Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ice-breakers on the first day of class

Originated as a comment over at Terminal Degree:

On names: here's an ingenious one somebody on our campus taught me: On the first day of classes, hand out a 9x12 manila envelope to each stduent. Take five minutes and have them write their preferred first name (large) on the envelope, and in its corners, their home-town, major, instrument, and/or studio teacher. Have them use the envelopes to store class materials (listening notes or something similar) and require that they bring to class each meeting. Then, make the rule that when they raise their hands or are called upon, they must hold up the envelope. It becomes habitual, and a bit of a standing joke, but it breaks the ice, and teaches their names (and a bit about themselves) not only to you but also to their classmates.

We call them "SHMRG" envelopes because we use LaRue's Guidelines for Style Analysis (basically, subsuming commentary on musical style under umbrella headings of Sound Harmony Melody Rhythm Growth). We require a "SHMRG worksheet" for each piece students are responsible for, and we require that they both keep all SHMRG worksheets in the envelopes and have the envelopes at every class. We enforce conscientious maintenance of SHMRG envelopes by doing "spot-collections" of the envelopes (unannounced): TA's tally the total number of completed worksheets versus those required and a grade is assigned on basis of whether the dossier is complete.

The big, central NAME is the major purpose: you required that anyone responding or asking in class must hold up the envelope (I usually make a joke about my terrible memory for names) and you want to be able to see the name from across the room (and you want all other students to be able to see it also). The "hometown," "instrument," and "studio teacher" labels are there because that is the first information the kids will typically offer to one another. The "random fact" we describe as "a random fact about yourself that you think someone looking at you might not automatically know." This is a great ice-breaker and I've gotten fascinating replies, e.g., "I won a scholarship for catching the biggest fish," or "I always wanted to go sky-diving" or "I LOVE to go sky-diving". These convey to the kids that we care about who they are as people, not just cogs; they encourage the kids to see themselves as complex and unique; and it helps them find points of commonality or curiousity with one another. It sets a nice tone, right from the first day.

Further refinement: if it's a large group and you want them to develop some cordial relationships with other students in the class they don't know (especially important if you're going to assign them to in- or out-of-class collaborative teams), take 2:00 minutes after they have finished writing on their envelopments to do the following: tell them to turn to the nearest adjacent person they don't know (have to specify that, as new students tend to clump together with others they're acquainted with), introduce themselves, and read to one another the various factoids, with special emphasis on the "random fact" element. It's a great jump-start toward a collaborative in-class feeling, which in turn facilitates discussion, response, cooperation, and so on.

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