Saturday, August 21, 2010

The First Day!

Three more days...and then the students will arrive. While I'm sad to see the end of summer, I am starting to feel a little bit of excitement for the new school year. (Thank heavens!) I can't help but think about what I'm going to do the first day, scribbling down notes on whatever paper I can find.

My focus for the first few days of school will be to help students realize how they can be great learners. Most of my fourth graders are a little anxious about the challenges of the new grade. I want them to get learning and feel successful right from the start.

I've already planned to do the What's Missing game from the Think-ets set, probably during my first few science sessions. While my first day's schedule is not entirely finished, here are two things that I know I'll be doing.

Distraction (from The Forest and the Trees): Too often, students don't realize that they have control over their attention. They allow themselves to be distracted by all of the little things going on in the room. I have to get students to realize their role in paying attention right from the start. After all, in my room, we can have two fans blowing, classes walking by in the hallway, birds chirping outdoors, and even the town's volunteer fire siren going off right down the hill. If students allow each little noise to be a distraction, they will have a very fractured learning experience.

The game of Distraction is simple. A student reads aloud from an informational book. During the reading, I zoom around the room, trying to be as distracting as possible. The kids think that this is really funny! After the reading is over, I ask students five simple questions based on the reading. Their success depends on how well they were able to tune out the distractions and focus on the reading. Then we talk about how they were successful or not. Invariably, some students are good at this, and can explain their strategies to others. We try it a few more times so that students can try out the strategies and see success.

Schema Maps: One of the tasks for the first day of school is a school tour. My fourth graders are new to the school, so a tour is definitely needed. This year, I'm going to combine the tour with a discussion of schema.

Early in the morning, I'm going to ask students to try to create a map of our school, labeling as many features as they know. They will probably find this challenging! Then, we'll walk around the school with our original maps on clipboards. Students will be able to make changes as we go. When we return to the room, we'll make new maps to show what we have learned. This will be an introduction to schema. Students will have a concrete example of how they can add to and change their schema. And our school tour--one of my least favorite first day chores--will have an added dimension of learning.

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