Posts Tagged ‘beginning of the year’

Left Behind

Photo by Angella Mueller. Used under creative commons license.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about students leaving a legacy recently. Alan November uses this terminology frequently. (Side note, if he is speaking at a conference or event you are attending, I recommend going to hear him. He is enthusiastic, supportive of teachers, and you will leave with ideas in your head.) In a world where it is so easy to share work and have others, maybe only just a few, but still others, get something out of it, why wouldn’t we want this for our students? I know that whenever I have suggested to my students that the work they are creating will be used by me next year to show others, or shared beyond school, I get more buy-in and better work. Everyone wins with that combination. (I’ll write about a particular example of this next.)

Last week on the first day of school, I found this article on Edutopia.org called “Have Students Create Their End of Year Legacy Now” by Maurice Elias. In it Professor Elias suggests starting the year with this goal in mind:

Ask your students to imagine themselves at an assembly in June. All of their classmates, teachers, staff, even parents are there. Every student is called up to the podium at the center of the stage, and the principal reads a statement of what they accomplished in the past year.

I think this is a great idea and one that allows for frequent checking in and monitoring. Professor Elias goes on to say,

Next, you can review the legacy statements at the end of each grading period, which can lead to a discussion, using these questions:

  • How are you doing in working toward your legacy?
  • What can help you make (more, better) progress in the next marking period?

I would go a few digital steps farther, adding the following:

  • How will you share your legacy with others?
  • Who else might benefit from what you have created?
  • How will this add to your positive digital footprint?

I know that not all work needs to be shared. Some really doesn’t deserve to go farther than the recycling bin, honestly. However, if we begin with the notion that creating real content that is of value to others is a goal, then I think it can be something towards which to work. And, there is a huge range of what “of value” means. Curing cancer would certainly qualify. However so would a screencast by an elementary student that explained how to regroup when subtracting.

So, I guess my point here is: what a great way to start the year.

Is there something that you think would really set a great tone or expectation?

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So, I’m still thinking about 5E Day. (see earlier posts here and here).

I followed the same format as before. I showed the Daniel Pink book trailer video for Drive which asks “what is your sentence?”. I gave some examples. I allowed about a week of think time. I waited.

Once again, great success. This time I even had time to make an animoto video with a picture of each child and his or her sentence before back to school night so that I could show it to parents. I don’t know what is going on with my photography skills, but they need work.

There is nothing like hearing about your students’ interests, on day 8 of school, in a real, in-depth, but not heavy, way with props included. This year we even had someone bring in a short video clip. I have three new students and for them it was a great way to catch up on common knowledge about returning students, become known themselves, and become part our shared story right away. And, I think that is the key. For a classroom or any learning community to become a real community there has to be some shared story to connect all those spinning parts into something.

Here are we are in all our 1 sentence glory:

  • She’s a swimmer.
  • I am interested in all things mechanical and finding out how things work.
  • He loves to play sports and math.
  • She likes to make cookies with her mom.
  • I like rocks.
  • She loves the Phillies and sports.
  • He likes reading.
  • I am creative.
  • I love reading.
  • Violin is my specialty.
  • The more eggs the merrier.
  • She likes to read, laugh, act, and play soccer.
  • I love baseball.
  • She likes sports.
  • I love horseback riding.
  • I love skiing.
  • I like activities.
  • I like karate.
  • I love baseball.
Some highlights of the discussion:
Q: What made you get into the Phillies?
A: Well, you can’t just sit there and just eat the food. You have to get interested.
After lots of oohs and aahs over the rock collection:
Q: Which ones did you find?
A This one’s a good skipping rock. I found this one in my creek.
Q: What made you start to get into it?
A: Well, I like archaeology so I started collecting rocks.
Student sharing an egg-head pin, “I would share this everyday if I could.”
Q: When did you start liking eggs?
A: 2 years ago. I didn’t really show if off last year.
Student who likes riding, “this is my helmet. It has all these dents from falling off. Don’t be scared. If you’re going to do it, it will happen.”
“What got me hooked on reading was Harry Potter.”
“I’ve been making things around the house.”
Q: What was the first thing you built?
A: A Lego ferris wheel. Then I had a remote-controlled car and took apart the weed whacker and put the engine in the car. I got in trouble and had to put it back.” (Lots of appreciative oohs and aahs here!)
“I have lots of medals (for swimming) at home, but I don’t like to take them out of the house because they’re so special to me.”
“Good luck for testing on your black belt in April.”
“I think it’s really cool that you do so much creative stuff. I didn’t realize you had so much talent.”
“I like making cookies with my mom. She’s the only one I really do it with. I love chocolate chips and I just go in the closet and eat them sometimes.”
We are individuals. We are 5E.

So, I’ve been thinking about how I haven’t posted anything here in a really long time. I’ll try to write about that later. But, today was the first day of school. Besides going over the boring basic stuff, we made labels for our cubbies, listened to this Yoyo Ma tune for a little dancing, and watched two video clips.

One clip was Daniel Pink’s book trailer for Drive. I showed it last year too. This will connect to our “5E Day” celebration on a week from Friday. I wrote all about it last year. It worked out so well, I’m doing it again.

The new clip was from the group Improv Everywhere. Here is how they describe themselves of their website:

Improv Everywhere is a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Created in August of 2001 by Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere has executed over 100 missions involving tens of thousands of undercover agents.

The clip we watched was their latest mission called “Say Something Nice.” (Click and watch it quick, quick and then come back and read about what I did. It’s short.) I showed the clip and then suggested that we should try to do this regularly, in a way that would work for school.

So, I made a bucket with a “say something nice” label on it. I put some pieces of paper there and pencils. All colleagues are welcome to add things to the bucket over the course of the week. On Friday we will pull them out and read them.

I feel like standing at the podium makes it more official, but it is a hassle to drag one in here every week. I think a music stand will do the trick. My plan is to have students come up, pull a random “something nice” out of the bucket and read it. I think it will be a great way to end the week. Maybe it should be the first thing on Monday instead?

What do you think? Interesting idea? Silly cutesy idea? Monday? Friday?

So, I’ve been doing a lot of planning for the next weeks and new year and it’s seeming like this year is going to be a big change. I know, it’s after winter break and I’m a little late to be noticing this key fact. (Since I started this post ages ago, it’s really been a lot of thinking.)

Here’s the thing though, sometimes you don’t realize the little changes you are making are about to push you right on over the edge to (feel free to use that overly dramatic, announcer voice as you read the next words) Change or Transformation until they start to pile up. I make changes every year as I teach, even if there haven’t been any big book changes or curricular changes made. I do this only partly to keep myself interested. Mostly I make changes because I can’t help it. I think that a classroom is a living, breathing place that changes with who is there. So, even if I tried to do everything the same way, it would be different because the students are different each year. I am different each year too.

Over the past few years I’ve made changes that range from books coming and going, to blogs becoming a major part of the experience, and now I’m, as of a few weeks ago, a 1-1 iPad classroom. Sometimes it turns out that the changes you’ve made are great, and yet they haven’t changed the game you’re playing. And then sometimes you make either enough little changes or a radical enough single change and all of a sudden–new game.

I think this year I might be end up playing a new game.

So, I’ve been thinking about the great conversation I had with my class yesterday. It was the kind of conversation we don’t usually have until a lot later in the year. I’ve been thinking about why it went so well.

First let me tell you what my definition of “going well” is. In 5th grade I think a good conversation about a book means a number of thing:

  • Many people (everyone) participate.
  • Solid information from the story is shared.
  • People are not just summarizing, but collecting appropriate examples for the topic.
  • There is back and forth among students.
  • New ideas emerge.

That may sound like a lot for 5th graders, who incase you don’t recall, are mostly 10. But,I have found that is exactly what they are capable of: a lot.

So, here are some of the reasons I think this, our first real discussion about our first book of the year, went so well:

  • We were sitting in our circle arrangement (see my post about it here and here) and I was just part of the circle. Everyone was facing each other and conversation was naturally flowing.
  • I adjusted the plan of what to talk about when a student brought up an idea that clearly got many students’ attention. I told the students we could discuss this idea further once we finished a few housekeeping review items and that my goal was to learn and improve our ability to discuss what we read. I said that often it would not matter what in particular we discussed, so I was open to new topics.
  • I tried to keep things somewhat free-flowing and insist on some being-called-on-taking-turns.
  • At a few different times I said I needed to hear from anyone I hadn’t heard from soon. Students responded appropriately and raised hands ready to join in.
  • And, finally we had already had our “5E Day” (Identity Day-read about it here) project and started on the path to a really great class tone.

I am going to have to up my game if my students are going to be leaping into this kind of discussion in September.

I’m in.

So, I’ve been thinking about my class version of George Couros’ “Identity Day.” I heard him describe it at part of the Reform Symposium. (Catch the archived version here.)

Let me give a little background. I showed this video as a start to our conversation about ourselves. The video is a book trailer for Daniel Pink’s newest book Drive. The key thing for our discussion is that it asks the question: What is your sentence. This is what we used to begin.

After some discussion I gave some possible examples for myself and these directions:

On Friday we will each share a little something about ourselves. You should begin by coming up with your sentence. Remember the video we watched? What is your sentence right now? It doesn’t have to be your sentence for life, just your life at the moment.

On Friday each person will have his or her sentence on a sentence strip (I will give you a strip) and a small display on his or her desk. This display could be pictures, small items, a poster, books, whatever you want that helps us understand your sentence. I will share my sentence and make a small display as well.

Each of you will get a few minutes to share this special interest or with our class.

I can’t wait to hear about each of you!

Then, I waited.

To say that I was unprepared for the response does not even begin to describe the day. This was the last thing we did on a Friday, the second week of school. Not prime time. It was the only time I had what I thought was a long enough block of time.

Here are our sentences:

  • She likes to make all kinds of things.
  • She loves Paris, France.
  • You can call me crazy, because it’s true.
  • I have many bright ideas for our armed forces.
  • I like baseball, basketball and long multiplication.
  • Lax is my thing and I like to sing.
  • I love to swim.
  • She loves to be creative and likes to be herself.
  • I live and breathe tennis.
  • I enjoy doing puzzles with my brother.
  • I want to be in the Olympics, a lot.
  • (Name) is about soccer, math, and a laugh.
  • I like to compete in math and sports.
  • I like doing fun stuff.
  • (Name) likes to play soccer, cook and have fun. (a boy)
  • I like to make cool projects.
  • All day I think about soccer.

The sentences were interesting. They brought little displays to share.

I live and breathe tennis.

I like to make cool projects.

But what was the most amazing was how much attention, interest, and care they showed. Each person shared his or her interest and collection of items. Students asked questions of everyone. They were respectful of all interests and genuinely interested in what others were doing. There was no wiggling, giggling (except at jokes), eye rolling, sighing, or wandering. For a few students I had to cut off questions so that we wouldn’t run out of time. All told, it was easily 75+ minutes of just sharing. That doesn’t include the time we spent walking around looking at things up close before beginning.

I was blown away.

I want to be in the Olympics, a lot. have many bright ideas for our armed forces.

Here are a few of the things I heard:

  • Q: Do you feel you have pushed the boundary of crazy? (totally serious question)
  • A: I haven’t yet, but I feel I may soon. (also serious)
  • Q: What is the hardest thing you ever made (cooking)?
  • A: That would have to be when I tried putting chocolate then cheese over bacon.
  • Q: You must have a lot of patience (to student talking about 1,000 piece puzzles)
  • A: My mom can’t take it. If she doesn’t get a piece in like a minute, she quits. My brother and I, we have a lot of strategies.
  • I love to laugh, I do it a lot. They say I’ll live longer, so that’s a good thing.
  • I know that’s really hard because I tried it and kept falling into
    walls and stuff.
  • I personally love Snoopy, but that’s just me.
  • I got into it when I was really little and I’ve liked it ever since.

I cannot adequately express what a great afternoon this was. Not only was it a fantastic event, I think it will set a tone for the rest of the year.

So, I’ve been thinking about getting ready for school. We had our first half day on Wednesday, but with the holiday on Thursday, we didn’t have a real, full day until Friday. (I am happy to report no one bailed after that first 1/2 day.)

I’ve done the standard getting ready stuff: arranged the room, labeled the workbooks, put up bulletin boards, built the new moveable tables, put meetings into the calendar, hired a new babysitter for my personal kids, repainted my toenails, touched up the purple in the hair, etc. But, sometimes in all the rush to work my way down the “to do” list, it’s easy to forget the internal getting ready I need to do.

For example, I need to spend some time thinking about developing a class climate with my students that is conducive to all learners. I need to switch back to “beginning of the year me,” the teacher who doesn’t talk quite as fast, remembers 5th graders aren’t ready for deadpan jokes right away, and puts herself back in that place where she is new and uncertain. I need to remember to get not just the paper and pencils out of the closet, but also my extra patience, my ability to give another example, and another, my enthusiasm for all the books we read, my ridiculous comparisons that actually help make a point, and crazy excuses to move around the room. It’s all part of the unpacking.

I’m not the only one who needs to pack more than pencils. My students do too, and it’s my job to help them think about that.

One of the ways I have talked about this other getting ready process, beyond the stuff, is to tell my students a story about a trip I took with a friend and colleague. We won an award from our school to help us fund a trip to Spain one summer. Now, neither of us knows Spanish nor teaches anything on the topic of Spain. Our award was for very broadly defined professional development–anything that would make us better versions of ourselves would surely make us better teachers. So, our proposal was for a walking trip in Spain along the Camino de Santiago. We proposed this idea as an opportunity for us to try out the ideal of “Courage for the deed, Grace for the doing.” Our idea was that for us truly to challenge our ability to have courage and grace, we should put ourselves in a challenging position, which for teachers means not school. Little did we know.

To make a long story short, we arrived in Spain, but our luggage did not. In fact it never arrived. We went on our walk (which began in cold rain) with very little stuff. What did of course arrive were all of our personal traits–our potential for courage and grace, as well as our insecurities. So, I tell my students about this trip, show pictures, admit to being nervous, grumpy, and more. I tell them that what mattered was not getting to the end, but how we got there. And, I tell them what a fantastic trip it was.

(This is what I looked like in every picture since I wore that same thing every day.)

We then talk about packing our “backpacks” for the year of 5th grade with our positive qualities. Since it’s 5th grade we actually make paper cutouts and put words in them. To be fair, we also add one trait that’s not so good–a danger card.

I have used this story and discussion starter for a few years. It works for me, and it works for my class. One of the best things about it is that my students see me admitting to being all too human. It makes it a lot easier to have a frank conversation about strengths and weaknesses when I just put a whole bunch out there for everyone to see. I’m totally fine making mistakes and being honest about my faults in class, and if it helps my students I’ll keep right on being imperfect.

I guess I’ll head to school on Monday and make some more mistakes, for the kids, of course.