Tuesday Teaching Question

I always hated the old “What did you do this summer?” assignment when I was a student, and usually tried to subvert or resist it some way (big surprise, right?), but now, here on the other side, I am perpetually tempted to throw it at my students, even while recognizing that most of them don’t have proper summers in the sense of being free of work responsibilities. It’s this last fact that makes the question even more tempting to ask, I think.

When I was 8 the answers were less interesting and far less varied–I think I played Wiffle Ball every day that summer–than they are coming from people with real lives. I recognize, too, now, the utility of the question for getting people to reveal a little something about themselves to a room full of strangers in order to begin the delicate and difficult work of building a nascent trust among the students and create a social, functional learning environment. I hesitate to throw it out there at the beginning of the fall semester, though, because I always wonder if it crosses the line from playful and fun to infantilizing–I don’t want to start out the semester giving the impression that I’m patronizing them. Consequently, I usually resist the temptation and throw something out there like, “Tell the rest of us about something that happened to you in the last six months,” and I’m never really happy with it.

So I’m looking for some great first day/week questions that you ask when you’re taking attendance or to get a writing sample or something–questions you use to get your students talking about themselves so you can get to know them a little bit (and/or they each other). What have you got?

One thought on “Tuesday Teaching Question

  1. I think the “what did you do during summer vacation” is a good question to ask fellow faculty, but I’ve had the same reservations about not asking students that question.

    There’s always the “what are your expectations for the class”, but I’m kind of tired of the answer “getting an A” or worse, “to pass”.

    Instead of asking students about their personal lives right off the bat, I prefer to ask them questions about the course – the big ideas.

    a) When you think of high quality early childhood education, what do you see?
    b) Who was your favorite teacher? What was it about that person that made the learning experience positive?
    c) What do young children need?
    d) What influences human development?

    This year, for the first day of the Practicum course, I plan to ask students to envision the kind of teacher they want to be and write words, phrases, or images on big paper with markers. This does not serve as a writing diagnostic, but I hope to get them thinking about the qualities of a good teacher and where they see their own strengths. The reason I want them all to use big paper is they will discuss what they wrote with others, we will put the posters on the wall, and then we will periodically revisit them throughout the semester.

    Good question! I look forward to reading other examples.

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