Tag Archives: back to school

Heading Back to School

StampaIt’s back to school time for many teachers and students! It can be an overwhelming time, with the never-ending To Do lists and details. But it can also be thought of as a time for a fresh start, beginning anew.

Here are some of the things I’ve kept in mind while starting the school year, in the 20 years I have been in education:

  • Community Building: As teachers, we usually go into the first weeks of school assuming full responsibility for building the learning space. But what happens if we put some of that responsibility in our students’ hands instead? Our new students come to us full of ideas, stories, expertise, and curiosity. These are the essential materials for a strong classroom community. Here are a few ideas for how to put those raw materials to use.
  • Classroom Management: Classroom management is an area where I feel ALL teachers need to constantly adjust, change and grow with their students. The English Journal article “Lessons about Motivation and Classroom Management” provides some advice and insights from interns in education.
  • Projects: Students learn through inquiry about aspects of the world around them, and one way to enact student-centered inquiry is through project-based learning. Read more in the article, “Enacting Problem-Posing Education through Project-Based Learning”.
  • Assessment: Assessment is different from grading. Especially at the beginning of the semester, when I am still getting to know my students, I observe and capture a series of anecdotes of student development. These can then be shared with families and administrators to provide concrete evidence of the kinds of student learning that traditional testing and reporting can have difficulty capturing. Try these strategies to use kidwatching in your classroom.
  • Inspiration: I am definitely inspired by the virtual Professional Learning Community I have established. I get lots of ideas from other educators and groups on Facebook, Pinterest helps me feel crafty, and I love the energy of a Twitter Chat! Follow NCTE online as well as ReadWriteThink on social media.

What do you focus on as you prepare for the coming school year?

Connecting to Summer Reading This Fall

book_pileIt’s important to connect to the momentum of summer reading once students return to the classroom in the fall. These resources from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org can help you get started.

First and foremost, remember “Readers Just Want to Have Fun“! As this short article from Voices from the Middle asks, “When was the last time you finished a book and thought, ‘Gosh, I can’t wait to take a test on this!’ or ‘This book would sure be great to write an essay on!'” Focus on fun by emphasizing sharing and discussion in response to summer reading.

Involve families and students’ extended circle of friends in the conversation. The School Talk issue “Creating Readers: Talking about Books in Multilingual Classrooms” includes some great suggestions and stories.

As the title of this English Journal article suggests, “Fifty Alternatives to the Book Report” offers a number (50 to be precise) of ways to engage students in talking, thinking, and writing about books they read over the summer, or any time.

Tap 21st century literacy tools to build discussion of great summer reads. The English Journal article “Finding a Voice in a Threaded Discussion Group: Talking about Literature Online” explains how these forums increase participation from all students, encourage reflection and critical thinking, and lend themselves to more interactive conversations.

Connect out-of-school reading practices to academic reading strategies. The College English article “Texts of Our Institutional Lives: Studying the ‘Reading Transition’ from High School to College: What Are Our Students Reading and Why?” asserts that, contrary to common belief, students are reading quite a bit, at least at one university, although they are not spending much time on materials assigned in their courses. The more teachers connect this out-of-school reading to the reading in the classroom, the stronger and more engaged they will find students to be.

Also check out these lessons from ReadWriteThink.org: Book Report Alternative: Creating a New Book Cover, Book Report Alternative: A Character’s Letter to the Editor, and So What Do You Think? Writing a Review!

How do you plan to address the summer reading list when class is back in session?

Creating Community through Writing

community_writingAs students begin their return to the classroom, they need to feel that they own the space and the learning that takes place in it. Foreground such ownership for students by collaboratively writing an owner’s manual that describes the classroom’s areas and procedures. The ReadWriteThink.org lesson Our Classroom: Writing an Owner’s Manual has everything you need to get started.

Younger elementary students who are just learning to write can build community as they collaborate to establish classroom guidelines. The ReadWriteThink.org lesson Creating Class Rules: A Beginning to Creating Community focuses on a simple shared-writing activity to bring students together as they decide upon the structures for the classroom.

Getting to know one another is a fundamental step for community building. Check out the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan Introducing Each Other: Interviews, Memoirs, Photos, and Internet Research for a get-acquainted activity that invites pairs of students to learn about each other and share their findings with the rest of the class.

For a similar activity for older students, try the ReadWriteThink.org lesson The Feature Story — Fifteen Minutes (and 500 Words) of Fame!, which asks students to write a newspaper profile of a classmate, with a particular focus on a talent, interest, or passion of that classmate.

To learn more about students as writers, try the ReadWriteThink.org lesson Writing about Writing: An Extended Metaphor Assignment , which uses Richard Wilbur’s poem “The Writer” as an inspiration for students’ own descriptions of their writing practices. The activity can be adapted for the college classroom as well.

For even more activities and resources, check out the Back to School Resources, which includes lesson plans and additional articles to help get your year off to a great start.

The First Day of School

back_to_schoolI recently read “Don’t Waste the First Day of School“, a blog post by Catlin Tucker, where she proposes several activities that can be done with students at the first class – and they don’t involve going over the syllabus. Tucker suggests some community building activities, learning inventories and also mentions how she reads aloud to her high school students!

I’ve also read aloud the same book to every class I’ve taught since 1995. It’s Arthur’s Teacher Trouble. I invite the students to guess why I always read that title. If you are familiar with that Marc Brown tale, do you know why I read it?

Read an additional seven creative ways to kick off college classes (other than just reading the syllabus) in “What Works for Me: First-Day Class Activities” from Teaching English in the Two-Year College. The ideas can easily be adapted for younger students as well, and in her introduction Judy A. Pearce makes a good case for why the same old syllabus-overview might not be the best way to set the tone for the year:

From the time we are small, we’re told that first impressions count. Many of us tell our students that the title page of a paper is important because it’s the first thing the reader sees. As teachers, we try to model in the classroom what we expect of the students; when they’re writing, we write. If they’re doing group work, we also participate. If they’re revising, we bring in a piece we’re in the process of revising. Much of this modeling, though, occurs exclusive of the first day of class. On that first day, our goal may be to provide an overview of the class and distribute the syllabus and policy handouts. Some of our colleagues, however, begin modeling from the first day; they design a first or second day of class activity that sets the tone and establishes the framework for the course throughout the semester.

Time to Pack Your Bag!

Back to school. A vintage backpack full of school supplies in front of a green blackboard.Here in the Midwest, many teachers and students are already heading back to school. That means it’s time for me to start packing my school/teacher bag. There are two ways to pack that bag – one, literally, making sure I have my class list, syllabus, reading materials, other things. The second bag is more figurative – what do I need to do, think about, plan for the upcoming semester. Here are some things I always seem to focus on as I prepare for the coming school year.

Classroom Management
Classroom management is an area where I feel all teachers need to constantly adjust, change and grow with their students. The English Journal article “Lessons about Motivation and Classroom Management” provides some advice and insights from interns in education.

Community Building
It’s important to engage students in thinking about the process of learning and the behavioral and community needs which support a productive classroom environment as described in the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “Creating Class Rules: A Beginning to Creating Community.”

Creating/Maintaining a Classroom Library
To help my students get motivated to read, I try to have timeless favorites in my classroom library as well as add new titles. ReadWriteThink.org has two podcast series where I can get book suggestions. Several NCTE journals also review new texts in every issue.

Communication with Families
Teachers and schools communicating with families and families communicating with school and teachers adds to the success of the school year. The Language Arts article “Writing a Relationship: Home–School Journals” describes three teachers’ use of journals in creating and maintaining a two-way dialogue with families and some of the results of this communication.

Students tend to bring a great deal of knowledge of and enthusiasm for technology. I like to try to keep up with what’s new with technology and also see how I might integrate it into the classroom. The ReadWriteThink.org Strategy Guide series “Teaching with Technology” provides some tips, how to’s and examples.

Find or Become a Mentor
Being provided with a mentor as a teacher is a wonderful benefit. Sometimes, teachers may need to find their own mentor or teachers with whom they can work and learn. The English Journal column “Mentoring Matters” focuses on effective ways to support new English teachers and student teachers and is a great resource to all teachers. Check out a past column!

Staying Current with Trends in Education
By reading others’ posts and participating in discussions on the NCTE Connected Community or on social media, I feel like I can gain easy access to others’ best ideas.

What will be in your bag as you plan for the upcoming semester?