Friday, December 19, 2008

Halfway to What?

I'm halfway through my first year in first grade. I've said before that it was surprisingly challenging to adjust to the move from fifth grade to first. A lot of it is getting better. The credit for that goes, in great part, to the literacy coach and the special education teacher that I work with. They have been willing to problem solve with me and have been great models for me to watch.

There are so many things that are beginning to feel comfortable. I'm getting the hang of making the content accessible for first graders. I'm beginning to understand how they are learning and how I can help that process. The biggest problem I'm still facing in classroom management. It's painful. For the five or six years prior to this one, classroom management required little thought or effort. It felt natural and I had a huge bag of tricks ready for when things got a little more challenging.

Now, I feel like my responses are all wrong. I'm unable to anticipate quickly enough and head off problems. I haven't figured out how to redirect students in order to help them refocus. And, worst of all, I spend way too much time yelling - not helpful. This is my big goal for 2009. I expected classroom management to be a challenge, but I underestimated how big a challenge.

I'm open to any suggestions of good books, websites, and other resources to help me mull this over.


The Science Goddess said...

Let me preface this comment with the disclaimer that I have not taught first grade---just served as an instructional coach. But the best classroom teacher I have worked with in 18 years was (and still is) a first grade teacher in a high poverty school.

I think what worked so well in her room was just rechanneling the energy. For example, if it was the afternoon and kids weren't focusing on the math lesson, she had them all stand up. They got in a line and the leader led them around the room...then the next kid was leader and could lead a loop of jumping...and so on for about 5 minutes. Kids sat down and were ready to focus on math for 10 minutes or so. She just took what kids were giving her (even if they were just plain squirrely) and used it to promote learning.

I think seating arrangements made a difference in her class---the ability to move that one kid who was having a bad day close to her desk (or just by the window for awhile). Kids always knew what the next thing was---they might be asked to sit in their tiny chairs and finish the math, but then they should get a book from the tubs. That sort of pacing really seemed to work---and keep kids from finding trouble to get into.

Good luck! I have to say that first grade is my "happy place." I loved being in those classrooms and am dying to go back!

Angela Watson said...

I think you've done amazingly well this year, considering. 5th to 1st is a HUGE jump! Your willingness to try new things and adjust your expectations has taken you far. :-)

I have a ton of free classroom management resources on my website ( It's a collection of all the ideas I've amassed over the last ten years teaching PreK-3. Hope you find something useful.

Anonymous said...

I am a current first grade teacher with FCPS. The county is offering an *amazing* class in the spring about the Fred Jones book called "Tools for Teaching". It talks about positive classroom management. I wish I could remember the exact name of the course. I took it at the end of the my first year, and it changed my entire career. The course is taught by a middle school teacher, but the basic principles are universal. I've read the book six times (and counting!), taken a workshop with Dr. Jones to train other teachers, and am currently mentoring a younger teacher in my school. The course is video-based, with lots of time for practice and discussion. I really can't recommend the class enough. I've just moved down from second grade, but I know that I've only had a tiny taste of what your year must have been like. Good luck in 2009.

Jpm said...

I teach kindergarten and this year I have had to up my game on classroom managment. I did however go to a responsive classroom conference last year. Some stuff is helping. I will be checking back to see if you found something that works maybe I can steal it.

AMY T said...

i am so impressed by your humility: recognizing what's not working and asking for some help to change it.

Anonymous said...

This is also my first year in first, though my leap was a lot less than yours. You've gotten some good advice.

This is what has been working for me...most days at least. I do a lot of Responsive Classroom stuff in my room, do as much physical redirection as possible, and I do a 20 minute indoor do what you really wanted to do all morning recess. Yes, recess. I find that it very powerful to tell the kids that they can do whatever it is they really want to do, like make a train out of the unifix cubes or read the read aloud book all by themselves or write all their friends names on the board and put 23 checks after them at recess. As long as I don't skip recess too much, they trust me and their willing to go along with the dumb phonics game for a few more minutes.

We have an extended day and an amazing amount of control over our schedules, so this might not work for everyone, but I've really come to a place where I believe that time spent fighting the children is NOT educational and should be spent giving back a little of the freedom they give up by being in school.


Anonymous said...

I am not a 1st grade teacher but I have observed many 1st grade classes. Some were very good. The best had a number of seating arrangements within the room at one time. There was the rug space, the instructional centers, the desks and the small group table. Having these available gave the teacher a number of seating options when teaching her class. Kids were changing settings almost every 20 minutes. The constent movement kept even the most ADHD kids engaged and stimulated. These teachers also tolerated a appropriate level of instructional "noise".

Another suggestion is a non-verbal signal to get their attention. I never use my voice or lights to get their attention. I use a bell. Some use a non-verbal hand signal. Some use a clapping pattern. Either way you are not yelling.

Finally, a first grade teacher I know uses a ticket system. Every child starts off with a certain number of tickets a week. She takes away tickets for unacceptable behaviors. At the end of the week she has a small amount of "free play" that children with tickets can participate in. Children with no tickets either make-up unfinished work or work quietly with the teacher. It may seem a little cruel at first but it completely works. Children with discipline problems can start with more tickets or have an opportunity to earn tickets back. The number one thing is to make sure they all get the free play the first week, so they always know what they are missing when they do the wrong thing.

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

I always thought slamming a book down on table worked really well with 1st graders? Sure a few of them will cry, but they'll be quiet for a few minutes.

;) Jokes. 1st graders scare me! I honestly cannot do what you are doing!

Melissa Kruger said...

While I have not taught first grade before I know how they are towards the end of their first grade year...(they bring it with them to second grade). Classroom management is a very difficult topic for any elementary teacher in my opinion. It never works the same way two years in a row! But I can suggest a great's called the FISH! Philosophy by John Christensen. It was originally created for a better workplace environment, but you can certainly adapt it for the classroom. I used it last year and it worked very well...unfortunately it didn't work with the crew that I inherited this year, but it may be a good start.

Michaele Sommerville said...

It might not help you now (apologies!!!!!) but remember all of your new tricks for next year...and use them A LOT- TRAIN next year's students to respond to your hand clap, a code word, anything, the first two or three weeks of school. I know, it seems like a long time- and make sure your face hurts from the smiles and constant verbal praise you use each and every time (I mean it, EACH AND EVERY TIME) your students respond correctly. Pavlovian, I know- but it gets the kids enjoying the positive feedback, trains them to respond to you immediately, and will be a terrific foundation for the remainder of the year. As much as you want to jump right into the curriculum head first the first two weeks of school, that time should really be spent building routines, a classroom attitude, students' confidence that they know what's going on as they work with you and their peers- the safe zone.


Katie said...

Oh the challenges of first graders! They're familiar/comfortable enough with school that now they're starting to see what they can and can't get away with. I've spent much time in 1st grade classrooms at the district where I substitute. They use a red light-green light system. Have you tried anything of that nature? Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

The title of that fcps course is classroom management. The section number is 51721. Good luck. :)

Michaele Sommerville said...

Psst, forgot to mention that I'm no longer maintaining the "Tending the Eclectic Kinder-Garden" site- all of my content can be found at Kindergarten's 3 R's. Thought you'd want to know if you were updating your blogroll!
:) Happy New Year.


Jenny said...

I can't describe how much I appreciate all of these thoughts. I have been coming back to look at these comments again and again for the past couple of weeks while we've been out of school. The ideas here are wonderful. I'll try to remember to post some updates as I try things out. Again, thank you to all of you.

stuckinmypedals said...

Hi, Jenny,
I've been loving teaching first grade for eleven years. Two of the things that helped me most were Harry Wong's First Days of School and Love and Logic. Love and Logic takes the power struggle out of things and provides words to use when you're about to lose your cool. We've all been in your shoes and it takes a lot of humility to ask for help. Way to go!