, I have found that I am answering less questions about what is due and when. Students are prepared for class and I have fewer attendance issues.