Thursday, July 25, 2013

School Year Successes

I have taught for 15 years and so, for 15 summers I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about all the things I did wrong or did not do in the previous year.

I want to break that habit and spend some time reflecting on the things that I did well. Some things, as I think back, are very small and some are pretty significant. But regardless, it's fun to celebrate the successes!
  • Classroom Set Up
I've taught three different grade levels in the past fifteen years, in four different classrooms, including a trailer. Classroom set up has always been fascinating to me. This year, for the first time, I got rid of my teacher desk. Looking back I can see a slow evolution as the classroom became less mine and more my students. They own the space and feel comfortable in all of it. I have a hard time keeping them out of my little corner where I keep my purse and lunch and stuff! I do need a little space that's just mine.

We've got lots of little tables, a low table, a high table, different kinds of chairs (including some bean bags), a couch, and various nooks and crannies. I hope the room is as open as it feels to me and as welcoming and comfortable.

  • Use of Pens
In many ways, this is really small. When I made the switch to first grade I also switched from pencils to pens for my students. My reasoning was that I didn't want them erasing all of their thinking. With pens I teach them to just cross out something and keep going. That allows me to see their thought process. That does work. But I found that pens have an added bonus - they don't have to be sharpened. The sharpening of pencils used to drive me crazy. It was noisy and distracting if done during the day. If I set a rule against that we would often run out of pencils because we didn't remember to sharpen them before the day got going. Now I trade the pencils my kids bring in with their supplies to other teachers for their pens. (This is getting harder to do as more and more teachers are discovering the joys of pens.) One tip, I do not buy pens that click and I remove the lids and get rid of them. I found them to be distracting.
  • Communication with Families
This is an area that I never feel I do well. Lucky for me, I had a parent this year point out all the positives here. I taught her older daughter a few years ago and had her son this last year. She told me that when her daughter moved on to second grade they had "Ms. Orr withdrawal" because they did not know what was going on in her classroom. She went on to detail for me all the ways they knew what was happening in my classroom.
  1. For homework every night my students must share about something from our day. I tell them what to share about (although they are welcome to share about more, of course!). Their homework is always three things: read, S.A. (share about) a part of our day, bed by 8. So they should be talking to their families about school every day. 
  2. Our class blog. I, and the students, try to write on the blog and post pictures about three times per week. That doesn't always happen but we're pretty consistent. I take pictures all the time, including art, P.E., music, library, lunch, recess. So this should give a pretty clear sense of our days.
  3. Postcards home - I try to write to every student once each quarter. When they do something fabulous, academically or socially or whatever, I grab a postcard and write to them about it. I write to the kid because getting mail is super fun when you're six and I'm sure the parents will see it too. It's a win-win.
This was fun! I'm sure there are other things that were good and I may write more later. I'd love to hear what you did well in the past school year. What was a strength? What will you definitely be doing again?


Sue VanHattum said...

For a few years, I've been trying to post before the semester starts about what I want to keep, what I want to add in, and what I want to change. It feels like a great way to prepare for a new school year.

I love how calculus worked out last year. I departed from the textbook dramatically, but still gave them homework from the textbook (it's college - they need to do more homework than I can otherwise provide). I changed the order of the topics, so it made more sense, and I introduced ideas with activities instead of lecture.

I used in my precalc class. That worked well.

I continued to allow students to retest, and I think the fact that I was giving them that gave them more courage to face a class that was doing math very differently. (In the past, students have complained when I ask them to figure things out. They're used to learning a procedure, and practicing it. That's not what math is about.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, this so neat! All my elementary classrooms teachers had fairly traditional set-ups. I think I would have loved your classroom as a first grader.
Nothing constructive to add just a thank you for giving us a glimpse inside your classroom :-)

Jenny said...

Sue, it is a great way to prepare for a new school year! I love that you've set your students up to take risks and feel confident in doing so. I certainly didn't have that in college.

sehauser, I think I would have loved it then too. That might be why I love it now!

Anonymous said...

Great success and nice strategies. Thanks for sharing! Hope you'll have another great successful year :)

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Tiffany said...

This is fantastic!