First day of class – a student perspective

After finding out what those of us (traditionally) at the front of the classroom think about day one, the logical next step was to ask the other lot how they feel.

I have two classes at present, with ten contact hours with one and four with the other. I will be asking them many questions about their experiences over the course of the coming year, so I started them off with an easy set of questions. As I mentioned earlier, I’m teaching beginner level students, although I am pleasantly surprised by what they’ve been able to do thus far, so much so that I was able to abandon my plan to conduct the questionnaires in their first language.

When conducting such research with students, I like to bear two things in mind: how can I use this ‘writing opportunity‘ to loop back into the course and allow them to practice language we’ve recently covered and how can? Consequently, I was looking to write questions that would elicit responses written using the grammar we’d covered so far.

1st day pic 1

The above answers were on a sliding scale, from 1 to 5, ranging from nervous (1) to confident (5). So, what could account for the lack of nerves? I remember how I felt when starting university and felt a little surprised about the outcome of this question. What could account for such figures? Bravado? Euphoria? Trying to give the answer that the teacher is looking for? Both these are ostensibly realistic reasons, although I had taken steps to avoid such replies. If you’re thinking of conducting a mini research project with your class like this one, be careful not to lead your respondents down an alley. What do I mean? Well, if I’d asked ‘why do you feel nervous?’ or ‘what are two things that make you feel positive’, I’m assuming that they feel that particular emotion. How would you answer the question ‘why do you feel nervous’ if you don’t feel nervous?

In order to derive more meaning from these figures, I asked them why? Below are some replies representative of all given.

Why did you feel like this? Explain.

‘In my first day and feel fear and very excited. And my first day became very good day.’

‘Because I met new friends and I saw new places.’

‘Because everything’s OK.’

‘I don’t know its reason but maybe, university is a new occasion.’

‘Because it’s first day and new school.’

‘I like this atmosphere.’

‘I fell good and I’m so happy because this university is very successful. After I come to school, I meet new friends and good teachers. I don’t have any problem in here. Thank you.’

‘Because everything are good. I don’t have any problem.’

‘I feel very good for be in this university. It’s too good. But I have a problem the university so far from the city center.’

‘Because I like my teachers and my friends like campus.’

‘Because our teacher are very positive so I was feel relax.’

‘Because I think my English be good.’

According to the results of a placement test my students had been assigned to the beginner level. Therefore, I was stretching the boundaries a little here, although a question that required a response in the simple past would give me a little more indication of their true level. The above examples acted as a diagnostic and hinted at a number of areas I could work on in class. Some clearly had knowledge of the present and past tenses; others were even formulating reasonable length sentences. These were encouraging signs: my continued research could be conducted in English and my students were false beginners and we so were not starting from relative scratch as I had feared. Furthermore, I have been able to use these responses as an error correction exercise in class; nothing better than a student generated worksheet.

Now I have some idea of how they are feeling and why, it’s time to ask about the class.

Generally, are you happy with your class?

This question received a 100% positive response. I think it will be interesting to ask this question again in a few weeks’ time. Because this was the first piece of research, I went through the questions with the students before getting them to reply. As with the previous note of caution about leading your respondents down one-way streets, it is also important not to be so general that your data is meaningless. I wanted to know not just about a general feeling of happiness based on the extremes of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. While the above question would have quickly enabled me to identify one or two unhappy people very quickly had there been any, I wanted more information on certain aspects of classes. Hence…

1st day pic 2

The questions were left short so that the students wouldn’t get lost when trying to read and understand them but I also went over each of the points to make sure they understood. Again, it might be interesting to ask this question again in a few weeks’ time.

1st day pic 3

I could have included this question with the previous, but wanted to use a different scale other than positive and negative. Also, this doesn’t really fit into the classroom dynamics umbrella that had characterized the previous question. The responses correlate with what I’d assumed from their written responses thus far, i.e. they’ve at least been presented with the language they’re currently studying before.

The following question was an attempt to bring the previous two together. Below are some replies representative of all given.

You can change one thing about class. What is it?

‘I think, everything is good in class.’

‘Not necessary, everything’s ok and I like all of them.’

‘I don’t like our class travels!! Every lesson we change our class if I can change one thing.’

‘My class is good. My class’s students are hardworking.’

‘Classroom’s place.’

‘Everything is OK. It’s needn’t change anything.’

‘I don’t want to change one thing about my class.’

‘I can’t change one thing about class. I am happy.’

‘I can’t change anything.’

‘Nothing but the studies start so early 8.40 is too early. I wanna sleep.’

‘Lessons start time is very early. If I can, I want change it.’

No students mentioned the level of English as being a problem. The two main issues that arose were the time of classes (the first class of the morning begins at 8:40) and the location of the lessons (students switch classes after every two lessons). These figures correlate with the previous responses. Sadly, there is nothing that can be done to resolve these issues, but at least I have the opportunity to recognize how they feel and explain the reasons why these things must remain as they are.

Do you live on campus?

Yes 91.3% (21)
No 8.7% (2)

Upon reflection, this question seems a bit out of place in this piece of research. It does lead into the next question but I now feel I could have asked it elsewhere. It has given me a few ideas about future research with the class, though.

On to the final question: Again, here are some replies representative of all given.

How is your new life at university? Tell me how you feel.

‘Very different to high school and I don’t familiar this freedom but I will adapt this freedom. I will work hard my lesson and I do whatever I can.’

‘I feel great. My new friends are good. I like them. Campus, sports center, foods, lessons, dorms… everything’s great.’

‘It’s good. But meals are very expensive and they aren’t good.’

‘Absolutely it is a perfect. I am feeling happy.’

‘It’s good. I love it.’

‘I love my new life.’

‘It’s very beautiful. I saw and learned everywhere. I met a lot of new friends. I believe it will be good more. Thank you for reading.’

‘I think it’s so good. I’m comfortable and free in there.’

‘It is good. I like campus and university. I feel happy.’

‘I like my classmates, teachers, roommate and campus. I want to learn English and our teacher teach it… I’m very happy, I like there.’

‘It’s very good. I’m love here.’

‘My life is very good at university.’

‘It is good. Everything is ok. Campus life is very enjoyable. Our teacher are very positive and good. Classmates are very positive for me.’

‘I fell good. I like this university because everythink inside.’

‘I feel very, very good. I don’t come back Adana.’

Asking these questions made me reflect on the period when I first began university and all the things I had to cope with (click here if you need a reminder). Starting university often means leaving the family construct for the first time and, consequently, can be one of the greatest upheavals we can ever experience. This is particularly true in turkey, where the family is still a strong institution.

Arriving at university can bring freedom, independence and a level of responsibility that was previously unthinkable for many. As language teachers, we need to remember that these young people are facing many new challenges and that being in our classroom is just one of these. Actively seek to find out how your students are dealing with this traumatic time and don’t be afraid

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