Fisch, Audrey A. “Rethinking Class Introductions.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 48.2 (2020): 239-49. Print.
In an “Instructional Note,” Audrey A. Fisch proposes an approach to the traditional first-day student introduction process in a first-year writing class. Her assignments focus on students’ achievements and strengths and include a multimodal component.
Fisch cites research arguing that many students suffer from “imposter syndrome” that may even be triggered after the students arrive on college campuses as the academic environment undermines their prior views of themselves (240). Affirming students’ abilities and “belongingness” (240) in the new environment, Fisch reports, is essential to healthy learning (239). Her introduction assignment is designed to promote the kind of classroom community that will support student achievement in the face of the challenges offered by the new environment.
The class represented in Fisch’s discussion took place in 2019 at New Jersey City University, an institution developed as “Hispanic-serving and . . . minority-serving” (240). The student body is diverse, with 19% white, 24% Black, 39% Hispanic, and 8% Asian. Graduation and retention rates for four- and six-year measures are lower than average, and 75% of “first-time, full-time, first-year students” receive Pell Grants (240). Fisch cites as well the logistical challenges facing many students, such as arduous commutes and family and work demands.
The initial component of the “intervention” to promote student confidence and classroom community is a twenty-minute session in which each student interviews a classmate (241-42). Fisch provides specific questions; students may pick which questions to include and may “go off topic” if they wish (241). Questions ask about “personal strengths” and prior achievements as well as “best/favorite academic moments” (241). Further options include opportunities to relate moments facing or overcoming adversity and family pressures related to educational choices (242).
Each student must then generate a ninety-second class introduction to the person they interviewed (242-43). Fisch notes that the ninety-second limit at first may make the report look less threatening but actually serves to encourage students to think about the careful choices required to present a picture in such a short time (242). The students being introduced, in Fisch’s view, have a chance to see themselves as someone who isn’t familiar with them perceives them as a result of the interview.
Following the introductions, students receive a homework assignment to create a ninety-second video about themselves. Students use FlipGrid, a “super easy, free technology” that even people who are not computer experts can use (243). Again, the ninety-second limit creates an incentive to think carefully about what to include, such as “key pieces of one’s story” and “meaningful details” (243). The videos can include “props, music, and setting” to emphasize the information the students wish to project (243).
The videos are discussed and peer-reviewed on the second class day, after which students are asked for “a more traditional college writing task: a reflective writing exercise” (244-45). Fisch provides quotes from several students noting what the students felt they learned from the first two days’ activities. The students quoted report appreciating being able to “open up” to others, to make friends, and to recognize “how unique and how accomplished” they are when asked to examine their pasts in “a positive light.” Students also commented on how the exercise revealed the diversity and individuality of their colleagues and, in one case, how the activity resulted in a sense of the classroom as “one big, creative, and supportive family” (245-46).
Fisch argues that including the video allows students to begin the semester with a mode of communication with which they are already familiar; moreover, the multimodal component “honors students’ prior knowledge” (Christina Saidy, qtd. in Fisch 244) and expands students’ idea of the forms writing can take. Fisch notes that her assignment may help to prepare students for job applications that now often require personal video essays (244).
Fisch believes that her assignments are examples of “[s]mall [i]nterventions” (246) that help students with the “critical leap of imagination” many first-time college students will need to “craft a new, university persona” (239).