When students enter your classroom or library for the first time, they bring with them their concerns about their future experiences, as well as their high hopes for positive outcomes. Though some of their preconceptions may be based on projection, rumors, or sheer nervousness, taking the time to know and understand the motivation behind students’ expectations can set the tone for an engaging and productive experience.

Rather than try to guess what students are thinking, you may decide to devote some time to a question-and-answer session during your first meeting. In addition to learning more about the students, you’ll begin to set a tone of openness and responsiveness that overrides students’ initial fears and apprehensions

In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Svinicki and McKeachie recommend asking such questions as:

  • What have you heard about the course?
  • What sorts of concerns or issues do you think we might deal with?
  • What are your expectations for the course?
  • What goals do you have for this course? (Svinicki and McKeachie, 24)

If these exact questions don’t suit the particular setting in which you work, consider what other types of questions might encourage students to open up and participate in the conversation.

As students listen to others’ responses, they become more familiar with one another, and they may begin to see you as a welcoming—rather than intimidating—figure. And that’s a great way to begin!

Reference: Content adapted from Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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