Monday, June 6, 2016

First Week Procedures

For the last month of school I was asked frequently by the new teachers I coach if I would go over some "first week of school" thinking with them. I said absolutely, but spent some time on my own thinking about my delivery of this information. Ultimately, I wrote a day-by-day plan, with many footnotes, covering what I did, why I did it, and how I did it. So, mainly implementing classroom rules without ever explicitly covering them, and the teaching-learning strategies that I would consistently use throughout the upcoming school year.

As I met with the teachers to review the material, we found that chunking my plans and discussing and asking/answering questions worked best to get us through. Those teachers asked some of the best questions! We managed to make it through my plan, but the teachers, in my opinion, didn't get enough time to begin a "vision" of their own. I know they each took copious notes and I look forward to seeing how their plans work out this upcoming school year.

What follows is a "rough" of my first week plan. I look forward to your questions, comments, observations.

<Radcliff's First Week Procedures>

Students often arrive the first day of school expecting to do nothing during their classes, or expecting to hear the teacher drone on about class rules and expectations. Many don’t even bother to bring any materials. On top of this, schedule changes are still occurring and from my view, there’s no point in covering class rules and expectations if there are going to be schedule changes resulting in some students (late transfers and adds) never learning these very important things.

After some reflection on this, I decided to set the tone of my classroom, and the school year, on the first day, establishing my expectations through the work and activities I establish the first week. I don’t necessarily specifically set out my rules and expectations to students, but they are reinforced through verbal and physical statements I make throughout the week. By the beginning of the next week, when I might go over the syllabus (sometimes I wait until the third week, but I seldom review the entire syllabus; instead, I highlight what's most important and assign its reading as homework), students have a very clear understanding of my rules, expectations, and tone for my classroom. They learn very quickly that I mean business, and that learning will happen every day, from one bell to the next. No exceptions.

On my door is a sign that states the following:

  1. Enter quietly and respectfully
  2. Pick up handout if there is one
  3. Sit down at your desk and begin the Do Now
  4. Be prepared to learn!

Day 1
A test.

What type and degree of test depends on the grade level and course level. As an English teacher, I always give a writing assignment. I think this works with just about any content because it serves as a revealing agent for learning about students, and their abilities (both as readers and writers) [for math, I’d probably give a performance task that is at least two grades below so that I could get a true feeling for students’ ability to fully and clearly explain their thinking].

Here’s a sample of what the first day looks like for the student.

Students walk in the door. On the board, or PPT slide, are very clear directions:

Students: Sit where ever you like, but choose wisely. Be quiet; if you talk you will be
directed to a different seat.

Take out a sheet of paper. Label it on the left side with your full name as I will see it on
my roster, and below that your class period.

On your paper, respond to the following:
Write a short essay (4-6 paragraphs) explaining the qualities that make you a good, or
conversely, a not so good, student. Be sure that you provide details and examples to
illustrate your point.

Do NOT copy the instructions. Staple any planning of your writing to the back of your
As students are walking in, I greet them at the door and direct them to the instructions. Once the bell rings, if some students are not moving on the assignment yet, I will briefly state that this is how class operates every day, and that they had better get used to following this routine.

If a student doesn’t have paper or pen, I will provide this for them; however, I do very clearly let them know that is will be the last time and that they will be expected to bring these items every single day for the rest of the year. Period.

Usually, this writing activity takes the entire period. I have run into both of the following situations and handled them as follows:

  1. A student writes very little and is satisfied with it. I create some packets of “work” to keep on hand for these students to keep them busy. It’s usually fill in the blank type of grammar practice that I can pull from the internet and copy. I collect that as part of the essay writing and inform the student it will be part of her/his grade.
  2. A student doesn’t finish within the time allotted. I accept the work as-is and assure the student that it will not be held against her/him--as long as the student was using the time wisely.

As the students are working, I am circulating. ALWAYS PRESENT. I look over students’ shoulders, provide suggestions and feedback; I want them to know I’m there; I’m paying attention; but also that I want to assist them so that they are comfortable asking questions. If students are doing nothing, then I have mini-talks with them about what to expect all year and encourage them to get started, going so far as helping them with the first lines, providing some sentence frames (the essay cheat sheet).

On top of that, I have my empty seating chart on a clipboard and am walking up and down rows writing student names, asking them questions while using their names so that I can learn their names quickly: "Alex, tell me about your summer?" (I try to use each student's name at least three times.) This will serve as my temporary seating chart until I am convinced I need to make changes. [Sometimes I never have to make changes!]

About two minutes before class is finished, I will direct students’ attention to the “inbox” at the front of the room and the homework assignment beside the inbox. If I teach multiple preps, I will have a different inbox for each course, eg English 2, AP Lit, etc., and they will be labeled by the course name. I instruct students that when the bell rings, NOT before, they will place their class work in the box. I keep a stapler beside the box for students who need to staple. I explain that any work created during class gets placed in the box at the end of class, not during. I also draw students’ attention to the stack of homework. I explain that the instructions are very clear and that the homework should be completed for tomorrow as we will be using it for our activity tomorrow and that if the work is not finished, they cannot participate in the activity. So, after they place their work in the box, they take the homework and depart. (The bell will ring as I am stating this final part.)

Side Note: Learning to pace the speed of speaking and activities is super important. Video yourself to watch for this. I strongly feel it's something most of us don't realize we need work at.

So what do I do with this assignment? I read and score them with the “stacking” method. That is I internally know my 1 - 4 rubric and as I read I am placing the work into the appropriate stack. I read without a pen in my hand--this is strictly a placement essay. This work informs me on many levels! (I may maintain a “Notes on Writing” where I keep track of the types of errors I see, or notes on what I may need to cover as far as writing and essay development). When I’m finished, I go through and write the score on the top right corner of each essay. When I enter these as a grade, I give everyone the same score; however, in the notes I write the essay’s score and any thoughts I may remember about this student’s writing.

While this may seem like a time-consuming task, it goes rather quickly, and like I’ve stated, it reveals myriad things about my students. I use what I learn to plan for the year, sequence lessons, create work teams, scaffold information, provide supports, and approach students on where I want them aiming.

I start reading that day because I want to have all this finished by the end of the week so I can begin planning my work teams. (Work teams is what other people may call groups. I prefer the term "team" because to students, it connotes working together toward a common goal; whereas, "group" I feel has negative connotations.)

On Day One, I’m also having my TA create popsicle sticks for all students enrolled. I will begin using them tomorrow. I also have the TA type up the seating charts so that I can have multiples to use over the next couple of weeks while I am deciding work teams and appropriate seating.

When you are planning this activity, put yourself into your students’ shoes and think realistically about how long it will take most of them to finish. If it’s a shorter task, then you will need to have something else for them to do. I prefer tasks that take the entire period. You want them to divine that they will be working bell-to-bell on grueling tasks every single day. So, you may create a series of cascading tasks that all relate to one another, but ensure it’s enough to fill the time, maybe even a little too much.

Lastly, I tend to give a short, easy-ish homework assignment on this first day. This is ironic because I seldom give homework over the year, but on this week, remember, I am setting the tone and I want my students to know that I’m 100% business about teaching and learning. I have a handout “Reading Inventory” that I generally give. It asks students to track the different things they’ve read throughout the day, the type of reading they do, etc. For most students, it’s fun to do and engaging. [Something like this could be easily created for math!]

Day 2
I greet students at the door and instruct them to pick up the packet that is beside their course’s inbox. This is a procedure that will be in-place all year--any handouts will always be beside the inbox and students are expected to pick up the handout as they enter the classroom. I also advise them to begin the Do Now as soon as they sit. Class begins nearly everyday with a Do Now; however, every day there are instructions posted in the overhead. I personally use a composition book where I write out all the instructions. This is useful in many ways!!! (If a student is absent the book can be consulted; I write myself notes about where we left off; I have myriad writing samples from “live” writing; I will note absent / tardy students; and so on.)

For this week, students can complete their Do Now’s on separate paper, but today I will tell them that they need a composition book for this class (and provide an example) by Monday, as well as blue or black pens and colored pens/pencils. These can be purchased at the Dollar Store or CVS or Rite Aid, but I usually have purchased some to keep on hand for those who "can't".

The Do Now would look something like this:

Take out your homework and place it on the right corner of your desk. Then,

In your composition book, discuss the following:
[insert a compelling question]


During the Do Now, I will walk around the room and check off the students who have their homework completed. My seating chart doubles as a grade book. I use a different colored pen for each day of the week and simply put a checkmark or a zero under the student’s name. I always time the Do Now, and having a digital timer projected is really nice for you and for the students. Once the time is up, I will introduce Pair-Share and my expectations for Pair-Share. I explicitly teach this right now. It will take five minutes or less and over the week I will continue to reinforce what I’ve taught. After the mini-lesson and demonstration, I ask students a specific question (that can be broadly interpreted) about their Do Now and then instruct them to Pair-Share. I assign a time limit and set the timer. Students learn very quickly that I time pretty much every interaction and stick to the times as my lessons are designed around Pair-Share and discussion and so need to adhere to these time limits in order to be completed during the class period. After the Pair-Share, I will call on students using the popsicle sticks. I do not accept “I don’t know” or any refusal; all students will share. I explain to students that I have high expectations for every student and therefore they will all participate. I will also take this opportunity to coach students through their responses. I repeat back to the student what they’ve said, and might ask the class a question about a response. Once I’ve called on at least three non-volunteers, I might open the floor to volunteers. I usually only call on two or three.

From here, I will direct students to turn to their homework. I will pop a blank form under the document camera to write in students' responses and discuss the importance of the activity and how it will relate to the unit. From here, I will give students four minutes to Pair-Share what they discovered / learned about their reading habits from completing the form--two minutes per student. I’ll set the timer for two minutes two times. After students have completed their partner discussion, I will pop some frames under the camera and ask students to write in their composition books some impressions of what their partner said. They can use the frames or just use them as inspiration to get started. I review the parameters of my expectations and then give students two minutes to write. After that, I call on at least three non-volunteers to share what their partner discovered.

What to do with the students who didn’t finish their homework? I’ve handled this in various ways.
  1. I’ve completely ignored that the work didn’t get completed, but the student gets a zero. I then discuss after the Pair-Share how it’s hard for their discussion partner to complete her/his side of the Pair-Share if her/his partner has nothing to discuss. I emphasize that homework, and classwork, is not just for the student doing it, but for the whole class’s benefit because we are a learning community and that means that we are all learning from each other, myself included.
  2. I’ve sent them to a time-out teacher to complete the assignment while the class is working on the Do Now. I give the same talk as above.
  3. I’ve separated the students away from the rest of class and had a talk about the importance of completing their work and how this will affect them throughout the year if they continue on this path. I give them the Do Now to complete the assignment.
  4. I do this regardless of grade level or class!
In all cases, I remind students that they are setting up a system of failure and that if they want to be successful, that they must stay on top of things. And then I promise that I will not ever let them slide in my class.

From here, we will move to the packet. The packet will be the first unit of the school year and it’s usually related to literacy.

Days 3-5
These days follow the same routine as Day 2. I continue to reinforce the Entry Procedures (pick up any work from beside the inbox, come in quietly, get started immediately, arrive prepared with composition book and pen), Pair-Share procedures, non-volunteer calling, and exit procedures (any work generated goes into inbox). At least twice a week, I will assign a Ticket out the Door, which I stand at the door and collect as students depart.

In the unit, I will have my own annotations of what I want to explain, the questions I will ask for checks for understanding and to formatively assess. I use a different packet for each class period and label it for the class that way I know what we covered from day to day to aid me in planning for the next day.

If I finish with the planned lesson prior to the bell, I will have students write a Ticket Out the Door describing an Ah-Ha moment from the lesson, or what else they think they need to learn to complete the final project (or something along these lines). NEVER let a class hang for any time at all at the end. This will totally change the tone and I never want that to happen as it is very difficult to recover or reestablish it.

Rules and behaviors I am reinforcing the first week:

  1. Entry / Exit procedures. If students do not enter and behave accordingly, I will ask them, “is that how we enter this classroom?” Usually a student will answer, “no”. At that point, I’ll tell them, “OK, then please go outside and try again.” Pick up any assignments at the inbox. (Next week I will teach about turning in homework.) Ticket Out the Door, work in inbox.
  2. I make a point of being at the door to greet students as they enter. I practice their names by saying, “Hi ____________, glad you could make it today!” I do a lot of fist bumping (I don’t like to shake hands -- for me personally this is a germ thing and as a teacher I need to make every effort to remain healthy.) This lets them know I know them and care about their presence.
  3. Straight to work; follow the Do Now instructions.
  4. How to effectively Pair-Share.
  5. How to use sentence frames in speaking and writing.
  6. We are a learning community. They can trust me, their peers, and the community. I will be their “coach” throughout the year.
  7. Everyone remains seated throughout the lesson. All activity occurs as exiting--trash thrown away, assignments stapled and turned in.
  8. High expectations for all students. I treat everyone fairly and hold them all to the same expectations.
  9. That I take marks for everything they do in class from homework, to do now, to discussion, to speaking, etc.
  10. That I am always present--wandering the room, asking questions, answering questions, supporting their progress, prompting them to get on task, etc.
  11. Come to class prepared and ready to learn.