FYS Instructor Core Practices
What characterizes the UMass First Year Seminar (FYS) Program? Small, discussion-based seminars that allow incoming students to explore new fields and engage with their peers on subjects relevant today. Students might consider sex and gender manifestations in the brain, debate the impacts of mass incarceration in the US, or use a math formula to cut a pizza pie. Whatever the subject, these classes encourage students to think big thoughts, participate in robust discussions or debates, approach an instructor or advisor outside of class, and investigate a subject that interests them.
In addition to studying topics, students in these seminars get support for their transition to college life outside. Such support can be crucial for first-year students, who often struggle to make friends, approach faculty, budget time, and find a balance between work and play. If you teach one of these seminars, you can help your students with these things by encouraging them to:
Pay attention to the hidden curriculum of college:
When students come to college, they know they need to go to their classes. But many will need to learn how to learn at the college level. The unstated, or hidden, part of the college curriculum includes: learning to take notes or read for class, developing a system to keep track of assignments, and knowing how to email a professor or advisor. You can help your students with these things. Most FYS instructors require their students to come for a one-on-one visit. Many also talk (even if briefly) with students about ways to budget time for study, to approach reading assignments, and to strategize for taking tests. One important resource is the study skills series offered every semester by Student Success. This series has online tools that can help with test-taking, note-taking, and time management.
Sample Assignments: Let’s Set a Goal; Examine Your Exam
When students arrive at UMass, they sometimes feel lonely. They might have a friend or two from their high school, but many know no one. You can prompt your students to reach out to their instructors (including you) and advisors. You can also foster relationships in your own classroom through shared projects and group work. Ambitious FYS instructors also get their students to find connections on campus. Some send a pair of students to a culture event, or have a group of students research and report back on a campus resource. Such activities make campus life feel accessible and give students the confidence to explore.
Sample Assignments: High Low Buffalo, Campus Exploration
Maintain a balance and attend to self-care:
Like all of us, students tend to over-focus on some things to the detriment of their overall health. For some students, this means an over-focus on school work. For others, it might be too much social time and not enough studying. You should talk to your students about ways to maintain a balance. In addition to study, they might exercise, participate in clubs, relax with friends, or just be alone with a book or music. Physical and emotional health make for happy and balanced students. If things get too far out of balance, you can show them places on campus to go for support.
Sample Assignment: Personal Time Survey.
How to Triage Student Difficulties
Many of your students will face significant struggles during this first year of transition. Some might approach you for help. You can help by directing them to key support services on campus. Such services include:
- Academic supports such as Learning Resource Center or The UMass Writing Center.
- Community supports such as the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, or the Center for Women and Community.
- Emotional supports such as the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health.
Places and Things for You (and Your Students) to know about on campus
UMass is a large campus with many resources. Here are a few places you might build into your course. You might present these spaces through an on-line presentation (which would help, as many are inundated with students early in the year), or by inviting representatives to come to your class. You might also call ahead to see if you might send your students to explore on their own:
- The DuBois Library can provide a 50-minute introduction to research tools.
- The PVTA bus system is a great resource for students to master. More than one student has reported that “learning about the bus system was the best take-away I had in my FYS.”
- The International Programs Office and Domestic Exchange offer presentations on national and international study.
- The Office of Undergraduate Research Studies can connect students to a research project on or off campus and guide them in the steps to pursue it.
- The Civic Engagement and Service-Learning (CESL) program can present your students with a variety of volunteer and service activities. This can be well-paired with the ISSR’s Racial Justice Integration Project. (NB The ISSR has datasets and worksheets for lessons.)
- The Career Services Office provides great workshops on resume writing.
- The Student Legal Services Office is an indispensable source for students. The staff there can inform students of their rights on campus, help students read and sign a lease, and offer all kinds of legal advice…for free.
Assignments Mentioned Above
LET’S SET A GOAL!
This project is as simple (or as hard) as you want to make it. It has three parts.
Part 1: By the end of week 2, I would like you to pick your own goal. Really, any goal. Maybe it’s to be on time to all of your classes for four weeks straight. Or for one week straight. Maybe it’s trying all the different types of food at the Blue Wall. Maybe it’s to run a 5K. Maybe it’s to read at least one book for pleasure. Maybe it’s to go to the gym at least two times a week for a single month. I’m serious: pick any goal. But really do pick one, because I’ll be asking you about it. By the end of week two, you will need to email your goal to me.
Part 2: Think about the way you plan to achieve your goal. If you plan to make it to class on time, how will you do that? If you plan to work out two times a week, what days will that take place? How will you record your workouts? You will need to include this plan, along with your goal, in your email.
Part 3: In the final week of classes, I will meet with each of you to talk about how it went. At this meeting, you will let me know if you met your goal. If you did not meet your goal, you will talk with me about how things went off track. You will not be in trouble if you did not meet your goal! But you will need to show me that you made an honest effort.
There are many ways to do this assignment, and all will help your students get to know campus a little better. Here are just two options.
1 – Split your class into 4 teams. Assign each team to visit (together!) three places on campus that might be (or have) a good resource for a first-year student. The DuBois Library Media Lab, DuBois Library Circulation Desk, Campus Recreation Center, Student Legal Services, University Health Services, Durfee Conservatory, UMass Makerspace, Fine Arts Center, etc… Each team will then present a Power Point their findings to the class to share out what they learned when they visited. Pictures of team members at the various sites and/or interview with people at the sites are encouraged.
2 – Split your class into 3 teams. Give each team a list of 10 things to find on campus (a picture of the inside of each dining hall, a picture of a book with a call number that starts with Z, the signature of writing center tutor, a sound recording from a music concert in the FAC, and so on.) Each team that completes the contest gets a 5-minute early dismissal from the next class.
PERSONAL TIME SURVEY
168. Those are the number of hours that was have each week. That’s it. No more. No less.
Now think about how you spend your time. Your goal is NOT to maximize your working and studying hours. It is to figure out ways to balance work, play, and other things you do each week. Here we go…
Step 1: List the amount of time per week for each activity (arrive at a daily average and multiply by 7; account for weekend differences):
Class time # of hours in class each week) __________________
Socializing (hanging out, texting, dating, etc.) __________________
Commuting/transportation time __________________
Extracurricular Activities __________________
Family Responsibilities (cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc.) __________________
Personal Hygiene (bathing, hair, make-up, etc.) __________________
Other ______________________________ __________________
Step 2: Add together a.-k. for a SUBTOTAL: __________________
Step 3: Now subtract your subtotal from 168 for a TOTAL: __________________
Step 4: Divide your total by 7. These are the number of hours per day you have left for studying or free time ___________________
If the number in your TOTAL line is negative, you have committed more time than there is in a week. YOU ARE IN TROUBLE. If you have time left over, ask yourself what choices there are for your time. Do you have time for more sleep? Volunteering? Friends?
HIGH, LOW, BUFFALO
Have every student share something that went well (high) and something that did not go so well from the past week (low) and then something they are looking forward to in the week to come (Buffalo!).
When students share their lows, you might have an opportunity to present a resource that might help. A paper didn’t go well? That might be the day to talk a little about the Writing Center. Someone is low on money? The resource-of-the-day for that might be the page on Personal Finance at the Office of Student Success.
On days you don’t do High, Low, Buffalo, you can open class by asking students to share any event that the attended or are planning to attend. This will help broadcast some of the things happening around campus and ways students can access these things. Don’t forget that the University maintains a Central Calendar so you can bring in some even ideas of your own.
EXAMINE YOUR EXAM
Spend a class session talking about ways to study for (and take) exams. Unlike high school, college demands independent work for tests. But students can form their own study groups, and often shared review can produce good results. Students can also succeed with test taking strategies, with some as simple as “You don’t need to write your exam in the order that it’s printed.” This Princeton Review site has ten good test-taking tips. Walk your students through them and then ask them to try them out in their other classes. After using these tips, each student should write up a one-paragraph analysis of what was more useful and what proved less helpful.