Friday, August 3, 2012

Two Ways to Get Kids Invested in the Classroom

(I know that I was going to write about summarizing and the Common Core again, but I just didn't feel like it. Hey, it's summer!)

I invest a great deal of time thinking about the classroom. And I want kids to be as invested in the classroom as possible. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I've had students ask, "What subject is this?" Moving from science to social studies to writing in one classroom in one morning makes for a whirlwind time. The topics that I can keep so clearly delineated in my head tend to all blur together for students.

As I plan for the coming school year, then, one of my important questions to consider is, "How can I make sure that kids are invested?" I want kids to do more than just go through the motions. I want them to know what subject it is!

Here are two things that I plan to do this year.

1. Weekly Bulletin
I started using this again in the middle of last year, shortly after the "What subject is this?" incident. This is a great tool to use to keep everyone on track. With the Weekly Bulletin, I plan out the essential questions and assignments for the week. Students get their own copies of the Weekly Bulletin. This way, everyone knows the essential questions and what they need to accomplish.

Is it hard to create? Well, yes and no. On the example, you'll notice that my Weekly Bulletin only covers the classes that I teach to my homeroom--science, social studies, and writing. Too many subjects can be overwhelming for kids (and teachers!) From a planning viewpoint, the Weekly Bulletin forces me to think about the upcoming week in advance and get everything ready. Definitely a good thing!

Morning and dismissal work becomes much easier. Students know to consult their Weekly Bulletins to look at what they should be doing. Instead of making extra work for students to do during these times, I can keep them working on our regular curriculum. With the Weekly Bulletin, I was able to accomplish at least one writing prompt per week in the content areas.

2. Self-monitoring chart
Another goal that I have is to help students pay attention to their own behavior. Can they make good choices? Are they able to see the patterns of their behavior across the day? I made a simple self-monitoring chart to help them consider this. When there are problems in the day, I ask the students to record the issues themselves. This helps them to see what is happening and take responsibility for their actions. It works well for smaller issues (forgetting a pencil = not being proactive) and bigger issues (unkind words on the playground = not thinking before acting). I sometimes observe kids putting tallies on their sheets without my prompting, both positive and negative. This kind of thinking shows that students are taking notice of what goes on.

 I change the goals at the top frequently to reflect what is happening in the classroom. Sometimes students even make suggestions for what to add there.

These two tools help students to understand what is going on in the classroom--and become more invested in our daily routines and activities.

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