Should You Start Off Hard Or Easy?

They’re more confused than you think

Who will they blame


If you give homework on the first day, make it very simple and straightforward. Your students don’t know you yet and are excited and distracted. Your directions must be clear and written on the board. You might suggest that they copy them. Tell them what constitutes acceptable (and unacceptable) work and the procedure you will use for grading it. Finally, be certain to ask if anyone has any questions. I’ll have more to say about homework later on.

Even experienced teachers wrestle with the problem of whether to start out “easy” or “hard.” More clearly put, should your first few lessons be detailed and challenging so as to “get them off on the right track”? Or should you ease into the course gradually so that everyone can experience success in the beginning.

To answer this, you must understand how students of different abilities react to challenge. Capable, high achieving students tend to see their success as being controlled by their own effort. Faced with challenging or difficult material, they will redouble their efforts. On the other hand, low achievers often become discouraged in a similar situation. They will protect their ego by attributing their failure to bad luck or what they consider to be unreasonable or difficult material. Since they will shift blame for their failure to you or your course, they cease trying.

So, if you begin with difficult material, your high achievers will certainly rise to the challenge. Less able students will do poorly and likely become discouraged. Even is subsequent material is more appropriate for their ability, it is unlikely that they will attempt it since they have already given up. On the other hand, if your first lessons are on the easy side, your low achievers will experience some initial success which may encourage them to continue their efforts. While your better teenage students might get the first impression that that the class lacks challenge, you can always add material later after you have taken the measure of the class. The point is that mistakes made when dealing with low achievers are much more difficult to correct than those with high achievers.

Although unlikely on the first day, some students might get restless near the end of the period. Perhaps they will begin tidying their books and shuffling papers. Without singling out anyone, mention that you would appreciate it if they wouldn’t pack up until you tell them the class is over. If you don’t establish this protocol, in a couple of weeks, they will be getting up and moving toward the door before you have finished talking.

Finally, ask them to go directly to their assigned seats when they come in tomorrow. Tomorrow you can be waiting at the door with a “Hello” and a smile.

Go to Summary of the First Day

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