Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Reading and Writing Handbook

Papers can quickly become overwhelming in the ELA classroom! I've learned that if I don't have a plan for where students will put their papers and when these papers will become obsolete, folders quickly fill up with extraneous pages. No one can find anything!

For easy classroom organization, I provide my students with a one-inch binder. This binder becomes a place to store ongoing ELA work as well as to keep texts and resources. However, this hasn't always worked perfectly. Despite my exhortations to "Clip papers at the back of your binders!", sometimes papers just don't end up where I had intended.

For the past two years, I've been planning to create a Reading and Writing Handbook--a one-stop shop of resource pages for students to keep at the front of their binders. After months of planning and thinking, I finally put together 30 pages of my favorite resources for students!

My goal is to be able to say, "Let's turn to page___" and discuss whatever is on that page. Sometimes the pages will be for instruction; sometimes I'll just put the page number on the board as a reference. If your students are like mine, they probably ask again and again for the definition of theme. Now I can just say, "Remember, if you'd like to review what theme means, turn to page 13 in your Reading and Writing Handbook."

I'm really excited to try out this handbook and see how it works in the classroom! If you have any questions or would like to see a resource added, please let me know. I'd love to hear what works and what is needed in other schools.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Classroom Jobs for Sixth Grade

      When I first moved from middle school to elementary school, I debated whether or not to have classroom jobs. Aren't assigned jobs a little too childish for sixth graders? Would they roll their eyes at the very idea?
      I quickly learned two important lessons:

  • Sixth graders enjoy having jobs, and
  • Classroom work has to get done!

     But what jobs to have? And how to select them? Over the years, I've asked myself this question again and again, finally settling on a pretty easy and manageable system that requires very little of my input through the year.

The job chart

I used library pockets on a big piece of poster board. Students write their names on the top of an index card, and then I or someone else chooses cards at random and students place their cards in the pocket of their choice.

I have enough jobs for half the class. If I have too many jobs, then there are too many jobs that simply just don't have enough to do. With student input, we also double up on some jobs as we see fit.

Messenger: Takes the attendance folder in the morning, runs other errands as necessary
Technology Specialist: Moves the mobile lab in and out as needed, hands out and collects computers
Naturalist: Depending on what animals we have in the classroom, this person feeds the fish and handles other animal care
Recess Games Organizer: This person manages recess equipment for indoor and outdoor recess
Pencil Manager: Makes sure that there are sharpened pencils available and handles pencil sharpener care
Art Supply Manager: Hands out and organizes art supplies like colored pencils and markers
Astronomer: Changes the moon phase posters
Science Assistant: Helps with whatever science experiments are going on in a given week
Botanist: Waters the plants
Ornithologist: Refills the birdfeeders and makes sure that bird data is being kept
Manager: Makes sure that everyone is doing their jobs! The manager also substitutes for other jobs if students are absent
Distributor: Hands out papers
Closet Organizer: Student belongings are kept in a closets that quickly get messy! The closet organizer checks the closets and makes sure that things are kept neat
Mathematician: We find that we have many math tasks, including adding minutes for Preferred Activity Time, charting temperature data, and making a Calendar Math Schedule
Librarian: Puts up book displays, manages the book sign out binder

Be sure to leave an empty pocket or two to add jobs as needed!

Changing Jobs

I like to change jobs every week. Usually, we end up with Wednesday or Thursday as the rotation day. Because I pair this with my classroom economy, students get a salary for completing a job. (Last year I made the salary be $100, but this led to ridiculous inflation. I'm thinking I'll start at $25 this year.) The manager hands out the salaries by taking the index cards from the pockets to use as a reference. While this is happening, someone else is handing out the cards for the half of the class that hadn't had a class that week.

I have experimented with job applications, but I've found that they take too much time when I'm trying to run the classroom jobs in the background of our other classroom activities.

Besides, with an open job policy, students can try out all kinds of different jobs. Do students gravitate to certain favorites? Of course! However, by handing out the cards randomly, I try to control for this.

Class Culture

The jobs chart becomes an integral part of who we are as a class. One student, trying to read the chart from across the room, misread "Distributor" as "Disruptor". He thought it was hilarious that I would have Disruptor as a job! From then on, when students spoke out of turn everyone always chided them, "It's not your turn to be the Disruptor this week."

The job chart is also a chance for vocabulary building. It takes time for students to sort out Botanist vs. Ornithologist, but these are great real-world experiences for them.

Are there times when students don't do their assigned jobs? Yes, it happens. The Manager usually does a good job of reminding people what to do.

I find that this method of managing jobs leaves plenty of room for students to take over the system and turn it into their own. Some years they do, and the jobs morph into something amazing. Some years they don't, which is fine as well...every class is different.

What jobs do you have in your classrooms?