Purpose of Teaching

Starting the Semester

If your course had a movie trailer, what would it look like?

Your students enter class on the first day, nervous and worried about many things, but also hopeful that your class might be the one that helps them find what they never even knew they were looking for. While it may be our fifth, or thirtieth, time teaching a text or an idea, it will often be their first. If we want our students to be excited and commit their interest to what we hope them to learn, we need to set the tone early. Here are a few ideas:

  • What are the big questions and big ideas that you will explore over the course of the semester? Is there a way to get students thinking about these ideas from day one? Pose an interesting question, have the students turn and talk about the question in pairs or small groups, and then promise that the reading for the night and over the course of the semester will help push their thinking forward.
  • If your course builds to a final project, briefly discuss some of the topics students addressed in previous classes. Let them see, from the first days of class, that they are being invited into a space where interesting things happen.
  • Tell a story that builds connections. Connect your course to things students will be empowered to do after taking your course. Are their connections to study abroad opportunities? Other courses in the major or across campus? Careers or internships? Students will be more motivated to engage with your course if they see it fitting into the story they are authoring for themselves.

We need to step back and ask the question: What is the main objective of this class? And with this in mind, we can make sure that our readings, our course activities, and our assessments/assignments align with this objective. If there is misalignment, our students will lose motivation, because they will begin feeling like they are doing busywork that lacks purpose.

A key to course design that builds student motivation is being able to tell students why everything we are asking them to do matters. And we won’t be able to tell this story if we don’t have a clear objective in mind and that everything we do is clearly connected to this objective.