INTRODUCTION: In every course I teach, my first and foremost goal is to establish rapport with my students. Similar to Maslow’s need-hierarchy model of human motivation, I operate under the assumption that meeting students’ need for acceptance and validation is a precondition that provides the social-emotional foundation for learning and growth. It has been my experience that students begin to care more about learning and become more committed to the learning process when they sense that their instructor cares about them. Probably my most successful instructional strategy for gaining and maintaining instructor-student rapport is what I call the “Student Information Sheet.” The sheet contains questions for students to answer, which are divided into six general areas: (1) personal background, (2) future plans, (3) personal abilities, achievements, and distinctive qualities, (4) personal interests, (5) personal values, and (6) course expectations, expectations and interests.

SET UP AND SUPPLIES: Student Information Sheet. (Appended below)

DIRECTIONS: On the first day of class, I distribute the course syllabus, but do not spend class time systematically reviewing it. Instead, I tell students that their first assignment is to read the syllabus for the next class session, because I want my first experience with them to focus on people, not paper. I tell them that we’re going to take some time to learn about each other before we attempt to learn the subject matter; then I project a transparency that contains the questions related to the aforementioned six areas. I reveal one question at a time, and have students record their answers to each question on a sheet of paper; at the same time, I write my answers on the board to the same questions (except for those questions that are student-specific, such as class standing). By answering the questions myself, I show students that I trust them well enough to reveal something personal about myself, which in turn, seems to make them feel more comfortable about revealing more of themselves to me. Also, my answering the questions with them serves to validate the exercise, suggesting that it’s worthy of my time and effort as well.

This exercise typically takes about one minute per question (i.e., 50 questions takes approximately 50 minutes). If I have a 50-minute class session, I typically use no more than 35-40 of the questions because I want to reserve some class time to collect the information sheets and review students’ names. I like to keep the process moving fairly quickly by advising students that they can use single words and phrases to answer the questions (as I do on the board). Also, short and fairly quick responses can often capture students’ true thoughts or feelings in response to the question (akin to free association), as opposed to calculated, socially acceptable responses.

After the exercise is completed, I collect each student’s information sheet and use it in some or all of the following dozen ways to promote rapport with the class throughout the term.  

1. On the first day of class, after I’ve collected all the information sheets, I call-out the names of individual students, asking them to raise their hand when their name is called so I can associate their name and face. As I call their names out, I very rapidly jot down a quick word or abbreviated phrase next to the student’s name for later review (e.g., something about a distinctive physical feature or seating spot that can help me remember the student).

2. Before the next class meeting, I read all student responses to the questions and highlight one from each student’s sheet that is thought provoking or stimulating. I come to the second class session with something highlighted on each student’s sheet, and I start class by calling out each student’s name and asking the student for a brief elaboration on the item I’ve highlighted (e.g., When did you move from New York to California ? When you worked with handicapped children, what type of assistance did you provide?) This shows each student that I’ve taken to time to read their information sheets and am taking an individual interest in each one of them. The short verbal interchange I have with each student also helps me immensely in learning their names, because it allows more eye-contact time than that which occurs during a simple roll call, and it provides a distinctive event or “episode” to which I can relate/associate to their face and name.

Throughout the term, I use the student information sheet for the following purposes.

3. To actively involve individual students in the course. I identify topical interests that individual students mentioned on their information sheets during the first day of class, record the student’s name on a post-it sticker, and then stick it onto my class notes—next to the topic or subtopic which the student had expressed an interest. When that particular topic is covered later in the semester, I introduce it by mentioning the name of the student who had expressed interest in that topic on the first day of class. It has been my experience that students perk-up when I mention their name in association with their preferred topic, and they are often amazed by my apparent ability to remember the interests they expressed on the very first day of class at points later on in the semester. Students rarely ask how I managed to remember their personal interests, so they remain unaware of my “crib sheet” strategy. Consequently, they tend to conclude that I have an extraordinary social memory and social sensitivity (which is fine with me).

4. To make final decisions about course-content.  I use student interests expressed on the information sheet to help select course topics and subtopics. For example, in a course like General Psychology, in which it’s impossible to cover everything, I decide on a set of core concepts or topics and use information gleaned from students’ sheets to decide on what remaining “supplemental” topics I cover. I tell the class that I’ve done this, which gives them a sense of input into and ownership of the course that may serve to enhance their intrinsic motivation.

5. To “connect” personally with a student who rarely speak in class or who seem “detached.” For example, I may come early to class and strike-up a conversation with the student about something from their information sheet. Or, as students leave the classroom at the end of class, I typically stand by the door as they depart. When a quiet or non-participative student is leaving, I’ll quickly ask that student something relating to her information sheet.

6. To connect my course with other courses students are taking in the same term. One question on the information sheet asks students for their current class schedule. I make note of other courses that students are taking and attempt to relate my course to other courses that students are taking. For instance, if I’m covering mnemonic devices in freshman seminar, I will use examples for improving memory that apply to content they may be learning in other classes.

7. To intentionally form small groups or learning teams. For example, I may create homogeneous groups consisting of students with the same career interests, or heterogeneous teams comprised of students from different geographical areas.

8. To personalize my written feedback to students during the term. For example, if a student initially expressed an interest in joining a student club or finding an on-campus job, I’ll ask about that by writing a “P.S.” at the end of the feedback I’m providing on a journal entry or exam.

9. To prepare for and personalize students’ scheduled office visits. I will look over the information sheet of a student prior to an office visit and refer to something mentioned on the sheet during the office visit.

10. To personalize and enliven the process of returning student assignments in class.  Periodically, before a class session when I’ll be returning student assignments, I look over the information sheets just before going to class and when returning their assignments in class; then instead of calling their names, I’ll call out something from their information sheet. For example, I might say: “Will a future occupational therapist from Maryland please come up and pick-up your assignment?” (This demonstrates to students at later points in the term that I still know them well.)

11. To showcase students’ articulate comments and insightful ideas. I look for comments and ideas shared by students on their information sheet that may relate to a course topic and display them on a transparency when we get to that particular in class. For example, a question on the information sheet asks students for their favorite quote. One student wrote: “When you point your finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” This succinct saying artfully captured the gist of projection—a defense mechanism that I planned to cover in class. When we got to that topic, I created an overhead transparency that contained the student’s quote along with her name and used it to introduce the concept of projection. (This practice serves to validate students’ ideas; plus I’ve found that they really seem to get a charge out of being quoted; perhaps it makes them feel like a famous person.)

12. To personalize the content of my exams. I use the information sheets to construct test questions relating to individual students’ interests. For instance, in a freshman seminar test covering the topic of major/career choice, I include student names on questions that relate to their particular major or career interest (e.g., “Jennifer P. is interested in both Art and Business, so she decides to major in Art and minor in Business. Approximately how many courses in Business will she need to complete a minor in this field?”).

CONCLUSION

It’s been my experience that when students are aware that you care about them, they care more about you and what you’re trying to teach them. They become more intrinsically motivated, more actively involved in the learning process, more willing to take intellectual risks, and respond more positively (less defensively) to instructional feedback. The student information sheet has been my single most effective method for demonstrating to students that I care about them as individuals. It has proven to be well worth the “sacrifice” of lost content coverage on the first day of class because it creates a much more favorable first impression of the class, and because it has the versatility to be used in multiple ways—throughout the term—to connect students with the instructor, with the course, and with each other.

RESOURCES: Student Information Sheet

PERSONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

1. Your name (as you prefer to be called)?

2. Phone number/E-Mail address (optional)?

3. Place of birth? Places lived? Presently living on campus (where) or commuting (from where)?

4. What is your class schedule for this term? (Course titles and times)?

5. How many college credits have you completed? (Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior?)

6. Why did you choose this college? (What brought you here?)

7. Have any of your friends or family attended this college?

8. Have you attended any other colleges? (If yes, where and when?)

9. What jobs or volunteer experiences have you had?

10. Will you be working or volunteering this term? If so, how many hours per week? On or off campus?

11. Will you have family responsibilities this term?

12. Has anyone in your immediate family (parents or siblings) graduated from college?

FUTURE PLANS:

13. Intended major (already decided or being considered)? How sure are you about this choice? (What lead you to this choice?)

14. What are your plans (definite or tentative) after graduating from this college?

15. Intended career? (If already decided or being considered) How sure are you about this choice? What led you to this choice?

PERSONAL ABILITIES, ACHIEVEMENTS, & DISTINCTIVE QUALITIES:

16. What are you really good at? What comes easily or naturally to you?

17. What would you say are your most developed skills or talents?

18. How do you think you learn best?

19. What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment, achievement, or success story in life thus far?

20. What three words do you think best describe you?

21. What would your best friend(s) say is your most likable quality?

22. What would you say are your personal strengths right now? What personal areas you would like to work on or improve?

PERSONAL INTERESTS:

23. What sorts of things do you look forward to, and get excited about?

24. What sorts of things capture and hold your interest?

25. What would you say have been your most enjoyable & least enjoyable learning experiences?

26. What are your hobbies? Your fun activities?

27. How do you to relax and unwind?

28. If you had a day, week, or year to go anywhere you wanted and do anything you liked, where would you go and what would you do?

29. What do you like to read?

30. When you open a newspaper, what section of it do you turn to first?

31. What’s your favorite movie and/or TV program (if any)?

32. What’s your favorite music or musical artist(s)?

33. Is there anyone dead or alive, real or imaginary, whom you’ve never met but would like to meet and have a conversation with? (Why?)

PERSONAL VALUES:

34. What do you value a lot? (What’s really important to you?)

35. When you have free time, what do you usually find yourself doing?

36. When you have extra spending money, what do you usually spend it on?

37. Is there a motto, quote, song, symbol, or bumper sticker that represents something you stand for or believe in?

38. If there is one thing in this world that you’d like to change, what would it be?

39. How would you define success? (What does “being successful” mean to you?)

40. Do you tend to daydream about anything in particular?

41. Do you have any heroes? Is there anyone you admire, look up to, or feel has set an example worth following?  (Why?)

42. Who or what would you say has had the greatest influence on your life? (In what way?)

43. If there is anything in your life that you would like to change or do over again, what would it be? Why?

44. What would you like to be said about you in your obituary or at your eulogy?

COURSE EXPECTATIONS, ATTITUDES, & INTERESTS:

45. Why are you taking this course?

46. When you hear “[title of the course]” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

47. What information or topics do you think will be covered in this course?

48. Have you had any other courses or learning experiences in this subject area?

49. Do you have any course expectations or goals? Anything that you hope will be covered or discussed in this class?

50. Right now, how do you feel about taking this course—positive, negative, neutral? (Why?)

51. Is there anything else about the course or about yourself, which I haven’t asked, but you’d like me to know?

–Joe Cuseo, Faculty, Psychology & Director, Freshman Seminar, Marymount College, CA 

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A Variation of the “Student Information Sheet” from Laurie Osher, Faculty, Soil Science, University of Maine, ME

I too request the students fill out an information sheet at the start of each semester.  When I first began teaching, it was shorter, and the students were asked to complete it during the first class meeting. After several years at U Maine, I’ve learned that (unlike the universities I attended) the range in student’s preparedness for the class (including writing skills, computer skills and comfort with organizing information) is huge. Many students lacked the technical skills needed to do well in the class, but didn’t make that known to me until it had already impacted their ability to focus on course content, or complete course work on time.

Now, I ask the students to visit the course WebCT web page and complete the questionnaire there.  The electronic “take-home” format is similar to the assessment/testing format that will be used throughout the semester.  It allows the students time to provide me with more detailed information and begins the semester with “a deliverable” due during the first week.  The assessment software on WebCT compiles the information, and I review their answers before the second week of class begins.  At the same time, I edit the compiled information to maintain student confidentiality, and release the compiled responses so that all students can see the range of strengths, weaknesses, experiences, computer abilities, etc. within the group.

The change in delivery method has allowed me to spend most of the first 75 minute lecture discussing terms and concepts needed for the first field class, which meets 15 minutes after the first lecture period ends. The new delivery method and electronic “deliverable” ensures that all students are accessing the class web page during the first week of class. (Those challenges by the technical hurdles associated with this assignment benefit from the early detection of these challenges.)

The questions for my students this fall are below; the ~16 students are enrolled in 400 (senior) and (500) graduate level lecture/field courses entitled “Pedology: Soil Morphology, Genesis, and Classification.”

STUDENT INFORMATION SHEET

GENERAL INFORMATION

1. What names are used to address you?  Which name would prefer I use?

2. What is the degree you are pursuing (BS, BA, MS, MA) and what is your major (or program)?

3. List your jobs or volunteer experiences related to soil science.

4. List other environmental science related field experiences (courses, jobs, internships, volunteer work, hobbies).

5. List your regular commitments this semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays (8 AM till 5 PM ) other than this class.

6. Do you have any commitments that may impact your ability to attend class? (If yes, see me this week.)

7. Do you have (or have you had) any personal challenges that may impact your ability to fully participate in class?  (If yes, let me know this week.)

LEARNING STYLE & EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES:

8. How do you learn best (listening, reading, writing, doing, etc.)?

9. What learning environment is the most challenging for you (lecture, reading, library, doing, etc.)

10. What are your greatest strengths as a student?

11. What are your greatest weaknesses as a student? (Which skills need improving?)

12. What has been your most enjoyable learning experience? Why?

13. What has been your least enjoyable learning experience? Why?

14. What computer software program do you use for word processing (writing and editing written documents)?

15. What computer software program do you use for making spreadsheets (data organization and graphing)?

16. What computer software program do you use for making presentations (presentation of information)?

17. On a scale of 10 (1=makes me ill, 10=”easy as 1,2,3″), what is your comfort level with using these programs?

18. What has been your greatest accomplishment related to using computer software?

19. What has been your biggest challenge related to using computer software?

20. Where do you go and/or what do you do when you are having problems using these software products?

21. Using FirstClass, email me the most complicated electronic document you’ve produced (or sample of that document) containing written text, figures and/or tables.

COURSE EXPECTATIONS & RELATED EXPERIENCES:

22. Which of the topics listed in the syllabus are most interesting to you?

23. Is there anything you would like to see covered in the course that isn’t listed in the syllabus?

24. What are you thoughts about taking open book tests on the computer (similar to this questionnaire)?

25. List your other courses or learning experiences related to this subject area of this course.

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