Friday, August 19, 2011

First Day

I have been reading with interest and curiosity some blog posts about starting the new school year. I was pleased to see that I am doing a lot of what @stumpteacher wrote about with such irony! In fact at our school we are encouraged to spend a lot of time during the first two weeks doing exactly what he suggests - getting to know our students, and team building.
But, every year I feel I need to have something important to tell the students, about our class, or myself, or the year ahead. Maybe this is to inspire myself as much as to motivate them!
This year I finally have my idea. It's a "We're not in Kansas any more" sort of theme. When they arrive in my room as Grade 8 students, I want them to realize that I do a number of things with intent, to pave the way for a successful year and to ease their transition to high school. In a humorous way I also want to distinguish my routines from what they may have experienced in the past.
I have come up with two images to describe what I do.
One: curling. Everyone can get out and throw the rocks down the ice. But my routines are like giving them the brooms so they can steer the rocks or make them go faster.
Two: sledding or tubing. Picture two hills, one with just snow and one with lots of ice, especially at the bottom. I want to ice the hill so that I can expect them to go farther.
Here is an example of what I mean. In math:
* All tests are open book: notebooks, texts, etc.
* All definitions and formulas on the word wall stay up for tests. In real life if I need to use a formula, I can look it up or check, first.
* Don't ask if you can use a calculator. Yes. Every day use the thing.
* Tests are fairly short and marked on levels. If they get three questions right, they definitely know something about the topic. They get a Level 1, not 30%.
* Level 1 is not wrong; it is a base on which to build more expert knowledge.
* Grade 8 is not the time to stress about math. It is the last year they will not be able to stream themselves according to interest and ability.
This approach allows me to really differentiate - not just in the class and during formative assessments, but for summative tasks as well. And I mean for those gifted in math, as well as for those who struggle.
I get an accurate idea about the knowledge of the topic and the thinking skills of each student. And I actually enjoy marking them!

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