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First Year Seminar Companion: 10 Best Practices

This guide provides an online version of much of the material contained in Dr. Todd Gernes's "A First-Year Seminar Companion," created in September 2015. Faculty will find information on First-Year Seminar (FYS) guidelines, sample syllabi, learning style

Best Practices

10 Best Practices for First-Year Seminars

Todd Gernes, Ph.D., Stonehill College

  1. Review your students’ Guided Self-Placement essays and surveys to get an early snapshot of your students’ strengths, needs, and learning preferences.
     
  2. Assign a “low-stakes” writing assignment in the first week of the semester to signal the writing-intensive nature of the course and to establish a pattern of frequent writing and responding.
     
  3. Assign brief (500-700 words), weekly assignments in response to course reading, viewing, or other content, balanced with less frequent but more sustained assignments (1,250 – 2,500-words). Sequence shorter assignments into longer ones, through revision and elaboration, to foster continuity of thought and the development of ideas and inquiry.
     
  4. Give students lots of opportunities for writing in different styles, genres, and formats to build flexibility and a sense of individual style.  Try to harness students’ creativity and imagination.
     
  5. As much as possible, provide formative feedback on your students’ writing and give them opportunities to revise in response to instructor feedback or peer review.
     
  6. Balance routinized, rubric-based feedback with deeper summative feedback to build skills and consistency and to foster critical inquiry.
     
  7. Incorporate a sequence of library instruction into your syllabus, connected, perhaps, to a longer, documented writing assignment.
     
  8. Leverage the eLearn environment’s SafeAssign capability to discourage plagiarism and to promote “digital literacy.”
     
  9. Incorporate the Center for Writing and Academic Achievement into your course planning as an alternative means of peer review. Discuss the required CWAA experience with your students.
     
  10. Incorporate grammar and style exercises in small doses throughout the semester, to increase your students' linguistic awareness and sense of writerly craft.  Make editing and proofreading an essential part of finishing an assignment or final portfolio and hold students accountable.
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