Thursday, July 24, 2008

Things That Surprise Me About First Grade...

(After 10 years of teaching 4th or 5th grades)
  • the tables are shockingly low
  • the rooms are much more student-centered in set-up and organization than most upper grade rooms
  • the stories of the kids are just as funny, if not funnier
  • the instructional debates and decisions are astoundingly difficult (do we use paper or journals for independent writing, should these books remain at school or should they take them home, can we model two or three ways to do that math problem or should we only show one, etc.) *
  • the bathroom (at least in my classroom) is huge and I can't come up with any sanitary way to use that space instructionally
  • there is significantly less planning time for some reason
  • I'm just as nervous as I was on my first day of teaching fourth grade
* I'm actually completely serious about the difficulty of these decisions. Everything seems critical at this young age and it seems so easy to mess them up for years to come.


Michaele Sommerville said...

Welcome to the primary grades!

I'd suggest you keep the journals at school, in a predictable and easy-to-get-to spot. You never know when you'll need to produce a writing sample during an IEP meeting or conference, and first graders can still be a bit young and won't always remember to bring the journal back to school if they take it home for the evening. Feel free to encourage families/students to buy a notebook or keep paper in a binder at home for their "When I'm Not at School" journal. I've had students regularly bring THAT journal or things that they've written on the weekend from home for Show and Share.

Just wait 'til you accidentally try to sit down in one of their chairs as you work with one of your students! Your knees might be up around your ears!

You can usually hang posters or seasonal signs in the bathroom as long as they are laminated (you'll need to WIPE THEM DOWN each day because little germy hands WILL touch them when you're not looking) or hung high enough they can't be touched (which is difficult because the toilets are shorter). No stools or bookcases or benches can be in the bathroom because of the climbing/fall risk.

First grade math is still very hands on, three dimensional with math manipulatives. Most of the time students will mimic, follow the way you've taught them to arrive at an answer. Once they feel comfortable with their understanding and mastery, they really like being shown another "cool way" to do it. Your higher level thinking kids, or kids who think out of the box might stumble upon or demonstrate the cool way on their own, and will usually share it with their tablemates or center partner. Comfort is important for younger children, but they also love choice. They are very concerned with "doing it the right way," and will hesitate on doing it at all sometimes. I've found it's easier to work with the hesitant students one-on-one, showing them those alternate problem solving skills, that they can then use for understanding and mastery in the larger group, that will increase their level of comfort to encourage them during later lessons.

Don't forget to keep a stash of bandaids in your box. First graders still cry and want some nurturing.


I'm off to see if I can get into MY new classroom this morning!

Anonymous said...

I have taught in many grades including 1st and 5th. Even though I liked 5th for the student independence and ability, in the primary grades I saw for academic group from the beginning to the end of the year than in the upper elementary grades. I think you will find it challenging in the beginning and very rewarding in the end. Find a solid first grade mentor and listen to everything they say because there is no better resource than a seasoned first grade teacher.

Anonymous said...

"Even though I liked 5th for the student independence and ability, in the primary grades I saw MORE academic GROWTH from the beginning to the end of the year than in the upper elementary grades.

Sry fr the tipos :)

Anonymous said...

I concur with what the others have said. I've taught mostly uppers and only a tiny bit in primary. But, I feel that in uppers you see growth but it is incremental or you see them tackle one BIG thing for the year. With the littles, you see some HUGE change and growth in one year. Have fun! First grade is a GREAT age!

Splatypus said...

I put up our alphabet chart in the bathroom -- hey, give them somethign to read right?! I also know ofo a former 1st grade teacher who put up their famous Americans in the bathroom. It's precious reading time!!

Primary bathroom tip -- little boys are like drunken men. They miss, a lot. I have loads of clorox wipes that I push around on the floor - even after the custodians clean it!!

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Anonymous said...

This could be a meme.

I cannot imagine jumping down from the upper grades to the primary. WOW!

Tracey said...

No one would see these as real concerns unless they were a teacher. Some countries require all adult men to be in the military at least we should require all those wanting to have children to become teachers and serve 5 years before having their own kids.