Monday, July 6, 2015

Is it time yet? What happens on day 1 in your room?

Is it ever too early to think about the first day of school?

Taken this week, last year, the afternoon shower created a spectacular rainbow followed by a matching sunset over Buena Vista Colorado.

Its never too late, or too early, to think about teaching and reaching into the future.

 Day 1
What’s important at the beginning of school?  What are your plans for the first days of school?

Below are topics and routines I addressed in the early part of every course.  These are important to establishing high expectations for the entire year.  These lessons stem from study of Wong, Whitaker, Payne, Lemov, Hattie and others.  As most things in education, they were often modified to fit individual situations. We had procedures for everything and we discussed, learned and reviewed those procedures till they became natural and the way we did things.  Students enjoyed them, although they wanted to appear reluctant at the beginning.  By the end of the year, they were all invited to attend a field trip, five hours away to the big amusement park.  Paragraphs below describe the procedures, their explanations and implementation.

You are in those seats because I love my wife.”
This was often the very first thing I said to my classes on the first day of any school year.  It always took students by surprise but maybe it made them wonder.  I would pause, then explain their assigned seats were in alphabetical order according to the overhead projector shining on the front board placing them in that position so we could pass in papers. Instructions were to “put your own paper on top!”  This allowed them to be in order when they were passed across the room and not back to front.  Back to front methods encouraged the person in the back to get the attention of the person in front, usually with some physical contact that could escalate. Placing the growing stack of papers on the adjacent desk sorted papers somewhat alphabetically thus diminishing my time spent grading and increasing the time I could spend with my wife.

"Procedures verses Rules"
Rules are “meant to be broken” but procedures are how we do things.  For example, the speed limit sign reads 55 and this “rule”  is often disobeyed.  Few signs are required however to keep drivers to the right side of the road.  The procedure suggests safer travels will be achieved with drivers all agreeing to stay to the right.  This simple example from the road reinforces a few of the outcomes and benefits when a teacher sets up procedures.  First off, it demonstrates to the students the importance of systems, structures and plans.  Later, students will expect routines, plans or other mnemonic devises and look to the teacher to provide those. Finally, the time invested early lays ground work for instructions later, such as field trips, assemblies and those out of the ordinary days that require group instructions  and “on the fly” decision making.

Parenthetic Note:
(Framework for these concepts grew from study into Harry Wong, Todd Whitaker, Ruby Payne, Teach like a Champion, Hattie and others.  Teachers can prepare their rooms as well as their minds for the upcoming school year by reviewing of any of these inspiring summer readings!)

Has a student said, "I have to come to school!"   
     In reality "You choose to come to school, and thank you!"
This is fairly close to the actual first few days I spent setting up my classrooms.  My students were typically reluctant learners dreading school, however a favorite anecdote stems from my principal asking me if a certain student, “Johnny” was “there yesterday.”  I replied with a "Yes, but why do you ask?”  The answer was astounding.  It seems little Johnny skipped every other class that day but showed up for my class alone!  I am not sure if that is good or bad.  I do know, he was there by choice.  

S: I have to come to school.
T: You GET to come to school.
S: My mom will get "locked up for educational neglect if I don't." *
T: So you are really saying, you choose to come school instead of the alternative."
   Pregnant pause while student ponders the options.
T: Thanks for being here.  Now that you understand consequences, let's learn."

 (*Some Students just prefer to say She'll be mad if I skip!)

Define Manners:  Making others around you feel comfortable.
I like to say my wife taught me that definition.  Maybe the real truth is I never really grasped the concept but am still trying to learn how to do that?!  Maybe she was trying to tell me something?  Maybe she was trying to let me down easy?  Maybe I made her uncomfortable?  In the classroom, we talked about manners, respect and being nice.  We were not to use sarcasm, put downs and verbal jabs but instead build each other up. Even Pink Floyd called out teachers using dark sarcasm in the classroom.  There is no room for sarcasm in the classroom.  We will be taking educational risks and nobody wants to be made fun of, or thought about being made fun of for making a mistake.   
A post 9-11view of Ground Zero.

"Entering and leaving the room"
What’s the tallest building you were ever in?  There's a lesson in that visit.  When teaching an Elements of Algebra class, a picture of the Twin Towers was in the book for the lesson that day. We looked into our book and there was a picture of them on the page I had planned to teach from that day.  I will always remember where I was on that day.  Tall buildings have elevators that work with buttons directing us to floors 1-55,  56-80, or 81-100.  When boarding the elevator, we have to let the people on the elevator get out of the way, clear the path and make room for new riders.  If there is no room, we just wait for the next car.  Similarly, when entering a room, allow those leaving to exit first, maybe even holding the door open for them (See manners above) and allow them to exit?  Thus preventing a log jam at the door, teaching manners, procedures and making those ready to leave feel comfortable and respected.
Stool Sheet: 2 Truths and a Lie and Attention Getting Mechanisms!
We often have students complete a data card that first day, claiming we need their number in-case "the computer goes down."  Students added a few things to this data card to round out the first day.  Two truths and one lie is a good mixer allowing folks a bit of self-reflection time, showing the importance of out of the box thinking and individuality.  But it was also good for the teacher to read out loud and let the students try and guess the authors.  Other included were other items such as their favorite meal at McDs (always listed as a number) would allow me to take a break, tally their attendance, allow them to talk and regain their attention with the signal of a raised hand.  No screaming, shouting, lights flipping or ruler slapping, but the simple act of raising a hand. They would be expected to get quiet and attentive within 5 seconds, or be kept after the bell for however long it took to get quiet. And after they shared with their neighbor their favorite meal, we would return to work refocused after the brief pause.

Finally, What is your EXPECTED GRADE!
Students often make a list of their course schedule.  Here we added a twist with the EXPECTED GRADE they wanted to earn in that class.  Students were asked up front to begin to think about the outcome, even before any assignments or coursework was done. They were allowed to enter a PASS if they wanted but none were allowed to not submit a grade.  This first step in visualization publicized and made conversations about grades, progress, effort and achievement the first steps in learning.  Students began to see themselves as that type of student.  YES, THEY WERE GOING TO PASS!  That's the beginning of Positive Psycho-Cybernetics. (Thanks Dr Maxwell Maltz) 

These things sometimes seemed basic, immature or even like something students should know when they enter a room.  THEY DO NOT.  We can't progress until students do know these routines. We must discuss, rehearse and reteach over and over again to teach.  One exposure to an idea, process, routine or discipline DOES NOT always ensure it is retained.  Note:  We still have not discussed rules of the class yet.

What important foundational events or procedures take place in your first day of class?
How would you like April and May to be different?  Plan things differently in September and see what happens.

Reference Me helped me assemble this citation page.

Clark, R. (2004) Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child. 1st edn. New York: Hyperion

Hattie, J. A. C. (2008) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London: Routledge

Kagan, S., Rodriguez, C., Kagan, M. and Taylor, B. (1992) Cooperative Learning. United States: Kagan Cooperative Learning

Lemov, D. (2012) Teach like a champion field guide: practical techniques to master the art of teaching. 1st edn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Lemov, D. and Atkins, N. (2010) Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. 1st edn. San Francisco: Wiley, John & Sons

Payne, R. K. (1998) framework for understanding poverty. Baytown, TX: RFT Pub.

Sommers, W. A. and Payne, K. (2000) Living on a Tightrope: A Survival Handbook for Principals. Highlands, TX: Aha! Process

Urban, H. (2008) Lessons from the classroom: 20 things good teachers do. Redwood City, CA: Great Lessons Press

Whitaker, T. (2003) What Great Teachers Do Differently. Tandem Library

Wong, H. K. (2004) First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. Tandem Library

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