On the first day of school, and the first week and the first month…students and teachers are busy getting to know one another through a variety of activities. But it’s also important for students to get to know themselves! In this post, I will share with you a few ideas that will serve as both a way for you and other students to find about each other and for students to explore themselves as individuals, learners, and citizens of the world. I call of these activities the “I Am Journey.”
The first idea is a super fun activity I did with my 5th and 6th graders during the first week of school! I can’t remember where I got the idea from (this was 23 years ago!), but I found directions for you online on how to create these. Using butcher paper and markers, I had students help each other to trace their body outlines, and then cut it out. Next, they created a “Me Collage”, adding in words, designs, photos, and illustrations of who they were as a person, and as well as their favorite hobbies and passions. The students presented their Me Collages to the class, then we hung him in the hallway. Check out some of their creations below!
While working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator, I used a poem format that I’m sure many of you are aware of…the I Am Poem! I chose this poem because my goal for the year was to help students develop a sense of identity and become self-regulatedlearners. I then discovered a unit in the Autonomous Learner Model book by George Betts, called“Journey Into Self.” The same publisher also has another unit called “Journey Into My World”. I decided to build my year-long theme around this concept and to launch the theme, I had students create visual I Am Poems!
To start with, I created an I Am Poem for myself to serve as a model for the students, then walked them through the creation of their own poem, using THIStemplate. You can find many variations of this same template online. Here’s a sample poem that one of my students created. Next, I had students use copyright-free images they found online (that’s an entire lesson in and of itself!) to turn their poem into a visual I Am Poem. Most students used Google Slideshows, but some used other media such as a movie with music. Another student used Glogster to create her visual poem. You can check out some of their presentations HERE; many had their photo on the initial slide and throughout the poem, so I had to delete those for student privacy. Below are some images from their presentations.
The classroom teacher for my 5th grade GT students wanted the students to create math goals in their Advanced Learning Plan, so I had them all create a math version of the I Am Poem. Then, at the end of the year, I had all of my students complete an End of Year I Am Poem to reflect on their learning throughout the year. Many added in this update to their original Google Slide presentations. Here are some examples of what they added about their learning during the past year:
My younger students did something called an I Am Story. Click HERE for an example by one of my students and HERE for the template.
And here’s an idea I always wanted to do, but never got around to it…creating an “I Am” Wall with the students’ names and the first line from their poem!
I hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!
Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom – in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions. – Noel Jones
By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students! But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich? During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.
One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom. Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.
Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library
The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo. Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!
At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question: Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels? However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system. Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!
(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)
Kelly’s 5th Grade Classroom Library
Leslie’s Pre-School Classroom Library
Carol’s Middle School Book Display
Sarah’s 4th grade classroom library!
Classroom library in Renee’s 2nd grade classroom.
After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)
Photo by Jan
Photo by Jan
Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!
“A print–rich environment is one in which “children interact with many forms of print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other printed materials” (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).
What goes on your classroom walls is important as well! I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:
All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary. Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!
I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!
And don’t forget Word Walls! There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers! More on Word Walls in a future blog!
More tudent written words – Photo by Jan
Word Wall using a felt backdrop; perfect for teachers who track in & out of classrooms!
Abby Schmitz’s personal sight word rings for her 2nd grade students.
Abby’s Word Wall lists
I love how eye catching and colorful this wall is! – Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade a Ruth Hill Elementary in Lincoln NE
(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)
Classroom Design and Layout
“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)
Another question teachers need to ask themselves is: Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework? How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are! What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area? This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well. You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!
(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)
This was my small group area in the RtI classroom at my school!
Here is Abby’s Guided Reading area!
Kelly’s whole class meeting area for her 5th graders.
Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work
Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.” So what are examples of authentic literacy activities? Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!
You’re off to great places. Today is your first day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way! Dr. Seuss
No matter where you teach or when you start, this is a super busy, stressful time of year for all teachers. Here is my final post in the series of three on how I set expectations and procedures for my students at the beginning of the school year! Be sure to check out my previous two posts on the Back to School ABCs: Part 1 and Part 2!
So to help you get your classroom rules and expectations set up…here are the final ABC’S OF BACK TO SCHOOL, based on my “bestselling” packet I created for my students and their parents back in my classroom days.
Substitutes: I included my expectations for students when I had a sub. I expected my students to respect all subs they had, no matter what, and I always followed through on both positive and negative comments from the sub. Here’s an article on how to prepare your class for a sub! How do you prepare your class for subs? Comment below!
Telephones: In the years before cell phones were common, we only had a phone in the workroom across the hall to use (primitive, I know!) I had to set expectations for the use of this phone for my students. It amazed me how many times my students would ask me to use the phone to call parents to bring in forgotten homework….Uh…NO! These days, all schools and classrooms need to have cell phone guidelines (for teachers too, LOL!)
Quizzes and Tests: Just verbiage about doing your best, studying in advance, sharing the test grade with parents, etc. A great idea for intermediate and secondary teachers is to give Open Note quizzes…students can use their notes to answer! What you are really assessing is their note taking skills! I would have my students staple their notes to the quiz. Not all quizzes were open note, but you should have seen the looks on their faces of the non-notetakers when I announced an Open Note quiz! Have you ever done this in your class? Comment below!
Using Computers: Since I wrote my guidelines back in 1998, things have changed, and laptops and Chromebooks are a necessary tool for students in the classroom. My guidelines are no longer valid! However, guidelines still need to be set for the proper use and care of these expensive school supplies.
Volunteers: My plea to parents for classroom volunteers! Since I taught intermediate, I did not have as much use for volunteers (and I was somewhat of a control freak :-), but I did need them for classroom parties and Friday folders! I appreciated my parent volunteers so much; always be sure to take good care of them!
When will progress reports (report cards) come out: This is where I included my school/district’s policies and dates for progress reports.
Xtra Credit: I made sure students and parents understood that I did not give any extra credit, but they could earn Bonus Points (see “B” back in Part 1!) that could slightly help their grade.
Yes, we will be using the library each week: School library days, policies, rules, etc.
Zoo: No, we’re not going there! I couldn’t think of anything else for “Z” so I used this section to discuss the various field trips we WERE going on, permission slips, chaperones, etc.
And that’s a WRAP for the ABC’s of Back to School! Best of luck getting YOUR year started, and don’t forget to check out my BTS activity on Teachers Pay Teachers, a fun cooperative Bingo activity! Enjoy!
The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2! More ideas on what teachers need to communicate to students and parents in the first few weeks of school! I also share a FUN activity I did with my students the first week: “Me Collages!”
First of all, be sure to check out my last blog, Part 1 of The ABC’s of Back to School. This is where you will get my A to I information I put in my back-to-school packet for students and parents
J is for June Box: Since our school got out in June, I had a special box where all the toys or gizmos I had to collect from students would reside until the last day of school, or until parents came to me to request them. I ended up having quite a collection to give back in June: yo-yo’s, Pokemon cards, Beanie Babies, action figures, etc.
K is for Kid Safety: Here’s my exact wording from the packet: “It is my responsibility to make sure that my students learn in a safe environment. We need to be safe our on the playground, at lunch, on field trips, and in our classroom. School supplies need to be used in a safe manner and experiments conducted safely. Poor choices will result in immediate consequences.”
L is for Long Term Assignments and Projects: Our job as 5th/6th-grade teachers in our school was to prepare our students for middle school. I would often assign projects or writing that would take 3-4 weeks or longer. After hearing about stressed parents trying to help their child finish that assignment in just 1-2 nights, I made sure to communicate to both students and parents to manage their time and START EARLY! I eventually began assigning staggered due dates (for proposal, rough drafts, conferences on progress, etc. – these were interim assessments before I knew that term!).
M is for Magic Scrap: I have to admit…this was one of the BEST ideas I ever came up with (and believe me, there were many bad ones!). One of my expectations is that all students helped clean up at the end of the day, especially the floor so our vacuuming crew after school did not have to do their job on an obstacle course! So, to get the floor super clean, I would “pick out” a scrap of trash, or a school supply item on the floor. My students would frantically rush around trying to find the magic scrap; they would pick up a pile of stuff off the floor and bring to me waiting by the garbage can, where I would pronounce it as NOT the Magic Scrap or YES, that was indeed the Magic Scrap. If it was a “No”, off they would run to collect more stuff! When the floor was sufficiently cleaned up, lo and behold, there would be the sought after “Magic Scrap” from a lucky student! That student would receive a Homework Pass which would excuse them from homework for one night. Believe me, these were in high demand (see “P”)!
No is for No T.V.! (unless you have read your required 30 minutes at night): Lately I have been reading about how reading logs can be detrimental in getting kids to enjoy reading...but back in the 90’s, I used them and they worked for me, parents and my students. My expectation for my students 120 minutes a week of reading, and then to record what they were reading on the log. I didn’t care if they were reading a novel, textbook, a magazine article, a comic book, (appropriate) stuff on the internet, or picture books, as long as they were READING!They could do all their minutes in one night, over the weekend, or could spread out the minutes over the week. Parents had to sign the log before it was turned in. Do you use reading logs?
O is for On the Chart, Oh No!: My consequence/behavior system was multi-tiered:
* 1st incident: A verbal warning
* 2nd incident: A check on the chart under their assigned number (no names and the numbers were changed often)
* 3rd incident: Another check and a recess missed
* 4th incident: Another check and an Inappropriate Behavior Form (used school-wide)
* 5th incident: Another check, a Behavior Referral (school form) and a phone call home (Disclaimer: I realize things have changed since I used this system 25 years ago, and schools and teachers may have different ideas for behavior expectations. All teachers at my school had to have their behavior plans approved by the administration.)
P is for Passes – Homework Passes! A homework pass could take the place of one nightly assignment (but I had the prerogative to say “no passes” for any assignment I needed them to have the next day). The pass had to be attached to the assignment when turned on, and they would then receive full credit! Students could use one pass per week. The passes were given for prizes in games, for rewards and recognition, and as a “thank you” from me for students who went out of their way to help others. I made my own, but you can find many already created on Teachers Pay Teachers!
Q is for Quiet Voices: I didn’t expect my students to work in silence during independent work time (I wanted them to ask questions about their work to peers and collaborate!), but I did expect low voices during work time. Many students actually liked to get as much work done at school if they had busy sports/activities schedules after school. Since I used this time to confer or help students, I did not want to be walking around and shushing kids all the time! What are your expectations for noise during work time?
R is for Recess: Yay, we all love recess (except for teachers when they have recess duty in February!) However, sometimes my students had to miss recess as a consequence for behavior or missing work. Or, they could stay in for positive reasons, such as to get extra help from me or assist me with set-up for an activity (of course I would have many volunteers on cold and snowy days!)
S is for Standards: I was “lucky” enough to be a classroom teacher during the nationwide implementation of education standards in the 1990’s. Our workload was suddenly increased by the task of collecting specific pieces of student work and assessments to determine if they had met a particular standard or not. Standards are still around, and it was important for me then, as it is for teachers now, to make parents and students aware of the standards your state and district are using.
Stay tuned for the rest of the Back to School ABC’s in next week’s post! Best of luck to you getting YOUR school started! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to see future posts, and a HUGE THANK YOU to those that already have!
As a former (now retired) classroom teacher, this quote on the left really resonates with me! While I do think it’s important to set some expectations the first day…the primary goal should be to to start that first day in a positive way so my students would know they would be not only safe and supported in my classroom, but also all the fun and amazing things they would do during the school year! Think of the school year as a full-length movie…and on that first day, give your students a “sneak preview” of what this year will be about!
Speaking of fun for that first day of school, check out my TpT product – Back to School Bingo! This is a great icebreaker activity I used with my students (I also would revise and use for the first day after Fall Break, Christmas Break and Spring Break…those are coming soon!)
I can’t think of a better way to start the school year than with PASSION PROJECTS! What better way to start the year than engaging your students in working on a long-term project on something they love? Also, you can find out SO much about your new students by surveying or interviewing them on what their hobbies, interests, and passions are! I did not create this until I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of gifted students, but I would SO implement this in the first month of the school year! It could be your 80/20 project for the first half of the school year, or even the entire school year!
I had 25 back to school seasons in my career…and like many other teachers, got smarter each year and changed up how I started my school year to make it better, smoother, and less stressful for the students, their parents and ME! So I now have an A-Z guide to help you, the amazing hard-working teacher, have a less stressful Back to School season!
First, and foremost, the amount of time you spend on routines and procedures should never be underestimated!Take it from me…during my first few years of teaching, I just barreled right into the curriculum and then paid for it later when I couldn’t understand why my students could not seem to know what to do to turn in assignments, find materials, sign-out for the bathroom, etc. By my final years in the classroom, I was spending a good WEEK on these routines and longer if necessary! I made sure to give them lots of reminders and visuals hanging in the classroom.
Second, the amount of time you spend on making your rules and expectations clear can also never be underestimated!Those darn mistakes the first few years were not repeated again! I made sure the students understood my recognition system for doing the right thing and the consequences of not doing the right thing. More importantly, I made sure parents understood these expectations as well!
And…speaking of parents, there is no such thing as too much communication to parents!Well, I guess there is common sense; parents don’t like being inundated every hour or day with texts and emails…but always err on the side of too much!
So…along about my third year, I finally got around to creating a beginning of the year packet for my students and parents. This packet had all the procedures, expectations, and information that I could think of…and I’m sure it was overwhelming to some students and parents, but it was my way of making sure I covered everything! I spent the first few weeks going over this packet and reiterating things…and made up daily review games that allowed students to win homework passes (these passes could be used to get out of homework on certain evenings!). I also sent home the packet and had both students and parents initial each section. Here are the items I included in my packet…did it in A-Z style!
Afternoon Clubs: My teammates and I used to set aside one after-school day a week where students could stay and get extra help on ANYTHING they needed…homework, projects, math and reading skills, etc. We made sure parents knew they were staying and had a way to get home after the club.
Bonus Points: These were my “digital badges” before I knew what digital badges were. I gave bonus points for various things…keeping up with their planner, typing assignments (which was still a novel/optional thing back in the 90’s), prizes in games, etc. These would go into the grade book and could jump their grade up slightly!
Current Events: This was an activity I did all year…and I think one of the best things I ever did as a teacher! I created a schedule of when each student would present a current event they found in the newspaper or a magazine (now I would be using Newsela for this!) and do a recap of the article for the class. I gave them guidelines for what was needed to be included in the presentation; I can’t remember them right now but will try to find the handout. Some days, the article was so interesting or debatable that we ended up discussing it for over an hour and I had to adjust my schedule!
Daytimers: These were the planners students were required to have. Our school sold them, but students could purchase their own as well. At the end of the school day, I would take 5-10 minutes to talk about the homework expected of the class. I wrote it out on a template on the overhead (ugh – the 90’s!) and they were expected to show the daytimer daily to their parents and get initials each day.
Expectations: Here was my list ( I realize these are from 20 years ago and many things have changed in schools!)
Respect all people and property in the classroom.
Use quiet voices during work time.
Raise your hand to speak during class discussions (this didn’t always happen during our heated currents events debates!)
Wait for a speaker to finish speaking before raising your hand to comment.
Use a polite listening position when someone else is speaking.
The class will walk quietly in a straight line through the halls when going to Specials and other events (this was a school-wide expectation).
School supplies will be used only for the purpose they were intended (this came about after a student bored a hole in his desk with the sharp point in his compass!)
Use the Sign Out Sheet if you need to leave the classroom for any reason.
Try to use the restroom as little as possible during the school day and not during a lesson or presentation (this was because I had sometimes had serial bathroom goers!).
Please chew your gum in places other than this classroom and school.
Friday Folders: The parent’s best friend and a school-wide expectation (at the most recent schools I worked at, it had been changed to Thursday folders and most of the info is on the school website). These folders came home every Friday and contained student work, school announcements, flyers from outside organizations, and a sheet with my comments about the students’ week and a place for parents to initial and make comments. I used to “love” when a folder came back on Monday with no initials and the entire contents still in it!
Grades: This, of course, is where I would explain my grading police that our school district used.
How am I doing? Before the age of parent portals, where parents can log in and see grades for their student on a weekly basis, I would have the option for students to fill out a 1/2 sheet on what was their current grades in all subjects. If students took this home, filled it out and returned, they received Bonus Points. Some students did it all the time (many were expected by their parents to do so) and some never did. But the option was there!
Illness: In this section, I explained how student needed to take ownership of finding out about work missed while they were absent. I had a 1/2 sheet form called “We Missed You!” which let the student know what they missed that day.
I’ve always loved the first day of school better than the last day of school. Firsts are best because they are beginnings. Jenny Han
So that’s it for Part 1 of my A-Z packet! Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3! In the meantime, BEST OF LUCK GETTING YOUR SCHOOL STARTED! REMEMBER, I AM HERE TO HELP YOU!