The first week of school is in the books. In some ways, it was brand new, and in other ways, it was like riding a bike...you just never forget some things. This year, like every year, I kept some things that I always do, but I also did some editing and some tweaking. Here were some things that I did differently this year than in years past:
Emphasizing Procedures: One of my early goals for my class is for them to be able to carry out classroom procedures automatically...so much so that they could do them even if I wasn't there. From the first day of school, we modeled and practiced the things that the students should do from the moment they walked in the door. On the second day, I asked the children how much they thought they remembered from the previous day and had them evaluate themselves, reminding them that the first few days and weeks of school are practice. By the third day, nearly every student had remembered most of what we do!
Likewise, we have certain procedures that we practice in the afternoon. The end of the day had always been a little chaotic in years past, and I wanted to see if I could change that. I borrowed heavily from the methods the incomparable Paul Solarz outlines in his book Learn Like a Pirate to institute a new afternoon ritual...students will get their homework assignments; then join in a discussion that recaps what was learned and accomplished; evaluate how they acted that day (for example, were they kind to one another? Did they accomplish the work they set out to do?); and then reset and straighten up the room, retrieve their mail, do their classroom jobs, and finally line up for dismissal. The challenge? This all needs to be done in 15 to 20 minutes. In the first few days, I've been leading these discussions, but soon I plan on handing much of the responsibility off to the students.
Specifically Teaching Academic Conversations from Day 1: Student-to-student conversation is a key component of a lot of instruction in my class. It has become apparent to me that these skills should be specifically taught, practiced and reinforced from the first day of school. On the first day of school, we talked about what an academic conversation should look like and sound like and how it differs from a social conversation. Throughout the first three days, there were lots of opportunities to practice...as math instruction and reading and writing workshop all begin, these conversations will become critical ingredients.
A New Read-Aloud: Read-aloud is an important component in my reading instruction. It's a great way to model reading fluency practices as well as making explicit the kind of thinking that should be going on as students read. For the past few years, I had started with RJ Palacio's Wonder. It's a great book, but this year I decided to put it off until later in the year for a few reasons. First, I am planning to launch my first Reading Workshop unit soon, which ties with another fantastic book, Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. Also, in October, my class will be participating in the Global Read Aloud, in which we will be reading Pax by Sara Pennypacker with other 5th grade classes across North America. Since I wanted to make sure our slate was clear, I chose to read Zen Shorts, a wonderful short illustrated story by John J. Muth. The story is presented in a series of vignettes, with each one providing opportunities to practice those academic discussions!
There was a lot going on in our first three days together...the students loved creating "extended" name tags, which they later learned how to tag electronically on ThingLink; we opened our classroom library and learned the check in/out system; and we also launched our Writer's Workshop! I can't wait to see what happens when we have a full week to work with!
5th grade teacher in Princeton, NJ. Passionate about education, technology, and the New York Giants!