Sunday, August 21, 2011

Starting a New Year

Yesterday I was able to get into my classroom to begin setting up for the new year.  My first day of school with children is September 6th and our first day of staff development is August 31st, so I have about 2 weeks to get things going.

I was pleased to find that, for the first time ever, the custodians put all my furniture exactly where I wanted it.  So I didn't have to start by moving around the furniture.  My husband came with me and we hung bulletin board paper, emptied my closet, set up desks, and made some small changes to the set up of the room.  

I have decided to start my year by making some assumptions about my students.  I hope it all works out.

Assumption 1: My students will be able to handle sitting in groups and moving around the room right from day one.  

Each year, I start my students in rows.  I do lots of direct instruction, slowly leading them toward group work and choosing seats.  This year, I decided to start them at tables.  I am starting a group project during the first week of school and will use that project to help them learn to negotiate the ups and downs of working with others.  So my husband and I set up desks into groups of two, three, and four.

Assumption 2: Sitting on the carpet is no different than sitting in desks.

I have a huge purple carpet in my room.  This carpet is large enough for all of the children to sit in a circle on the edge and have grand discussions.  I start each year with my carpet in the corner, tucked under the bookshelves to make it smaller.  It isn't large enough for a circle and is just barely large enough for them all to fit in a crowded group.  This year, I am going to have a grand discussion on the very first day of school.  I am going to help them learn how to have discussions without me, taking turns talking, listening politely, and contributing strongly.  We will start on day one with a grand discussion about what our class rules should be.  So we set up my carpet right in the center of the room, not tucked under any furniture, and we set up the tables around the carpet.

Assumption 3: The children don't really use the posters that teach skills.

I love posters.  I cover my walls with them.  I have, for years, had posters hung up high on the wall.  These posters were writing posters, talking about use of vocabulary, starting ideas, using voice, trying different genres.  I loved them when I put them up and kept them because they were so hard to put up and take down.  But I realize no one ever used them.  The children would see them on the first day of school and forget about them after that.  So I finally took them down.  I will use them as I teach each skill.  Instead, I put up posters about character.  I realized that teaching my students to be good people is much more important to me than teaching them about using good vocabulary.  I want them to learn to be strong individuals, willing to help others, and accepting diversity.  I can refer to these posters often, which makes them more relevant than the skills posters.  And I like the way they look.

Assumption 4: The children can handle all my UDL tools.

As any reader of my blog knows, I run a classroom with a UDL approach.  I have many tools to help the students meet with success.  I usually wait to put them out as I need them.  The fidget toys stay in the closet, the headphones stay locked in a drawer, the spell checkers remain by my desk, etc.  I have decided this year to put them all out on my UDL table and introduce the table as a tool table.  As the children look for tools or need items, I can direct them to the UDL table right away.  

Assumption 5: No one wants to spend an hour on the first day of school labeling and setting up their supplies.

The first day of school, every year, we spend about an hour labeling notebooks and binders, adding dividers to binders, unpacking pencils and pens, filling up supply boxes, and setting up desks.  It is boring and frustrating.  This year, I want my first day of school to be fun and exciting, educational and surprising.  So I am going to collect all supplies and hand them out as we need them.  This way, when we are ready for our binder, I can spend only a few minutes getting them ready at the beginning of a lesson and be done.  This is probably the biggest change for me and I am grateful for my aide, Joanne, who will be there to help make it work.

I am excited for these minor changes.  It means I am starting my year assuming my students are ready for my style...for projects and discussions, for responsibility and freedom.  I am going to spend time leading them to understand how to be responsible for their learning and I will start on day one.  I believe it will be the start to a great year.


Monica said...

Lisa - I love the "tool table" idea :). As always - thanks for sharing... the little steps are always the ones that have staying power.

Busy Bee Andrea said...

What great ideas! Thank you for sharing! Love your UDL idea :) can't wait to see what happens

Teacher Mum said...

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Keep your posts coming!

paul bogush said...

So how is assumption #1 going?

Lisa Parisi said...

Good question, Paul. It actually works. After the first week of school I was ready to quit. I happen to have quite a crew of hyper boys. They talk to each other across the room, wrestle on the carpet, and play with school tools all day. But three weeks of Responsive Classroom and finally finishing mandated testing and getting into our projects have really changed everything. They still play and have fun but most of the time they are working hard and enjoying every minute. They even tell me they don't want to stop when it is lunch time. So I guess, it worked.