In just over a week, we’re heading back to school, and as I get ready to plan for January, I’m contemplating a small change and a big change. What better time to start fresh than in a new year!
My small change is to our entry routine. When the students come into class, I always have the agenda up on the SMART Board, and they write it in their agenda books, take a photograph of it and text it to their parents, or email it to their parents. Then I usually have them read quietly for a few minutes until announcements are over. The truth is though that most students don’t want to read quietly for these few minutes: they want to talk. They need to talk! I’m wondering if giving them this “talking time” would help with self-regulation and make them more ready to learn later. Let them share the story they need to share, so that they’re not thinking about this story or trying to share this story during the lesson in a couple of minutes. And for those students that don’t want to talk, why not give them the chance to read, write, or draw quietly? They’ve told me that this is what they like to do, and now they’d have the opportunity to do this. It’s only for five minutes, but maybe it’s the five minutes that they need get ready for learning. What do you think?
My big change is to our schedule. I’m really struggling teaching period by period. As we embrace a more inquiry approach to learning, these 40 minute blocks do not give enough time for students to think, question, and explore. We need more integration. Ideally half of the day would be for Language and half would be for Math, and Science, Social Studies, Health, and The Arts would be fully integrated throughout. I did this when I taught Grades 1 and 2, so I know that it’s possible, but there are some big shifts to consider:
1) The Schedule On The Board – Right now, I have all of the periods listed on the blackboard, and beside each one, I have a card outlining what we’re doing that period (e.g., Period 1 – Modelled Reading). While all of the students look to this schedule to figure out what they need to bring to class and what the day will include, this schedule is especially beneficial for my students with autism. They set-up their own schedules based on these plans, and they definitely need this routine. So how do I meet all student needs if the schedule now just says, “Language” and “Math” (with prep subject periods included where they occur)? Here’s my thought: what if beside the words “Language” and “Math,” I break down the periods into smaller chunks? I can show the students when we’ll be doing Shared, Modelled, and Guided Reading and Writing. The timing may not be exact, but it could add more structure to the day for those students that need it. What do you think?
2) AWARD (Applied Writing and Reading Daily) Time – This is our guided reading and literacy centre time. Based on a blog post comment from our vice principal, Kristi, we started to integrate Social Studies into AWARD Time prior to the Break. Students enjoyed reading, writing, and creating in different ways based on our Social Studies topic. Many students were concerned though as they were reading and responding to novels that they wanted to finish, but that did not tie into our Social Studies topic. We looked at how they could spend a portion of their time on these integrated activities and a portion of their time on these non-integrated activities (assuming that both helped them meet their reading and writing goals). The students really liked the compromise, and seemed to balance their time well.
While I’d like to continue this integrated approach in January (on our Science topic now), I also plan on making a change. To start AWARD Time, we’re going to have some mini-literature circle groups. In January, these groups will read various articles related to our new Science topic on the human body. The articles will vary by group. Each group will focus on various reading comprehension strategies that we worked on from September-December. Sometimes these strategies will be the same for everyone, and sometimes they’ll be different. It all depends on student needs. While the groups are reading and discussing their articles, I’ll also be working with a guided group on a different article.
I’m making this change because I want students to read and respond to their reading more, and these quasi-literature circles will help do that. This also allows me to take a guided group when all of the other students are reading: ensuring that I do not pull students when they are in the middle of a project with their peers. As we integrate more, students are creating more of their own group projects, and I hate pulling them from these. This approach also helps with integration, as the reading that students do will correspond to our Science topic: giving them even more information that they can use for other reading and writing activities. What do you think?
3) Layout Of Materials – Before the Break, I was talking to some teachers about the Full-Day Kindergarten Program. Many teachers were concerned that students would not learn what they need to learn in this new model. I said that this learning can definitely occur, but as teachers, we may just need to be more creative. For example, if students are learning about patterns, maybe there needs to be a pattern provocation at the cars, at the paint centre, at the blocks, and in the creative play area. Let students go where they want, but when they get there, they’ll see this provocation, and in time, they’ll respond to it in what they say and what they do. Maybe this is my own wishful thinking, but it makes sense to me. So why aren’t I doing this more in our classroom? I need to start putting books and writing materials out in more places. Possibly even laying out some sentence starters will get students to write more as they reflect on what they’ve read and what they’ve done. I’m hoping that making more deliberate choices about what I put out where, will get students to read, write, and think more (regardless of the subject area). What do you think?
I’m excited about all of these changes, but I know that they’ll probably require some tweaking throughout the year. Hopefully the students can help me with this tweaking as they share their thoughts on these changes. What are your initial thoughts on these changes? What initial “tweaks” would you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts!