We are back from a 3-week break. Today marks the first day of school in 2014 as well as the first day of a new semester. I want to quickly get back into working mode, but I know the first day back from a long break is always a challenging time in terms of getting students engaged in heavy work. My plan today is to engage students in reading, writing, and communicating, but with a lighthearted topic, New Year’s resolutions. The topic, though does offer a good opportunity for students to reflect on their education. Our discussions today will focus on this.
I begin class by welcoming students back and asking them about their holiday break. Students make casual comments. I then ask if they are ready to get back to work. I say this with as much enthusiasm as I can communicate knowing that the vast majority will groan and say they are absolutely not ready. I allow students to express their feelings briefly and move on.
I tell them that today we will be focusing on the topic of New Year’s resolutions. For the sake of clarification, I ask for someone to explain what is a New Year’s Resolution. A few students collaborate to give us a full definition. One says that it’s when you make a promise to do something this year. Another student says that it refers to things you want to change or improve in your life. I then ask them if they make a New Year’s resolution this year. I make sure to tell them that I am not going to ask them to share what that resolution is because it may be something very personal and it is not necessary that we hear it. What I want to know is if they made one. I explain that we will whip around and each student will say “yes” or “no” depending on whether they made a resolution or not. Many do not make any New Year’s resolution as it is not typical of teenagers to set goals, but some do and I want them all to be aware of this. About 5 students out of 26 said they did make a New Year’s resolution. This is a good moment for me to learn a little about my students. I don’t think I could’ve guessed how many or which students make New Year’s resolutions.
I let students know that we are reading two articles today. The articles I selected are pretty easy and we are going to read them together. Again, this lesson is meant to be lighthearted and mainly for the purpose of getting back into the type of work we do in an ELA class, which is to read, write, and communicate. I distribute the first article titled “Make Family New Year’s Resolutions,” which is in full support of making New Year’s resolutions and suggests that this be done as a family activity. The second article is against making resolutions, but I do not reveal that to students yet. The first one we read can be found on the PBS website and will offer students a suggestion that they are not familiar with.
I ask for some volunteers to read aloud for us. Several students volunteer and we get through the entire article smoothly.
I give students an opportunity to respond to this article in writing. They will get to talk about it, but I ask them to gather their thoughts first. I ask them to take out a sheet of paper, title it “New Year’s Resolutions” and write a brief response to this first article. Specifically, I ask them to think of what they agree with and disagree with and explain. I point out there is no right and wrong answer because I am basically asking them for their opinion. I give them a few minutes to work on this.
I then distribute the second article titled “This Is Why You Won’t Keep Your New Year’s Resolution” and we follow the same process: students volunteer to read aloud, students respond in writing on the same paper they wrote the first response. This is a sample of a student’s response.
I tell students they will get the opportunity to share their response to these two articles. First, I ask them to share with the small group of students. Students are seated in groups of three so I give them a few minutes to share their responses. During this time, I listen in on their conversations. I realize that there is an overwhelming response against the value of making New Year’s resolutions in the class. I also notice that the few who believe in the value of these are not being very vocal. This is clearly because they feel the strong sentiment in the opposite direction.
I ask students to give me their attention so that we can hold a brief whole class discussion. I open it by asking students to share their views with the whole class. Before we hear the first student, I let them know that even if they feel strongly for or against one of the two perspectives presented in the articles, they should still be able to point to at least one detail they agree with in the opposing view. I say this as an attempt for both sides of this argument to be heard. Students begin to volunteer and share. By the end of this brief discussion, many are still strongly hesitant of the value of making New Year’s Resolutions but it is mainly an issue of timing. They agree with the author of the second article when he says that if someone wants to make important changes to their life, they can do it at whatever time. Many found the idea of making this a family activity interesting and admitted that it sounds like a valuable activity.
I tell students that even if they don’t believe in the value of making New Year’s resolutions, they must believe in the value of setting goals. They all agree this is true. I tell them that I want us to take this as an opportunity to set some goals, some academic goals. This is the beginning of a new semester and it is a good opportunity to reflect on their performance in this class last semester and decide what changes they want to make. I give each student a post-it note and ask them to write a short sentence stating their academic goal for this semester. I then tell them that for a goal to be successful, there must be a plan with specific steps to achieve this goal. I ask students to think of the specific steps they need to take to make their goal successful and to list these as a bulleted list below their brief statement. I then ask them to post in on the board. There is something powerful about posting all these goals in a specific spot for all to see as I try to capture in this video of students posting their goals on the board.