Saturday, August 24, 2013

First Week Reflections

I am exhausted, but it's a happy, fulfilled, energized, and inspired kind of exhausted.  I have just finished my first week of co-teaching 7th grade language arts.  This has always been my dream position. I teach three periods of language arts with two different teachers.   For the first time in my career I introduced myself, to the students, as a language arts teacher.  We purposely told the students that I was just another teacher in the classroom, instead of the intervention specialist. I will be working with all students, and we wanted to establish that expectation from the first day of class.  As I have reflected back on the events of the first week of school, I realized that the ideas and activities were a combination of planning and ideas from all three of us collaborating together.  

One thing I always stress about, when getting to know my students, is making sure I pronounce their names correctly.  I am always afraid that I will butcher their first name, and then their peers will tease them about the new name I accidentally created.  My anxiety level instantly dropped when I learned how my co-teachers learn the names of the students.  They put a number on each desk, and then call out numbers.  The students then say their name when their number is called. This makes so much sense, and I am embarrassed to admit I had never thought of doing this.  The next way that we got to know about students was by having them say their name and favorite ice cream flavor.  However, before they shared that information they had to repeat the name and flavor of everyone before them.  This was a great way to get to know student personalities.  The amount of teamwork and respect that was shown during this activity was amazing to me!  There is definitely a future teacher in one of my classes because he was so patient with his peers and quietly helped each one of them when they stumbled with a name or flavor.  This week will not be the last time students think about this activity.  When teaching and encouraging rereading for deeper understanding we will be referring back to this activity.  The students easily remembered the names and flavors and the first students in the name game, because they were "rereading the class".  It was the students name and flavor that they just heard that they struggled with repeating.  The same will go for rereading, they will have a better understanding of information if they reread it, as opposed to just reading it once.

Next, we had the chance to introduce ourselves to the students.  Instead of creating a poster board with pictures about myself, I decided to just pass around my writer's notebook.  My notebook is covered with pictures of my family, interests and passions.  I explained to the students that I use my notebook to help me find inspiration when I am struggling to think about a writing topic.  Students will be creating their own writer's notebooks inspirations next week, so this will also give them an example of something they may want to do.  I had one student, in particular, that was so excited about the thought of creating and using a writer's notebook this year.  She said she loves to write and can't wait to share her writing with us!

Another plan we have for the year is to share a book talk per day.  The teachers will start sharing for the first month (though with this group of students, I think they are ready to take over for us next week).   I had planned out the books I wanted to share with students, and The Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library  by Chris Grabenstein was going to be the first book I was ready to share.  However, Bulu: African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston was one of the books on the summer reading list.  I heard multiple students comment about reading sad books about the dog dying, and how depressing those stories are.  Therefore, I scrapped my original book talk plans and shared No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman.  Several students had already read this book, and quickly shared their enthusiasm for the story.  I'll admit, I was nervous about book talking because I wasn't sure how 7th graders would react to my excitement about books.  However, they quickly squelched that fear and began excitedly asking me if I have read many of their favorite books.  My to read list has quickly doubled!  Starting Monday, we plan on "raffling" off the books that we are book talking.  The students will put their name in a jar if they want to be the first person to read that book.  During last period we will draw a name and have that book delivered to the winner at the end of the school day.  The students who did not win the "first read" will sign up and the book will then be passed down that list as students finish reading it. 

Our final goal for the week was to begin introducing the idea of "Together We Can".  Students desks begin in rows, but will only be like that for the first couple weeks of school.  We want to get to know each other as individuals, and then help teach them how to work together as a team.  If students can respect each other, individually, they will have a better understanding of what it means to work as a team.  Once students know and understand what the expectations are for working together, we will then move their desks into teams.  For the first activity, we took the students outside and had them stand in a circle.  Each person had to state their name and goal for the year (academic, athletic, or social) and they then had hold a piece of string and throw the ball of string to a classmate on the other side of the circle.  In the end we made a web of string.  Students discussed the symbolization of the activity, and determined that each of us is an important part of a team.  We all need to hold up our part of the team, or the dynamic and expectations will shift for everyone involved.  After this activity we read the book The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson.  Students had to write a reflection about the connection between the book, the web activity and "Together We Can".  The insight and reflection that was shared by students was amazing.  After completing these first few activities, I have high hopes for the teams that will be built with the understanding of collaboration and respect among the students. 

I will admit, I was scared to move districts and shifting from elementary to middle school.  However, I already feel at home with my team and students.  This has been a great week of getting to know students and starting to build a community of readers, writers and collaborators.  

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