The first six to eight weeks of school is a period of discovery during which the students and I become acquainted. In addition to building a community, setting classroom codes of conduct and routines together, I gather additional information which will aid in my planning for the remainder of the year. Taking the time to learn about my students' home life, learning styles, personal interests, socio-emotional skills, and academic levels helps me to make the best decisions about their education. Please click on the image below to see more photographs.
Differentiation, in my view, is striking the balance between teaching the curriculum, a child's enthusiasm for or interest in learning, and his or her current level of academic knowledge. Vygotsky's theory of proximal development means that I must be mindful of each child's current abilities and scaffold instruction or learning, as needed. At the beginning of the year, students take assessments in Math, Spelling, reading, and Writing, to determine their academic levels. In Math, I use Front Row, which gives students a baseline assessment of grade-level skills. In Literacy, I use a combination of Word Journeys and Words their Way to determine students' spelling ability, and PALS for reading. During this time, students read to me, so that I can begin to determine which leveled books to assign for reading practice, and which strategies to practice in class. They also receive a booklet containing high-frequency words which they learn to read and spell throughout the year. Students are introduced to reading strategies and skills using the CAFE system, which simplifies the delivery of reading strategies under Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and the Expansion of vocabulary.
Throughout the year, I provide students with differentiated math stations, spelling lists, and guided reading groups, based on assessment results and individual growth. Assessments are repeated as needed at midterm or the end of the year, and students are encouraged to set realistic personal goals, so that they begin to take responsibility for their own learning. In first and second grade, students not only become academically literate, but also learn how to organize themselves. I strive to be the 'Guide on the side', making their learning joyful and exciting, so that they discover the wonders of becoming lifelong learners.
Delivery of instruction is varied and may be whole group, small group, or one-on-one depending on the lesson and students' needs. We also sometimes listen to podcasts for children, as they provide an opportunity for students to practice active listening. My voice should not be the only one that they listen to regularly, and despite using learning videos in class sometimes, students learn patience when visual cues aren't present, as well as the use of their imaginations.
Behavior Management: From the very first day of class, I discuss responsibility with my students. Young, multilingual students have great demands placed upon them, and yet, sometimes are missing the environment to nurture their emotional growth. Giving students responsibilities within the classroom teaches them responsibility, to be self-aware, care for their environment and classroom community, and to take pride in their accomplishments. Every year, I put up a "Help Wanted" sign and students playfully jostle for the opportunity to be in charge of our daily calendar, or to be a Teacher's Helper, Book Doctor, Librarian, Gardener, or Caboose. We change jobs every month, giving students enough time to practice their profession. At the end of every day, everyone tidies up the classroom. Pencils, erasers, and markers are picked up from the floor and we leave the room ready for class the following day. In this way, students learn to be responsible through our classroom routines.
Students also learn to use their 'inside' voices, using the "6-inch Voice" chart we learned about in Decibella and Her 6-inch Voice, write me messages (more like love notes) in our Heart book so that I can concentrate on teaching and not suffer hug attacks, and put the wooden, Magic Key in my hand when they have a pressing problem (usually to do with friendship) that they'd like to discuss in private. The Magic Key is this wonderful tool that students made for me a long time ago in Woodworking class. I couldn't decide what to do with it, so it took on a personality of its own. Students learn to trust that I always resolve their Key issues, and we also discuss the difference between sharing information and bringing a serious problem to my attention.
Academic Management: Students learn to reflect on their work when we sit together after Morning Meeting, and check our homework. We discuss the work that we're marking. What did we like about it? What was confusing? Do we want to do more of it? Or perhaps, prefer more challenging homework? Students receive homework in the sense that they have to practice doing their job, which is to learn, and so they receive just enough work to complete independently of any adult. Assigned work never takes longer than 20 minutes, and reading for pleasure after the first few weeks of school is generally voluntary. We also reflect on our work when putting completed work in our portfolios. Once finished, students take the opportunity to look through their completed work and wonder at how much they've grown, throughout the year.
We have several routines that help us to check for understanding. One is Fist to Four, in which students raise four fingers to show complete understanding of a concept or instructions, three to show some mastery, two for a little understanding, and so on. Students are able to ask for help without feeling stigmatized or reluctant to show confusion. We also have discussions about where they are on their learning journeys (Mountain Climbing), in terms of a subject or skill, and set goals towards improved practice.
Building community isn't simply about building relationships with children, but also about helping students to become independent thinkers and learners. They learn routines for where to place their work when they are finished, where to place unfinished work, how to care for their belongings and classroom resources, and how to take responsibility for their learning. Most importantly, students learn how to treat each other, their peers and teachers with empathy and respect. There may appear to be many rules and routines for the children which may seem overwhelming to adults, but children need these boundaries and come to rely on them because they feel safe, especially when they are missing them elsewhere.
Collaborating with parents and colleagues
My relationship with parents is the second most important one in my work, second only to my relationship with students. That is not to say that collaborating with colleagues isn't important, but having spent the first few weeks of school nurturing and fostering trusting relationships with students, by extension, I must build similar relationships with parents who need to know that their children are safe and in good hands. I do so by remaining in frequent contact and sharing the main aspects of our classroom activities. Parents are also invited to accompany us on field trips, and attend our end of year picnic celebrating the children's accomplishments throughout the year. Having built a relationship of trust with parents means that when I bring up a concern about academic skills or socio-emotional needs, parents understand that I have their child's best interests at heart, and we can work together to ensure their child's success.
My French partner teacher and I work closely together as we teach the same children. We discuss our observations about the children, schedule meetings with parents, field trips, and share administrative duties. Often, we decide the latter based on our strengths - I take care of parent communication via Bloomz, scheduling trips, and she takes care of school-related events. Sharing a position with another person can be challenging and fortunately, we happen to have a similar work ethic. We are both organized and like to do this properly. We come together when we need to, working independently otherwise. Working with someone you trust means that you can support each other through the rocky times and celebrate our successes, together. I work within a team of four and as I am a Grade-level Coordinator, many administrative responsibilities fall on my shoulders in terms of curricular work and keeping everyone on schedule. I have found that I like organizing things because it allows me to think of the bigger picture and how everything fits together. How will the decisions I make today impact our work in two weeks or months? I like to plan ahead and avoid any potential pitfalls that might come along.