Friday, September 4, 2009

On The Fifth Day...

I've been reading (slowly) this book, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, about how people make decisions. And I've been struck by how many ideas from the book are applicable in my classroom. So today, on the fifth day of class, I'm going to try something, not revolutionary, but different than I've done before.

Throughout the first week of school, I haven't touched the course syllabus (we call it the Expectations). Instead, I've been telling my class each day that I'm "showing" them what the course is all about with the kinds of activities we're doing. Today, I want to present the students with a set of bullet points summarizing the points I was trying to make, and I want to use that to lead into a discussion of grading policy and expectations.

In his book, Ariely has a chapter specifically about expectations, and the power they have over the way we go on to react to something. He runs several experiments where he "primes" peoples' expectations, which affects the way they make further decisions. For example, he asks people to recall the Ten Commandments before giving them an opportunity to cheat without getting caught. Those in the control group, not asked to recall the 10 C's, do cheat. Those that think about the 10 C's don't cheat. Mind my oversimplification. So that's what I'm going to try in my class.

To begin with, I'm going to give a short quiz, questions ranging from what does it mean to learn to what should homework assignments be to how should classmates help each other. Then, I'm going to to talk about my expectations, the Expectations. I have no idea whether anything will change.

My plan is to do something similar for each of the more important moments, projects, and assignments throughout the semester. It's not really something I didn't do before. I've always had the "anticipatory set," but it's a shift in rationale and focus. It's a move towards ownership and relevance.

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