Drop the Syllabus for a “No-Dis Day” on Day One

Hey, I have been guilty of it many times, too–that first day of school routine.
You know what I am talking about. That “hand-out-the-syllabus, set-the-tone, and establish-all-rules” practice that more than likely catapults students into a coma-like state of boredom and renders them disengaged, disillusioned and disconcerted.
Yep, I guess it’s safe to say that students are “dissed” at the end of this type of first day of school.
Heck, the facts are right there on social media, too. Sure enough, two years ago, I waited until the end of the first day of school to check my Studio 113 Twitter account. While perusing the new followers, I stumbled on a hashtag that contained students’ opinions about all of their classes from day one.
To say the least, it was a “no-holds-barred” forum. Students were openly discussing the pros and cons of all their classes and, quite honestly, the comments weren’t too optimistic. In fact, probably 90% of what I read was flat out negative. They were even sharing predictions of which classes would be positively unique and which ones would be a waste of their time. I was mesmerized by their postings.
Now, before you throw the book at me, I must admit that I subscribe to a belief that a solid classroom foundation begins with clear expectations, mutual respect, a positive tone, and efficient and necessary procedures and guidelines. For the last 18 years (and as long as I continue teaching), I have merged some of Harry Wong’s concepts with my own in order to establish a creative, collaborative and caring learning environment that students would never forget.
By blending curriculum, interactive learning structures, collaborative assignments, and improvisational acting with the implementation of classroom procedures and guidelines, the students are introduced to the vision that drives Studio 113. In essence, these first 4-5 days are what we call “Training Camp.”
However, if I am truly being transparent, I must admit that many of my first days have been too sedentary. If I would have checked Twitter on day one years ago, I may have discovered students who were disconnected, disheartened and just flat-out displeased. And, Lord knows I don’t want a student like Student X writing about me.
No, sir. No, ma’am.
So, what was my solution last year?
Well, I asked the students to speak…without saying a word.
Yep. You got it. I asked them to use our “Wax Museum” structure to answer two thought-provoking questions:

  1. What kind of class do you want to create this school year?
  2. What needs to change in some of today’s classrooms?

Here’s the run-down of last year’s Day 1 (50-minute classes):

  • Explain the reason for the thematic song that played as students entered the class. Last year’s thematic song was “Am I Wrong?” by Nico and Vinz (5 minutes).
  • Introduce myself and establish rudimentary classroom procedures (i.e. whole class discussion procedures, the traffic light system for technology integration and BYOD; 5 minutes).
  • Clarify the vision behind our interactive Language Arts classroom, Studio 113 (5 minutes).
  • Present guidelines and essential questions for a successful “Wax Museum” structure (5 minutes).
  • Assign teams and allow brainstorming (15 minutes).
  • Encourage students to start preparing for their silent pose (Note: students may use classroom-appropriate items from their personal belongings and/or our classroom as props; 5-7 minutes).
  • Freeze and be silent…students “answer” the assigned questions via the “Wax Museum” (remaining time).

Curious about what our students had to say last year?
Go ahead. Click “play,” listen really closely, and allow the stillness and silence to speak volumes.
I’m sure you’ll discover no dishonesty, no disorder and no disguise in their motionless poses.
Only distinct voices.

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John Hardison

John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC).

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