Today will be the first day of instruction for my English classes, and it's truly one of my favorite parts of the year! At our school we have an initial half-day of class before this period, but it is extremely abbreviated. We operate on a block schedule with 90-minute periods, but the initial day of instruction runs both "A Day" and "B Day" classes, leaving 25-minute periods. During that time, we go over changes to the handbook for the academic year, so no instruction occurs. For the remainder of the first week, we will still have shortened days with 73-minute periods. In addition to the shortened schedule, the first week of instruction this year will be a little different since our district just moved to a 1:1 technology platform and deployed approximately 721 Chromebooks to all of the students in the high school (with additional Chromebooks distributed in grades 4-8). There will be some modification and uncertainty with the start of the year, because this will be a completely new experience for most students and nearly all of the teachers.
Today's lesson will focus primarily on explaining clear classroom goals and expectations, building in additional value for students with an exploration of their own personal learning styles, and setting up applications which we will utilize throughout the year. I will also be focused on establishing a framework of respect, which is critical to successfully implementing the Reading Apprenticeship framework, and emphasizing the methods students can use to contact me or receive extra help if they need it.
To begin the hour, I will have students pull up the digital version of the syllabus and classroom expectations (attached below) so we can review them as a class. Concurrently, I will run the introductory PowerPoint presentation, which summarizes the information on the syllabus and classroom expectations handout. I don't typically read the syllabus to students, but I do make a point to cover every point on it with a verbal discussion, allowing for questions throughout the presentation. While pretty much every teacher I know goes through this same process (so there's nothing too novel about it), I think it's a critical step to both deliver information and give students an immediate idea about your personality. While the PowerPoint is somewhat superfluous, I find that typically not all students will follow along with the syllabus if they are left to their own devices. Additionally, if students become distracted by the Chromebooks (which are, frankly, still viewed as "new toys" by many!), I can have distracted students close them and focus on the projector screen instead.
During the presentation of this information, I expect students to be most concerned about the research paper and plagiarism, so these topics will get extra attention. I also demonstrate for students how to use the Google Calendar application which I have set up to allow students to schedule their own extra help. There's a screen capture of how that appears from the teacher perspective in the resources below. Additionally, I find the "respect" portion of the expectations to be the biggest guiding factor in my classroom, so I will spend extra time on that as well. Ultimately, if students follow the rule to "be respectful" with no exceptions, every other expectation will fall into place.
I run my classroom with the idea that students are absolutely not allowed to disrespect one another in any way, and if they do, they will be immediately reprimanded. While it's probably atypical, my students would be in more trouble if they disrespected another student rather than disrespected me. I have had tremendous success with this previously (and have never, in fact, even had a cause to consider writing a referral for disrespecting me), so I don't believe this year will be any different. To emphasize this point, I will tell my positively dorky story about how as a child on the farm, I discovered a family of baby opossums that were so ugly that they crossed back over to the land o' cute again. Despite the vehement warnings from my father not to attempt to play with them because their mother was presumably lurking about in the barn, I disturbed her preciously-ugly babies to satisfy my curiosity. Though I had always thought that opossums were docile and would simply pretend to be dead when challenged, I learned a startling lesson that night that forever changed my life (and my classroom analogies!). That night, I learned that a mad "mama opossum" is a scary, hissing mama opossum that will blatantly charge at you until you run away, never making the same mistake again. After telling the story (usually to a round of laughter), I will make the connection that in this analogy, my students are my baby opossums, and I am the mama opossum. The moral of the opossum story will then be shared with students, and that moral is that if they pick on each other or give each other a hard time, I will "metaphorically hiss" at them and be transformed from my typically-low-profile opossum state. The imagery resonates well with students, and if it's anything like all my other teaching years, I will hear students warn other students about the "opossum effect" throughout the quarter. If I have time during the presentation (or at the end of the hour), I may show the "Mad Hissing Possum" clip (0:19) below for added effect.
Once we have gone over the syllabus and expectations, students will use the Google Form I created to denote their understanding of the information. They will have to walk their parents through finding the syllabus on my website tonight and through completing the same Google Form to collect parent contact information, so this procedure will serve as practice for completing that task.
Next, I will draw attention to the students' current learning habits and study strategies in order to collect feedback about what they are currently doing to support their learning and to drive interest in the upcoming activity, a Multiple Intelligence Survey. This assessment is one of two that I use to give students insight into their own learning styles and strengths as a way to pair them with study habits that are most effective for them. For me, these assessments will also allow me to create seating charts that place learners of similar or varied backgrounds in groups that are likely to be more effective than randomly-selected groups. I also will use this information to build class profiles of the learning preferences of students so that I can tailor my instruction to better match their needs. Every year I am consistently amazed by the differences in preference, even from class to class. I have attached in the resources a graph showing the range of preferences my current classes have in the Resources in this section.
After creating a list of learning habits and study strategies on the board and seeking brief conversations from students who like and dislike the various items noted (like highlighting, taking notes, studying over the course of three days, listening to music, etc.), I will explain to students that the Multiple Intelligence Survey looks to determine which areas students are most naturally apt to enjoy. I will then show an example the the Multiple Intelligence Survey Results Google Form on the board, which students will use to first take the survey (from a link in the description of the form) and then input their results to make it easier to use the information. The results will be displayed in a circular chart, so some students might also need a brief tutorial on how to read such a graph. To preemptively address this, I will show them a completed results page on the projector and explain how it works. After students are finished, I will also give them the Learning Preferences handout (digitally, but included below) so they can practice connecting informational texts to their own lives by reflecting on their own learning paths and considering new study habits to improve their learning outcomes.
Since we're moving to a 100% digital environment, I will take a few minutes during class to ensure that students are properly set up to submit daily work, access the textbook, and take notes through Evernote. Many of my colleagues take the step of setting up accounts for their students, but I want them to become comfortable with working with digital platforms and using written and oral directions to accomplish a task since Common Core assessments require these skills and the Common Core standards expect students to have a plethora of knowledge about multimedia.
First, I will demonstrate how to set up a shared folder in Google Drive. After my initial demonstration, I will repeat the procedure and allow students to work along with me to create their own folders. For ease in my own Drive's organization, all student folders will be named in the following format: Hour_LastName_FirstName (ex. A2_Smith_John). After creating the folder, the share settings will be changed to share the folder with me and give editing permission. While I don't typically need to edit work, it does allow me access to comment on work, edit if it needs it, write notes in-text to students, and rename documents if necessary down the line. I will also ask students to uncheck the box which notifies me that they shared a folder with me in order to avoid getting 180 pointless emails over the course of two days. As a last step in this process, I will show students how their "Shared with Me" folder works by showing my own (and sneakily spot-checking to be sure that all student folders are named appropriately). Any incorrectly named folders will be deleted, and students will need to repeat the process.
Once folders are set up, we will move on to setting up access with Pearson Success Net (our online literature textbook provider) and Evernote. The Pearson software gives specific codes and detailed instructions to students, so that will be largely independent work for students. To set up the Evernote account, students will view the brief tutorial below that I created to walk them through the process.
In the last few minutes of the period, I will recap the importance of today's learning styles activity and let students know that we will be continuing our journey and learning more next time. I will also encourage students to browse through the online textbook, consider the best ways to keep their Google Drive accounts organized with folders like we made in class today, and remind them to take the time to "teach" their parents about the Chromebooks and my class through the syllabus and agreement activities online.
One other point I will make before the close of the class is that it would behoove students to check into some kind of digital agenda or planner. Due to budget cuts at our school, students will no longer be provided with these tools, so I am trying to keep the "plan for your learning" momentum of today going by showing them the power of online agendas. I did some research over the summer and really liked myHomework, which can be used as a stand-alone website, cell phone app, or Google app. I will give a brief tour of the website and then show them my Daily Recaps, which links another tutorial I made on setting up an account. I have definitely found that video tutorials, especially those that detail specific processes, are a time saver for both teachers and students! I can explain things only once, and students who need extra refreshers can simply view them again and again. Brilliant!
The only homework students will have on this first day is to get their parents to view the syllabus and electronically sign the agreement. I will take the evening to process the results from the Multiple Intelligence Survey to show students for next class period. Next time we will continue our journey to developing insight into learning preferences and officially launch into the historical context of early American literature.