Friday, September 6, 2013

Building A Community of Learners

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Back to School! I can say that as an educator this time of year is always exciting. This school start has a special excitement, my grandson, Zackary, started Kindergarten. What a thrill it is to see school from his perspective with a fresh pair of little eyes. That milestone for our family caused me to pause in the midst of my “back- to- school” chaos to reflect on what an honor it is to share this journey of discovery and learning with children.

We teachers are truly blessed that we can hone our craft, reinvent our teaching practice and ourselves afresh each year. I know many of you are already back at it, but it’s not too late to make sure you are laying the foundation for an awesome school year.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you go through the first month of instruction.

·     Establish strong classroom community. It’s so tempting these days to jump right into content. The Common Core Standards are here and there is a lot of pressure to “get it all in.” However, if you skip the community-building step, you will find yourself dealing with lots more behavior “drama” issues than necessary all year long. Want to learn more about how to build community? Visit the Responsive Classroom. That site is FULL of great resources and ideas for community building.

Morning Meetings are a great way to start the school day with a positive sense of community. Now that I've seen the power of daily meetings and their impact on student attitudes and behavior, I would never teach without them again.

These are some of my favorite sources of professional books that I have collected over the years for morning meeting activities. Even if you don’t use “Morning Meeting,” some of these activities and ideas make great icebreakers at the beginning of the year.

·     Take time to teach procedures and routines. You already know this. It is the same idea as community- do it right up front so you don’t waste time for the rest of the year dealing with classroom procedures and routines. The goal is to enlist students in developing the classroom rules as well as management and procedures. This is the foundation of a classroom community with the goal of each student being a proficient self-regulated and independent literacy learner. Think of it as going slow to go fast.

I’ve just posted a great resource for teaching the procedures and management of Writing Workshop on my TpT store. 

Building A Community of Writers: Procedural Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons provides mini-lessons on the procedures you’ll want to remember to teach when starting writing workshop. Tuck them into writing workshop before you start a writing mini-lesson. These procedural min-lessons help you lay a strong foundation for our students to become self-regulated writers for the remainder of the year.  

Building A Community of Writers: K-2 is the expanded version of the writing workshop launch support documents I provided teachers in my district. Many teachers have shared that these Building Community lessons have proven to be very helpful in launching workshop successfully!

Building A Community of Writers: K-2 includes a list of great read-alouds for launching narrative in a primary writing workshop as well as examples of anchor charts, workshop tips and strategies.  I think this read aloud list is so helpful I've featured it as a new free product to my TpT store.

·     Make Movement Part of Your Daily Routine. Movement is such a powerful motivator for students and is also a fantastic learning tool. Movement enhances memory – We have learned so much about the human brain and how it learns.  Physical movement is a powerful hook for memory and long-term learning.  Numerous brain researchers tout the benefits of hands-on learning experiences. Learning that is experienced kinesthetically is much more likely to “stick” than sedentary learning experiences.

·     Connect with Parents. Aside from the “normal” communication methods (weekly newsletter, homework agenda, etc.) try to find a simple and personal way to let each child’s parents know that you see something valuable in their child. Here are some ways to do this: a short note home, a quick email, a brief phone call home, a concise conversation that communicates:
1) You are getting to know their child
2) You care about their child
3) You are excited to share in their learning journey
That simple reassurance goes far with parents and will set a positive foundation in the event that in the future you need to communicate with them about academic or behavioral concerns.

I am so excited to start a new school year with you. Stay tuned… I have a lot of ideas for literacy learning up my sleeve. Have a FABULOUS beginning to your school year! 

 What’s on your Back to School to do list? What do you make sure to do during the first month of instruction? I’d love to hear!

Happy School Year!

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