We can’t fight it, school is beginning soon! For many of you it may have begun already. I personally have a few weeks yet, but I’ve been getting my mind in order to begin the school year strong.
One of the most important things to do in the beginning of the school year for me is to start out the year with a solid organization system and clear expectations. I spend the first few weeks teaching my students how I want the classroom structured and we stick with it hard and steady until about January, when the kids are so routined that they can do it without me! We then keep up the structure until they start to get bored – about April, and then we change it all around for the last month or so, just to keep everyone sane. The most important part of having a solid structure to my classroom is that once the kids are in a good routine, we can break the routine every once in awhile for fun, exciting events and it doesn’t throw my room into chaos.
Here are some of the ways I build structure and routine in my classroom:
1.) I teach the same thing at the same time every day (or every week if it applies). I know this seems simple, but I see many teachers who differ their day by a little bit each day, and then their kids have a hard time remembering what they should be doing when. I have found that if I keep the order of my day consistent, it helps even the kids who are worst at transitioning to always know what the next activity should be.
2.) I use a set notebook system for each subject. Most of my notebook systems include the same type of activity each week, with slight variations to provide room for growth as the year gets harder. This systematic approach helps my kids know exactly what is expected of them and builds independence in their learning. Each year, my notebooking systems may look a little different, depending on the grade and demographics of my class, but each year there are at least 2 different notebooking systems to teach my class.
To get the year started, I print as many weeks ahead as I can. For some journals, I print the whole thing and bind it, for others, I print for the trimester and keep the extras in a folder on my desk to be distributed each Monday, or at the beginning of each month. Some examples of my notebooking systems include:
- Genre Based Writing Journals: I have used 5 different genre based writing journals, each lasting 9 weeks long, narrative, informational, persuasive, response to literature and poetry. Each journal includes a brainstorming organizer, an outline, a drafting page, an editing and revising checklist and a rubric. (I have a primary version for narrative and informational that I used with 1st grade and then the intermediate versions of all 5 genres that I used with 3rd and 4th.) This is a journal I print at the beginning of each genre.
- Reading Response Journals: I hold students accountable for their weekly reading by asking them to respond to one book they have read for the week. Each week there is a different prompt, but the rubric stays the same, giving students plenty of practice at all of the reading comprehension strategies. This is a journal I print once in the beginning of the year and am done with it for the whole year.
- Read Aloud Journals: I have used these journals to keep students accountable for listening and thinking about the story during read aloud. I also use these as a way to start discussions about the books we read together as a class. (I have a primary version I used with 1st grade and an intermediate version that I used with 3rd and 4th.) This is a journal I print once in the beginning of the year and am done with it for the whole year.
- Interactive Math Notebooks: I use these notebooks to help my students organize their ideas about math and to keep together all of our different lesson pieces – whole group lessons, guided math lessons, text book pages, math idioms, math projects, math video tutorial planning and rubrics, as well as general assessments. These notebooks are a great one to show parents at conferences, because they are so comprehensive. This is a journal I create in a notebook, but I print all the base pieces at the beginning of the year and we add to it a week at a time.
- Science Discovery Journals: I use discovery journals around the topics I have to teach to make the learning process more independent. These also help my student constantly relate everything we do in science back to the scientific method. This is a journal I print at beginning of each unit.
- Calendar Math Monthly Books: I use calendar books to hold students accountable for calendar math learning. This is the first thing my students do when they enter my classroom in the morning. I have 8 different levels, so different students may be working at different levels, depending on their needs, but all students work on multiple math skills, including number sense, operations, measurement and time each and every day. We then review the overall concepts as a class later in the day. I generally print these a month in advance, so that on the first day of October I am printing Novembers books, which means that the new set is always ready on the first day of the month.
- Problem Solving Path: I use problem solving path to give my students a spiral review in problem solving format. We have 10 real life problem solving path questions a month, all neatly fit into their problem solving path journals. When students finish all of their problems – including justifying their answers, they have a chance to check their problems using the QR codes on the problem solving path bulletin board. (I have completed problem solving path for grade 3 and grade 4 and am working on grades 2 and 5, hopefully to be released before Halloween.) I generally print these a month in advance, so that on the first day of October I am printing Novembers books, which means that the new set is always ready on the first day of the month.
3.) I put things where I want them, and label them, so that the kids can replace items without my assistance. This goes for turn in bins, pens, pencils, glue sticks, scissors etc. On the first day of school, we tour where these items can be found and we reference them many times in the first week or two. By the end of the first month, everyone should be able to get any and all supplies they need for every activity.
4.) Anything of the students’ that need a label gets labeled on the first day and put on the student’s shelf, desk, cubby or wherever their appointed place is. (When I taught at schools with high student turnover, these items were labeled with a number to prevent changing stickers constantly.) This year, my students will each have a basket cubby to call their own and inside on the first day of school they will find: their September Calendar Book, their September Problem Solving Path, the Science Discovery Journal, a Math Tiling Puzzle Packet, a pencil sharpener, an eraser and a name tag to allow them to label their basket cubby.
5.) I have important posters, bulletin boards and word walls ready to go on day one, and then I use them as a reference daily. If my students won’t be using it or referring to it, I don’t hang it up (unless it is school required.) I need every inch I have for teaching space. My students and I work together to add to word walls and reference walls, but the skeleton is up and ready on day one. This year my two big bulletin boards will be my Problem Solving Path board and my Math Reference board. I will also have a science word wall and a “Questions We Have” area to collect burning questions during the day. During the day, when kids need something, they will have learned to reference the wall before they ask me.
6.) I have “back up work” for early finishers ready and waiting. In my class you generally have two options – 1.) Read an on-level book or 2.) Work on tiling puzzles. Math tiling puzzles are a great brain teaser, as well as a way to get my students reviewing math facts and principles. I print them out a packet at a time – each packet has 10 puzzles, and they keep their packet in their basket for downtime. If they finish one set of tiling puzzles correctly, I pull from my pre-printed packs of puzzles and they get the next level up. Some students work through all of the levels, while others only work on the first packet. All of my students know from day one what to do if they finish early.