There’s nothing like a steamy 118 degree day to kick off a new school year! Personally, I’m not a big fan of the first week of school. I love teaching my content, but teaching procedures? BORING! Still, I spend my first 2 days with all my classes pursuing a few basic goals:
1. Building community
I teach cooperatively on a daily basis, so this is a big one. I find it to be so important that my students know each other and me, that I know them, and that they experience what it feels like and looks like to be part of a productive team.
2. Teaching students what I expect from them
This involves instruction on the school rule, school and grade level policies, and classroom procedures. The content is pretty dry, but it’s not too difficult to make it fun. Still, it’s of utmost importance that my classroom run like a well-oiled machine, and now is the time to apply the oil. Actually, I don’t really know anything about machines or how they use oil, but that simile just seemed to extend itself outside of my control. Words can do that, you know. Oh, and in case you were wondering I do not WANT to know anything about machines or any type of oil aside from the kind my manicurist applies to my cuticles.
3. Teaching my students what they can expect from me
I do my best to make it very clear that in my room, we will get down to business. We will focus on learning without wasting time. We will have partner discussions and cooperative learning activities many times a day. Participation is non-negotiable. Further, I make it clear that I will respect them and care for them, but they won’t be coddled or given endless “one more chance”s (or really any “one more chance”s, in most cases).
I really do think those 3 things are absolute essentials for any first week of school, but a great first few days containing those can have many different looks. I have two different preps, so I’ll share my agenda for my language arts classes today and my reading enrichment class later this week. FYI, my language arts classes are two hour blocks.
Procedures for Entering the Class
I introduced myself, helped students find their assigned seats and taught my beginning of class procedure first thing. Then we all played pretend as I so enjoy and headed back to the hallway. We re-entered the classroom applying our new understanding of these procedures. Students sat in their assigned seats, passed out journals, put their belongings away, and copied their objectives. We got this done in 4 1/2 minutes today … not bad for day 1!
Class Builder: Find the Fiction
Next, my students participated in class builder activities. These served all three purposes for the day. Of course, they helped to build community, but they also trained students on the procedures for different student engagement strategies I use, showing them how I expect them to behave and how they can expect me to conduct the class.
In language arts, I chose the Kagan structure Find the Fiction for today. First, I review the terms fact and fiction with the students. Then, I instruct them to write three statements about themselves: two that are factual and one that is fictional. I model this by sharing my three statements, but I don’t tell them which is fictional. I give students 3 minutes to silently write their statements, instructing them to draw pictures to go with them if they finish early. This prepares students for my Quick Write procedure which I’ll hit harder tomorrow. Next, I use the Kagan Round Robin strategy, which is so different from the round robin activities I did when I was a student. Seated in their groups of four, teammate 1 shares his/her statements and then 2, 3, and 4 all guess which statement is fictional before teammate 1 reveals the answer. This is repeated around the group. Then, we mix it up with the class. I teach the Kagan Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up procedure to get students standing, moving, and talking to someone outside of their teams. They share with one classmate and then return to their seats. Finally, I reveal my fiction and use popsicle sticks with student names (another common strategy I want my students used to) to ask a few students to share something interesting they learned about a classmate with the whole group. This is also a time for teaching my expectations for behavior when students are addressing the class: listen with respect and listen to learn. We spent a few minutes talking about what this looks like and doesn’t look like, and I gave them lots of specific positive feedback when they listened well.
My grade level team divides up the logistical information students need to know and each teach a different topic on the first day. Some teach dress code, attendance policies, school behavior policies (though we all flesh that out on the second day), detentions, etc. My job was to teach our common 8th grade procedures.
I gave my students one minute to line up from tallest to shortest. Then, we numbered off and made 7 different groups. I assigned each group to a table and gave each student a handout with 8th grade procedures. I also assigned each group a different category of procedures. I instructed them to prepare a presentation to teach the class their procedure. I gave each group member a role to perform in their preparation and in the presentation itself. Then, I modeled this with the first set of procedures. Next, the groups had 15 minutes to prepare their presentations with summaries/paraphrases of the procedures, drawings, role-plays, and questions to ask the class. This helped me set up expectations for cooperative learning. Everyone has a role. Everyone must pull his/her weight. And everyone must be actively working for the entire time. Finally, we practiced listening with respect and listening to learn again during the student presentations.
It’s so easy to teach to the bell and forget how important closure is! But I told my students that their brains need to do something with their learning in order to help them file it away so they can remember it later, but also so that their brains are clear and ready for their next class. Today, we did a simple reflection. I asked students to respond to four questions in their journals. They shared out with their teams, picked up, and it was time to go!
Oh, and I threw a brain break into each of my classes as well! This helped with all three of my goals for this week, but it also got my students up and moving again so their blood was flowing through their brains instead of pooling in their feet. Thanks to our wonderful Coach G. for preparing a great flip book with lots of ideas for brain breaks!
Wow, that was a lot more typing than I expected. I guess we did a lot today, which is great! No wonder I’m so sleepy. Overall, I enjoyed my students, and I think I got pretty far with my 3 goals for the week.
If you are a teacher, I’d love to hear about your first day plans this year!