Thursday, July 13, 2017

Rules, Rules, Rules

Teacher confession here:  I hate going over all the rules the first day.  The kids tend to be experiencing a Taylor Swift-range of emotions and are quite frankly overwhelmed.  Simply sitting and receiving information isn't the best plan.

Instead, I switch it up with a few hands on activities.

The Scavenger Hunt

Instead of pointing out everything in the classroom,  I have students find a partner, grab a clipboard, and go on a scavenger hunt.  I stand back and let them find things around the classroom.  

Granted, I don't have the scavenger hunt made yet. I've got to set up my classroom first...but I've got last year's to revise.

They'll talk about their answers as a table and then we go over the answers as a class. It's a perfect time to incorporate listening and speaking norms. I model standing up, facing the class, introducing myself, and speaking clearly so the class can hear.  From there, students will practice public speaking in a non-threatening environment.  Finding different things in the classroom (pencil sharpener, telephone, etc) is completely safe.  They are almost guaranteed to have the right answer and as a class, we can practice cheering and applauding one another.  At the end of the activity, not only do students feel more comfortable in the room because they know where things are, but empowered because they found them with a partner and were celebrated for their correct answers.

While yes, this takes more time in comparison to me standing in front of them pointing things out.

But here's all the things the lesson also teaches or incorporates:

1) Teamwork (they work with a partner)
2) Using materials appropriately (they'll use clip boards and practice putting them away appropriately)
3) Movement (I don't sit well and neither do they)
4) Sharing ideas
5) Celebrating others (class cheers)
6) Agreeing with others (hand signals)
7) Active listening
8) Shared sense of ownership over our classroom 

The Rules

While every teacher has basic rules in mind about the classroom, it's important that students feel that they help create the classroom   (and that includes the rules).

To do this, I set out large pieces of paper with the following questions:

1) What do I expect from my teacher this year?

2) What do I expect from my classmates?

3) What do I need to have a good school year?

4) What does it mean to be a good student?

5) What do I expect from myself this year?

6) How should I treat other people and materials in this classroom?

I lay the papers out around the room and introduce the concept of a gallery walk.  I split the class into smaller teams (not with their table teams) and give each group a pack of markers. Every student will have a different color (for accountability).  I go over answering the question (spelling doesn't count, which puts many at ease), talking at an appropriate volume, and that I'll be setting the timer (usually for 2 minutes).  

At the timer, I call for everyone's attention.  I go over capping the markers and looking for direction.  I go over the rotation pattern because the students will be rotating to each large piece of paper.  I have them silently practice rotating to their next piece of paper.

Before immediately writing down their own answers, I introduce my expectation that they'll read their classmates answers first.  If they agree, they just put a check mark.  If they want to add more, they can add bullet points underneath.  If a student's idea is not on the sheet, that's when he/she may add a new comment.  I have them review my expectations as a group.  I then give them 90 seconds at their second rotation.

At the timer, I go over the expectations for transitions again.  I repeat this after each rotation.  I have them repeat the expectations to one another.

After all the questions have been visited by all the groups, I bring the class to the carpet.  We look at each sheet together and discuss what stands out.  From there, we create the rules.  (Spoiler alert, I already know what the rules are. Most of the time they come up with exactly what I want them to do but if not, I gently guide them to what I want to emphasize.)

School Rules

School rules and expectations are a little different because they're set in place by administration. 

However, just because I can't change them doesn't mean we can't have fun going over them.  I split the class into eight teams (different pairings then their table teams so they can mingle with each other) and give them a sheet with true/false statements.  As a group, they go over the statements and mark their answer choices.

I then teach answering procedures using {the cups}.

I don't love when everyone shouts out answers.  By using color coded cups (from the Dollar Tree), all students get a chance to answer without speaking.  

It's another opportunity to incorporate classroom procedures, but with a clear purpose (answering the game questions).  They answer with green (true) or yellow (false) cups.

Recapping Everything

By Friday of the first week of the school year, we've pretty much covered all the classroom procedures, rules, and students know where things are.  To recap everything, I once again split the class into teams to teach kahoot. is free for educators (my favorite) and requires some prep work.  You create questions and put in answer choices, marking which is correct.

Students will use iPads (assuming they're ready for student use) to answer trivia questions on the web-based platform.  Each game has a specific code, teams can create their own names, and they get points for how quickly they answer the questions.

Kahoot is great for reviewing concepts before tests, but I want the first time we use it to be for fun.  While it's not tied directly to academics, knowing the classroom procedures and expectations will save loads of time as the year progresses.  I'd rather spend a good chunk of the first week(s) setting the foundations in place for the rest of the year. 

Yes, it's important to get into the academics and the whole learning thing. But it's also important to ensure that there is a classroom foundation where students know the expectations, feel safe, and are empowered to take risks. 

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