I believe in the power of structure and routine to help students feel safe at school. I've been told by administration that my strict structure is what helps students who usually struggle in school do well in my class. That structure begins on day one, right when students walk in the door.
Like many beginning teachers, I read Harry Wong's book, The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. My biggest takeaway from that book is that students need to know specific things on the first day of school, and it's not All THE RULES. They need to know that they're in the right room, what they need to do right away, and whether they'll be safe.
That right there is what guides the first minutes of every class. I greet students at the door with a piece of paper or index card. (It changes from year to year, depending on my whims. Sometimes it's a formative assessment, sometimes it's a writing task or reading task. One year I might like to just give them a bean. Who knows?)
On that index card is a number. I welcome students and tell them to find their seat by finding the number on their card. That's task number one. They are already successful, and I am halfway to creating the first seating chart and taking attendance without having to read off everybody's name. Please read the reflection to see how I modify this basic idea in order to give students choice.
On the board, I have another task for them to do. It's simply to write their first and last name on their card or paper. I am now three-fourths of the way with a seating chart and attendance. All I have to do is walk around the room, ask students to tell me their names as I mark off attendance, collect the cards, and then I can later put the names on a seating chart. When students walk in on the second day of school, they already know what seat they need to sit in.
I vastly prefer this method to asking students to sit anywhere they like and reading off a list of names. I'm invariably going to mispronounce a student's name, which will embarrass both of us. I'm thinking specifically of the student named Bobbijo. Her name was not pronounced like I pronounced it using Spanish pronunciation. It allows students who prefer a nickname to let me know. It allows students who don't like their names a discreet way to tell me what they want to be called without everyone knowing. This seems like a tiny thing, but it's actually quite important to me. It also takes less time, and students aren't just sitting around doing nothing while I read off names.
At the end of last year, I asked my students to write letters to the incoming seventh graders telling them what to expect. Since the first day of school always consists of tons of rules, procedures, papers, etc., I wait to read my class syllabus to students on the second day of school. I do distribute it, but we don't read it in class. Instead, I introduce them to me, my classroom, my procedures, etc. by having them read letters from last year's students.
I had much larger classes last year (160 students) than I did this year (105 students) so each student got their own letter. I did read through the letters over the summer and pulled out the ones that were illegible, so I was confident that each letter was accessible. I tried to make sure that the Honors students got letters from Honors students and ENG 7 students got letters from ENG 7 students.
The basic outline for today was read--converse--write. RCW. I asked students to read the letter twice. The second time I asked them to underline specific things that they thought would be important to know and if they had a question, label it with a question mark.
Second, I asked them to write a quickwrite that answered the questions in the picture. We're looking at main ideas--what is the author telling me? What does the author want me to know? B is for the overachievers and asks students to evaluate the knowledge and integrate it. Out of all of the things that the author wrote, what was most helpful and least helpful? Why?
After each group had read all the letters aloud, I asked them to talk about what they learned about me, English, seventh grade, etc. I gave them very specific instructions to bother speak, listen, and record. They all needed to share what they'd learned. They all needed to listen to what everyone else had learned. They all needed to record new things that the writer of their letter didn't tell them about.
Here's the handout that I gave students with all the questions typed out nicely with lines for them to write on!
I could have lectured them about all of my requirements and expectation, and I have in other years. I had a PowerPoint with all of my expectations and rules and procedures and it was the most boring thing ever. Having them read, from a primary source (last year's students), what I expected was so much more powerful. They were able to narrow in on all the important expectations I had, as well as some minor idiosyncrasies that the students warned them of. It was powerful, and I will certainly do this activity again this year.
To bring everything together, I asked students to look at what they'd discussed and consider the most important things they'd learned as well as questions they still had.
Depending on time, I did this two ways. Some classes had to do required agenda handbook reading, others didn't, so I planned two pieces of closure.
The first, which takes less time, was having students write comments and questions on sticky notes and place them on the parking lot. Please see the reflection in this section for more information about the parking log strategy. It's basically a tool you can use to help students communicate with you.
I gave each group two or three sticky notes and asked them to write down important things they'd learned or questions they still had. The question should be something that wasn't explicitly answered in their letters.
After students finish placing the sticky notes on the parking lot, I went through the sticky notes and talk about them, including the silly things.
The other strategy is the 3-2-1 strategy, which is on the handout. For this, students write down three things they learned about my expectations, two things I can do to help them be successful, and one question they still have. Timing is always funky on the first day of school, so I make sure that I have multiple options and am flexible.
To hear about ETL and why I love it so much, see this video.
Today's lesson picture is a picture of my empty classroom. My empty classroom just waiting for students to arrive and make it come alive.