Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beginning the School Year :2

Beginning the school year - some activities

My previous blog had ideas about beginning teaching and some links to articles with ideas to to think about. This blog just adds a few more.

Teaching is one profession where there is no shallow end. From day one you are presented with up to thirty plus young individuals for you to shape into a learning community; and every class community will be different. Even experienced teachers have second thoughts about starting a new class as at the end of the year they will have left students who have learnt to work with each other and their teacher.

Developing this learning community is the real challenge for any teacher. Good schools will provide structures, organisations and curriculum guidance to assist but it always worth having ideas up your sleeve.

First impressions count and the students' parents will be waiting to hear from their children what their teacher is like so it is important not to leave it to chance.

A good idea is to begin by introducing yourself to your students with a small potted history of yourself based around a number of questions. The students can then use this model ( or scaffold) to write up something similar to share with you or even, in small groups, with each other.It is a good idea for then to write a draft, or make a mind map, before they start - and this also you can model.

Keep this reasonably short and ask them for their best writing - this will give you an idea of their personal best they bring with them.

You might like to have 'mini lesson' on the school vision, mission and values and what they mean if they are available. This could be developed later into a class treaty of expectations and positive behaviours and linked to a 'mini study' on the Treaty of Waitangi. If so it is a good idea to get them to draft out , or mind map, their 'prior views'. After this done students can complete research to clarify their knowledge.

The idea of valuing students 'prior' ideas, or skills, should be part of all learning activities.

During the first day you might share with them one of the best things ( most memorable or exciting) you did during the holidays. Then get them to do something similar. Emphasize the importance of writing as if they were back in the situation, what they felt , heard. or saw, and get them to write about what they were thinking at the time. This is an opportunity to introduce students to the idea of valuing their personal 'voice' and going for quality - not length or most words.

Think of continuing this personal narrative writing throughout the year as a weekly occurrence - completing one from idea, draft to realisation once a week in a writing journal . This is the best way to let students know you value their experiences and for them to contribute to developing a learning identity.

Personal narratives can be illustrated ( often for homework) but, if so, students need to be taught the skill of powerful drawing. Some students will have already decided that they are not artists and, if so, this is a chance to change their minds. One idea is to get them to complete a self portrait with their biros. First let them draw without instruction ( to see their 'prior' skills) and then guide them ( 'scaffold' them) through the process. This is another chance to introduce the idea of quality. Once again value individual differences. The lesson is outlined in the link on the previous blog.

One way to develop students drawing or illustrative skill is to base their drawing on a digital photo of themselves - possibly doing something exciting during their holidays. If so get them to focus on the dramatic aspects, or close up views, not long distance shots. Combine their portraits with them holding perhaps a fish or some food for example. Get them to include as much texture, or details, as they can.

Both the above can be expanded to develop as a major piece of art.

Another way is to get some school journals and then students to select an illustration they like and to copy it into their language book. It maybe be useful for them to copy only part of the drawing to introduce the idea of focus. When complete add the artists name. This is an excellent language activity and illustrates to the students wide range of artists styles and genres ( there lots of approaches to being an artist from the real to the bold). This is a fun activity to use whenever new journal arrive.

Observational drawing, a vital science/art skill, is a good activity to get students to do. Once again get then to draw an object ( kawakawa leaves are great) without instruction to assess their 'prior skill' and then instruct them to draw carefully, to go slow, and to take their time. The two efforts be compared and lessons drawn from the activity.If you are planning a small environmental study then this skill can be put to use. A 'mini study' of cicadas is one idea, or shells collected from the seashore during the holidays. Wild flowers, grasses or a flax study are possible studies.

A good idea for maths ( after you have surveyed their prior attitudes ) is to study what maths is and get them to research the history of number development through the ages. You could cover how different cultures have their own number system. Find out who developed the zero and why it is so important. It is important to humanize maths if all students are to gain a 'feeling for' the subject. Famous mathematicians can be researched. It pays to keep maths as applied as possible.

It might be useful to share with them the main ideas of each Learning Area covered in the New Zealand Curriculum if so make time to gain their collective 'prior ideas' first. The main ideas coud be copied into one of their books?

For writing,after you have assessed their handwriting abilities, it is fun for the class to research the development of writing from cave drawing to word processors. The history of writing ,and the various writing media, is a fascinating one.

One final thought.

All students buy a set of exercise books to begin the year. Some schools I know have reinvented these books as portfolios as they ought to show qualitative improvement (the Japanese call this continual small improvement 'kaizen'). The first days of school is the time to introduce students to this expectation. It is a good idea to introduce them to simple graphic presentation ideas. It is also a good idea to aim, by Easter, for all books to show improvement.In the schools that have developed their books as portfolios all books are sent home before parent interviews for their comments and later to discuss during interviews.

When a research study is undertaken students should be shown design or graphic 'scaffolds' to help them present their work. As with all 'scaffolds' it is important, that once in place, students be encouraged to show their individuality and creativity.

One you have thought out all the possibilities map out a programme for day one and week one. If you are in a proactive school your fellow team member will provide you with ideas to include.

Share your daily plan with the students at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day (and each activity) have reflective session to clarify what has been learnt. At the end of the day discuss with the class the three main things learnt during the day - their mothers will want to know!

Even if you don't use all the above suggestions they all remain available for later use. It is important to do fewer things well in depth.

The overall 'message' you want to leave with them is that you want them to do their best work - to aim for quality; you want then to to value their own 'voices', experiences, questions and ideas; and you want them to value their individuality and creativity. This is the essence of a learning community.

Best of all slowing their pace of work (many students will arrive with a 'first finished is best' attitude) will help you to get them to value perseverance and effort and to develop a concept of personal excellence.

Not a bad start.

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