Unlike in real world, first impressions are formed on a daily basis in the classroom. Impressions are formed every time a teacher introduces a new topic or concept. As such, every new concept taught is perceived in a certain way by students. Some view a new topic positively, some negatively, and some others find themselves between the two. Further, these first impressions affect how a new concept is learned, processed, and assimilated.
In education, first impression is affected by whether or not a teacher uses an anticipatory set to start his lessons. This instructional practice is built into lesson planning. Teacher trainers and student-teachers in any teacher training program spend significant amount of time learning about, planning for, and using a variety of anticipatory set in their demonstration lessons. This may range from bringing in a visual aid, showing a short video clip, listening to a short audio clip, sharing a skit, singing a song, involving students in a short game/fun activity, or posing a question that makes everyone think hard for answer.
A teacher who goes straight into lessons without warming up the class by using appropriate anticipatory sets risk losing students’ focus, motivation and interest in learning. Subsequently, students manifest disruptive behaviors that directly originate from boredom, feeling of disconnection from lesson, and a sense of being academically overworked.
From information processing perspective, the use of an anticipatory set activates the most important step in the learning process – paying attention. If students do not pay attention, they do not learn. Often, students look like they are paying attention, but closer examination would reveal otherwise. Checking whether or not students pay attention is even more challenging as gathering feedback from every child is not always feasible. A good solution to this is to start every class with an anticipatory set. When creatively applied, it helps capture and retain the attention of every student. Students are hooked to the topic and seldom stray from learning objectives. Consequently, good attention leads to better processing of information in the working, short-term, and long-term memory.
A good anticipatory set is novel, enthusiastically executed, actively involves students, related to objectives of the lesson, provides continuity from previous lesson, activates students’ prior knowledge, gauges readiness for learning, whets appetite for lesson, involves every learner, uses student-friendly language, and gives learners an idea about outcome of the lesson (the big picture). It must also be remembered that anticipatory sets that possess all these features work effectively for all levels of learners (achievement level and age are not barriers to how learners respond to anticipatory sets).
A lesson on Parts of Sentences could begin by the teacher coming into classroom and throwing a ball or stuffed toy to a child and asking everyone else, “What did I just do?” Students’ answers are written on the board and used for discussion later. In this scenario, the teacher has used both visual and kinesthetic modalities to activate curiosity to learn.
My favorite anticipatory set when teaching the topic of Intelligence is asking students to write down the name of the most intelligent person they know (in the class or outside) and list down three reasons for saying so. I collect all the answers and share with the rest of the class. This exercise excites everyone, especially those considered to be the most intelligent. The emphasis though is not on who is the most intelligent. (Inductively) identifying characteristics of and defining intelligence as a psychological construct are the learning objectives targeted through the use of this anticipatory set.
A lesson on Metamorphosis could begin with a story about a caterpillar that went missing and later found in a different form.