Saturday, October 2, 2010

Back To School: First Days

Back to school means crisp new paper and colorful notebooks covered with the names of friends. It means sharp yellow pencils and pink erasers. It means pink, blue, red, green, and purple pens and markers creating hearts, peace signs, and signatures written in vibrant designs.

It also means moving from running and playing, chores and vacation to reading and writing, homework and school. How do we smooth this transition from learning at home to learning at school? Here are two suggestions.

Rules and Procedures

Instead of telling students the "rules," I ask students two questions. They write the answers to these questions on fresh blue strips of paper, one on each side:
1. What do you think I expect of you as students?
2. What do you expect of me as your teacher?
Each day at the beginning of class I read one slip and we discuss those answers. What is expected of students? What is expected of teachers? -- in student words. We clarify expectations in terms of procedures and guidelines.
What does listen look like and sound like? 
How and where do we turn in our work? 
How does he teacher plan for interesting lessons? 
In this way, students learn the expectations for behavior and procedures, and I learn what in particular the students might expect from me.

The next activity provides practice in most classroom activities (individual, small group, whole class, and presentation) to which this first activity can refer as examples during the discussions of rules and procedures. Finally, I type up their answers as a contract for students and myself to sign for reference and review throughout the year.

Rules and Procedures Application

The following tasks provide practice in independent, small group, whole class, presentation, and reflection activities. Throughout each activity, take time to debrief on what worked and what didn’t to complete work and learn together. Apply these discussions to student and teacher responses in the blue slip activity.

Independent Work with whole class instruction

About Us (Student Directions)
Create an index card (or 1/2 sheet of paper) with the following information:

Walk around the room with your index card and share with classmates. When you find an item to which both of you agree, sign your initials by that item on each others’ cards.

Small Group Formation and Work
Return to your area and look at the initials on your card. Look for which initials are most frequently written on your card. Form groups of three based on who has the most in common with you.

In your group, discuss your card and create a Venn Diagram to discover how you are similar to each other member of your group and how you are unique.

Create a team poster with symbols to represent the similar/unique qualities of your group. Organize the pictures/symbols into an artistic poster to represent your similarities and differences. Add a title that fits as a summary or concept for your team and add artistic signatures (see below)* of each member.

Discuss in your group: What does this mean? Why did we choose that title and those symbols? Why is it important to know how we are alike and how we are unique? How do similarities and differences help us?

Prepare to present the information to the class so that everyone in your group speaks to explain your symbols’ connections to what is similar and unique among your group members.

Presentation and Reflection
Each group plans a presentation to explain their poster and discussions. Everyone must speak to explain part of their poster. (Student Talkers Idea from Peter Pappas

During presentations, students listen. After each presentation, students ask questions relevant to the topic and concept to which the presenters respond.

Students reflect on group and individual process, product, and participation. (


In a matter of a few days, students have jumped right into learning and thinking together, applying the procedures required to be successful in school without a drill into Here are the Rules. Students have listened, read, written, discussed, shared, collaborated, designed, spoken, presented, and reflected in a fun activity that transports them from summer to school. It’s now October, and students are still looking at and talking about their posters which hang along the locker hallway.

What strategies do you use for Back To School?

Sample Artist Signature for Sally Fischer
Can you see "S" and "fish+er" ?