Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school.

The maximum number of students I'm supposed to have is 30.5. That's right. Thirty and a half students. Don't ask me how that's supposed to work. Maybe one student is supposed to sit in the doorway between my classroom and my neighbor-teacher's classroom.

Yesterday, I had seventeen.

I was happy to be able to ease into the new school year. Teaching seventeen children procedures is much easier than teaching 30 (or 30.5). But I know more students will be added, and I don't enjoy not knowing when, or how many. I don't enjoy not knowing whether or not they will take the students I have already gotten to know away from me, give them to someone else, and give me a whole new set of students. It happened to two fifth grade teachers this morning. I don't enjoy not knowing what my new students will be like. Will they behave? Will they change the dynamics of my room?

With only 17 students, I can be certain that everything I teach, I will have to reteach, so I don't feel rushed to get into content. That's a good thing because the copy machine is broken. It has been since Monday - the day BEFORE school started. Here are two (of the many) things we did yesterday...

1. First Day of School Writing

So, on the first day of school, I started with an on-demand writing assessment. (This doesn't require photocopies.) A writing assignment the first day of school is a way to see what students' needs are, and I also like to compare them (the "before" papers) to students' final writing assignments (the "after" papers).

The prompt I give is this:
Tell me a story.
It has to be true.
It has to be about you.
It has to have a beginning, middle, and end.

You can tell a lot about where a student is writing-wise (and reading-wise) with an assignment like this. You can tell what they know about conventions, whether they know what a story is (as opposed to a descriptive paragraph), which students need a little more support getting started (there are different reasons for this - please don't believe anyone who tells you there's a single solution), which students read a lot (their writing will be more sophisticated; they'll use dialogue, onomatopoeia, similes), and more.

(If you ever wondered why you had to write "What I Did Over My Summer Vacation," I hope the above explanation helps.)

2. Classroom Management

I also taught my new classroom management plan. Last week, I decided to use Marvin Marshall's book Discipline Without Stress, Punishment, or Rewards.

Charlotte Mason didn't believe in rewarding children for doing what they were supposed to. Neither does Marvin Marshall.

Teachers in my district are supposed to post their Rules, Consequences, and Rewards on their classroom walls. When we are evaluated, this is one of the measures of a good teacher. A poster.

This year, my classroom "standards" of behavior are - from Marvin Marshall's website
  • Do my work
  • Have materials
  • Be where I belong
  • Control myself
  • Follow directions
My consequences are simple. I'm not doing a card chart with colored cards (tried that - disliked it a lot - students had to get up to change their card when misbehaving, causing an additional distraction to whatever they had done to warrant changing the card). I'm not doing names on the board with check marks, or a sticker chart, or a class store. If a student doesn't meet a standard of behavior, here are the consequences:

Consequences will be elicited from students as necessary, and directly tied to each particular situation.

How does this work? Well, yesterday when I asked a student who had jumped down the stairs instead of walking down what an appropriate consequence should be, he told me he should lose his recess. (I was thinking he should demonstrate the correct way to walk down the stairs, but what do I know?) I told him that his idea was one possibility and then I presented him with another possibility. He walked down the stairs.

If a student doesn't offer an appropriate consequence, you ask, "What else?" until the student has come up with something you're satisfied with. For example, if a student says, "Call my parents," you can ask, "What else?" and a student might say, "And write a letter of apology."

Because I must post rewards, here is what Marvin Marshall suggests posting:

Students will be encouraged to reflect on the satisfying inner rewards that accompany responsible and high level behavior.  Encouragement and acknowledgement will be given every day!

I did not use an exclamation point on my handwritten poster. I used a period. An exclamation mark was just too much.