The Honeymoon Phase is Over in the Classroom

While driving to Prince Edward Island in Canada for our honeymoon, our car began making strange noises and sputtering quite a bit.  It finally became difficult to drive.  It turned out that the transmission was shot.  So, we had to cancel our honeymoon to have the car fixed.  For my wife and I, our honeymoon phase never happened, or did it never end?  In the classroom each year, there is a phase of calm and serenity that lasts anywhere from a day to a few weeks.  This is the time of the year when the students try to figure out what they can and can’t do.  They are nice and kind to each other and the teacher.  They don’t generally test the boundaries during this period.  It’s a really awesome time for teachers.  But, we know what follows and so we cautiously wait for the ball to drop and the storm to arrive.

Today marked the end of the sixth grade honeymoon phase.  The boys began to show their true colors today.  They started to realize how much they dislike some of their peers.  They weren’t afraid to shout out or share their negative feelings.  Today, the peace ended, and reality set in.  Not everything smells like roses and camp fires.

During Humanities class, we saw the storm begin to take form.  Two students sitting next to each other at a table, continued to bicker with each other during the lesson.  One student turned to the other and said, “Stop it!” several times.  The other student moved his chair away from that student and began taking off his shoes and playing with them.  This too upset that other student who continued to share his frustrations aloud while my co-teacher spoke.  Then, two other students began to join in on the twister of confusion.  One student kept saying, “Stop!” to his table partner.  Then, the other student raised his hand and called me over during the lesson.  He refused to use words and just pointed to his partner’s chair.  Apparently it was too close to his.  Really?  That’s a big deal?  What about the starving people around the world?  What about the wars and abuses people are facing everywhere?  Aren’t those the big issues over which we should complain?  No, today, in the classroom it was about a chair that was about to cross a line.  This bickering continued throughout the class.

While both groups of students were addressed and the issues dealt with, this little nit picky stuff is a sure sign that the honeymoon has ended.  After a month of beautiful weather, ironically, it rained today, perhaps to signify the beginning of the normal school year.  Ohh, how I miss the honeymoon stage of the academic year.  For a week or so, I believed I had the perfect class.  While perfection doesn’t exist, it’s nice to think that things are going smoothly for at least a little while.  But not anymore.  Now begins the challenging process of teaching the boys how to appropriately coexist.

Trying Something New Requires Attention

This summer, I borrowed my father’s ladder to do some painting at my house.  I had never used his ladder before and was unfamiliar with how it worked.  While I thought I knew how to use it, I really didn’t  So, instead of practicing with it before actually using it, I just got right to work.  I leaned it up against the side of my house, put it up to the height I needed, and started climbing up.  Apparently, something wasn’t right, shockingly, and the next thing I know the ladder is falling down and tipping over with me on it.  I go tumbling down and bruise my legs up real good.  It hurt quite a bit, but I did learn a lesson that day; trying something new requires attention in order for success to come about.

Today in STEM class, I tried a new way to close the work period regarding the Synthesis Group Project portion of the Astronomy Unit.  After they finished working, I had the students meet in their groups and self assess their work based on three of the Habits of Learning: Coexistence, Critical Thinking, and Communication.  They needed to discuss the three skills with their group members and then give their group a grade out of four based on the objective.  I wanted them to reflect on their teamwork today in class.

As they started working, valid discussions were being had.  Then, I needed to leave the classroom to speak with an administrator regarding a student.  After leaving the room, things went quite awry.  The students began bickering and arguing with each other.  It was loud and unproductively noisy.  The students ended up leaving for lunch frustrated and wanting closure.  While the quick Exit Ticket activity began well, because I had to leave the room and had not prepared the students for this interruption, things ended poorly.  My hands were tied when the administrator came to speak with me; I couldn’t say no.

So, what should I have done?  Should I have told the administrator, “I’m finishing up a lesson, can I meet with you after class?”  Would he have accepted that request?  Or should I have told the students, “Gentlemen, change of plans.  Meet with your group and make a goal for the next group project work day.  What do you hope to accomplish.  Write your goal on a sticky note, place it on my desk, and then head to lunch.”  Would that have worked?  Would it have prevented the chaos that ensued?

Trying new things is risky and requires preparation and attention, which I couldn’t give today.  Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control.  I couldn’t have done much to change the outcome of today’s lesson.  But, it did provide me with some insight: Don’t throw together something new last minute; plan it out first.

Assessing Students’ Ability to Follow Directions

I find directions to be tedious and unnecessary.  When crafting furniture purchased from IKEA, I can’t understand the limited directions provided and so I usually figure out how to construct the piece on my own.  This of course generally results in me incorrectly assembling it.  Sometimes, the directions are too specific or confusing and so I end up choosing one step to start with instead of trying to problem solve and critically analyze the instructions.  I almost never follow all of the steps for instructions when building something as step one seems like a waste of time: Inspect all parts to be sure you have all necessary materials.  While this is clearly a critical step, I always skip it.  This of course has lead me to build something and then find that I’m missing a part.  That’s very frustrating.  You think that I would have learned by now the importance of following directions.  But no, I haven’t.  I still skip steps, ignore directions, and generally do my own thing when building something store bought.  I should really practice what I preach in the classroom.

In the sixth grade, we emphasize the importance of following directions.  However, we don’t grade or assess our students on this objective.  After today’s quick Exit Ticket activity in STEM Class, I’m beginning to rethink my stance on that.  I purposely crafted an assessment regarding inequalities with one specific instruction: When finished, turn into the teacher and use the app Sumdog on your iPad.  Simple enough directions.  I did not explain how to complete the assessment, but instead reminded the boys of the importance of following directions.  I said, “Be sure to closely read and follow the directions.”  Three quarters of the students did not read the instructions and didn’t know what to do when they finished.  I had to remind them all to read the directions.  This was very frustrating.

I’ve also found that the students are not reading and following directions regarding their assigned math unit either.  Instead of just reading and discussing with a partner the practice questions in each lesson, they are completing all of the sample questions in their Math Notebook.  This is wasting their time and preventing them from progressing through the unit.  This too is very frustrating as I remind them every day to read and follow the directions on their Haiku page.

I’ve tried to emphasize the importance of reading and following directions to no avail.  I modelled the process once in class.  This didn’t seem to help.  So, I feel as though I have only one option remaining to hit home the purpose of directions: I will add the objective of effectively following directions to the next assessment or project and see what happens.  Will they more carefully complete the work because they know they are being graded on following the directions?  Or will grading them on this new objective not make any difference in the outcome?  At this point, I’m willing to try anything.

Growing Professionally

When I was five years old, the only things I wanted were to be older and grow taller.  Now, I want to stop growing, or at least prevent my waist from growing any larger, and I want to stop aging.  This morning I found a gray hair on my chest.  Yes, on my chest!  Wow, the circle of life has really come around.  However, the one constant in my life is my desire to grow.  I love learning new skills and taking risks as an educator.  I enjoy reading new novels and professional texts.  I try, each and every day, to become a better teacher and guide for my students.

When I started thinking about professional goals for myself last week and then crafted two yesterday, I realized that I now have a daily guide for myself in and out of the classroom.  Each day, I will think about how I can better end tomorrow’s class.  What can I do better to wrap up the lesson and make it more tangible and engaging for my students?

So, after I posted my goals yesterday, I realized that I should start working on my them right then and there.  So, during Humanities class yesterday, I consciously thought about how to bring closure to each part of the lesson.  Following our current events discussion, I reviewed the purpose for discussing and knowing about current events.  I asked the students, “Why is it important or valuable to learn about current events?”  I got lucky and called on an insightful student.  He said, “So that we can be aware of what’s going on in the world around us.”  Bingo, bango, bongo, I thought.  Wow, I must be doing a great job introducing new concepts and lessons for them to fully grasp their purpose.  I rock!  Before my ego grew too large, I realized that this student also presented me with a new way to end class today.  I could review one of the school’s Habits of Learning that the lesson directly covered.  So, I went to the sign in the classroom that listed our school’s Habits of Learning and pointed out Self-Awareness, reminding them that our goal as teachers is to prepare them to live meaningful lives in a global society.  Being self-aware allows you to be better prepared to handle obstacles and challenges thrown your way.  If you aren’t aware of what’s going on in another country and you contact someone in that country for your business, you could be dealing with problems of which you are unaware.  “Knowing is half the battle,” G.I. Joe taught me growing up.  They seemed to get it.

So, I challenged myself with a goal and began working towards it right away.  After the second block of Humanities, when the students began working on their vignette, I tried a different approach to ending the class.  Eight minutes prior to the end of class, I had the students stop writing and share their vignette with their table partner.  Then, once they had completed that, I asked the class some questions: Who found generating an idea for a vignette challenging and difficult?  and Who found it fun and easy to begin their vignette today?  I also asked the students to use their Thumb-ometer to share their level of engagement and excitement regarding the writing of their vignette.  Most of the students seemed to have a ton of fun crafting their short, short story.  I then reminded the boys that we will be using these vignettes to work through the writing process.  You will be working more on these pieces during the next several weeks.  In fact, next week, you will have a chance in class to spend some more time writing.  They seemed thrilled by that.  Then, I explained what they needed to do to prepare for their next class, praised them for their fine effort, and sent them on their way.  It felt good to close the door on a class and lesson.  In the past, I’ve left class feeling like a hanging chad, and I don’t like feeling like a hanging chad.

Today provided me with one more chance to grow as an educator.  I know I still have plenty of miles to go before I can sleep, as Robert Frost taught me, but I’m feeling like I’m moving up and to the right quite steadily.  Constant progress is all I can ask for.  I can’t wait to see how I end classes tomorrow.  Perhaps I’ll go for the Exit Ticket approach in STEM class to assess their knowledge of Inequalities, a concept we covered last week.  Yeah, that sounds like a plan.  Up and to the right I go.

My Professional Goals for the 2015-2016 Academic Year

About six years ago, we used to have to create professional goals for ourselves as educators at my school.  I enjoyed doing that.  It helped me to stay focused on growing and improving as a teacher.  For some reason though, we just stopped completing this process.  I don’t know why.  I missed it.  While I didn’t allow this to prevent me from growing as an educator, I never set formal goals for myself.  I wish I had.  Perhaps I could have grown more or worked on developing a new skill in some area.  But no, I didn’t.

This year, as the Sixth Grade Department Chair, the Director of Studies at my school is mandating that I set professional goals for myself.  Yah! I thought, I can now get back to setting formal goals.  But, what should they be?  Should they be related to my position as Department Chair or focused on my individual teaching?  What if I generate one for each area?  That way I can grow in both areas.  Nice!

Personal Teaching Goal: I want to improve in the area of lesson closures.  I want to end each class with some sort of formal conclusion, exit ticket, or other closing procedure.  In the past, my students would work right up to the end of class and then I would send them on their way.  Rarely did I have a chance to wrap things up, bring closure to a lesson, or build anticipation for the next successive class day.  I want to change that.  I feel as though the students need to have some sort of closure to each lesson so that they understand what they accomplished and why.  How is what we did tied to the curriculum?  How is it making them better students?  How will it help them develop into responsible global citizens?  What Habits of Learning did we focus on today?  These are all questions I want my lesson ending to address.  So, moving forward, I want to be conscious about ending each lesson with a formal closing.  This goal will help me grow as a teacher and allow me to better support my students on their academic journey.

Department Chair Goal: I want to write an article or short resource about the sixth grade program at my school.  I want to explain why we do what we do in the classroom.  What’s the purpose of what we do?  How has our sixth grade program evolved over the years?  What do we like and what do we want to continue to grow and change?  How does our student population affect changes we make to the program?  I want to craft a piece that formally addresses all of these questions and more.  We have a very specific and focused program in the sixth grade to help develop a sense of community within the students but also to prepare them for the rigors of our school.  We have created, over the years, many unique and special opportunities for our sixth grade students that the other grades don’t have.   The students who come to our school in the sixth grade have far more opportunities and get much more out of our school by the time they finish ninth grade than do those students who do not start in the sixth grade.  I want to be able to make this known to people.  Perhaps I’ll get it published or at least have a document that details what we do in the sixth grade classroom.

I’m hopeful that I will be able to accomplish both of these goals by the time June rolls around next year.  Perhaps blogging about my progress might help keep me honest as well.  So, periodically throughout this year, I may blog about my progress in reaching my professional goals.  As Joe Dirt said in the famous movie about his life, “You gotta just keep on keepin’ on.”

Creating STEM Units filled with Options: Challenge by Choice

I was never one for working hard in school.  I did what I was told, but I never went above and beyond.  Sure, my grades were fine, but did I really learn a lot?  Probably not.  Had my teachers offered extra challenges or alternative methods to meeting or exceeding the objectives, I wonder if that would have made a difference.  Would I have been inspired to rise to the occasion and put forth extra effort?  Would I have chosen the more difficult route?  Doubtful, but I’d like to think that the possibility might still have existed.

As a teacher, I want to provide my students with every possible opportunity.  I create my STEM units with plenty of scaffolding to support my ELL students and those who struggle to process information and comprehend abstract scientific concepts and also with plenty of extension possibilities to challenge my accelerated or fast learning students.  This way, I hope, all of my students will feel supported and challenged.  After piloting this STEM program last year in the classroom, I learned a lot about how to help my students grow and develop.  This year, I tweaked a lot of my units to provide plenty of choices and challenges for my students.  I want them to feel empowered so that they own their learning.  Genuine learning happens through engagement and so if they feel as if they own their academic choices, they will be more open to learning the concepts and ideas in a meaningful manner.

In STEM class today, the students began working on the science portion of the astronomy unit.  Following a short video introduction into Earth’s cosmic address, I reviewed the expectations for the Knowledge Phase of the science component.  The boys asked many questions to process the information.  They seemed excited and motivated to work.  The boys had two choices: Complete a Roadmap Worksheet based on an online Astronomy textbook entry or find Astronomy resources and answer three questions based on the graded objectives.  The first choice is the easiest because the information is on our class Haiku page and the worksheet walks them through what they need to know.  This choice, however, means they can meet the three graded objectives at best.  Only the second choice allows them to exceed the objectives, as it requires more higher-level critical thinking skills and the application of knowledge learned in their other courses.  While many of the students chose the first option, two students did go for the challenge.  After much effort and work, one of those students did change his mind when he realized the challenge he faced in such a short time.  That’s okay.  At least he tried.  This is what I tried to convey to him when he switched.  The students worked well in class.  They were focused and asked each other questions when they were stuck or confused.  They seemed engaged and curious about what they were learning.  At the close of the period, I had volunteers share some of the interesting new information they had learned.  They seemed intrigued by it all.  So cool!

Had there only been once choice, would the students still have worked as diligently and been as engaged?  Would “forcing” them into an assignment still have motivated them?  Did any of my changes today make a difference?  It’s hard to tell, but based on the neuroscience research and the importance our school is placing on academic ownership this year, it seemed fitting to offer choices to the boys.  This way, they have the ability to challenge themselves, take the easy way out, or get the help and support they need.  How else could I better help my students than this?

Creating a REAL Classroom Community

In college, I learned all about the importance of creating a community in the classroom.  My professors went on and on about how important it is to make emotional connections with our students.  We need our students to feel safe and connected, as if they are a part of something greater than themselves.  It all sounded a little hokey to me, but I tried it.  Each year, I focus on building a family atmosphere in the classroom.  I have a motto I use, “We’re a family, and families take care of each other.”  I reference it throughout the year.  I talk about how even families have problems, but they work through them together.  However, every year, I feel as though the class doesn’t feel like a real family.  So, what’s wrong?  What am I not doing?  Or is the idea of building a true community in the classroom just a utopian dream?

Today in Humanities class, I felt as though a real classroom family started to take form.  We continued working on discussing the eight social identifiers before the students each created their own social identity wheel piece.  During our discussion, one of the students shared an intensely personal piece of information with the class.  There was no laughter or giggling.  The boys seemed to accept this information and the student.  As what he shared made him incredibly vulnerable, I did explain to the students how when we discuss the deeper, more private parts of our personality, very serious and personal things may be shared.  This is great.  We want to create a genuine sense of community within the classroom.  Being open and honest with each other can foster this.  However, we do need to remember that these personal tidbits are just that, personal, and need to stay within our community.  We don’t share what is discussed in the classroom.  I wanted the student who had shared to feel respected.  The boys seemed to really understand this.  It was amazing.

So, then my question is, how is this closeness and community happening?  Why have we not been able to bring about such feelings and dedication in past years?  Is it that the discussion of social identifiers, opened the students up to feeling willing to share?  Is what is happening so far this year because we have a smaller group of students?  Or is it because of the certain individuals that we have?  Is it that the chemistry of the class is just working out?  Well, then what about last year?  We had a great group last year as well?  Why didn’t they feel as connected?  What is it about this group?

Regardless of the reasons, what we are beginning to see take shape in the sixth grade classroom is quite amazing.  I’m excited for the great year that we’re sure to have.  Yes, of course, there will be bumps in the road, but we’ll weather the storms together, as a family.  If the start of the year is any indication of what is to come, we’ve only just begun to build a REAL community in our classroom.

New Students, New Challenges, and New Mistakes

Each new year is full of excitement, wonder, and challenges.  I love meeting my new students and helping them feel like a part of our classroom family.  I enjoy getting to know how to best support and help my students.  However, the challenges might be my favorite part of a new academic year.  I find enjoyment in figuring out how to help a struggling student or encourage a reserved student to come out of his shell.  These challenges are what keep me going and longing for each new year.

Working with a new co-teacher this year, I’m trying to figure out how we can best help and support each other as well.  Things are off to a great start.  She is positive and runs the classroom very much like I do.  However, she comes from a very different independent day school where the students are fluent in English, talk about social issues, and are already connected to each other as they’ve been together in school since Pre-K.  While her background has prepared her to teach diversity and other social issues that our boys need to understand, she hasn’t had a lot of experience dealing with a class that is full of new students, many of whom do not speak the same language.  This challenge is new to her.

Yesterday during Humanities class, she had her first wake-up call of how different this class is compared to what she was used to.  She taught a lesson on the eight social identifiers.  She started with an image of an iceberg showing how most of who we are is hidden to the world.  The outside world only sees a tiny part of our personality.  The hard work, effort, persistence, and failures are not revealed to many people.  We keep them inside.  She shared this picture with the class as a way to stimulate conversation regarding the deeper, more vulnerable parts of who we are as people and individuals.  The boys added some great insight to the discussion.  Then she introduced the eight social identifiers and briefly explained what each meant.  Some of the words were difficult and our international students had a hard time understanding what they meant.  She tried to make the definitions tangible, but some of the ideas are abstract and challenging.  It’s not that this lesson was too difficult for our students to comprehend, it’s just that some of the ideas take more processing time.  So, to allow for this extra time, she then had the students brainstorm student-friendly definitions for each of the terms by working with their table partner.  This is where things got a bit out of hand.  The students didn’t fully understand the directions and so they started mapping out how each of the identifiers applied to them.  Then, once we rexplained the directions, they got back on track.  However, some of the groups still wrestled with the language of the terms.  Luckily, at this point, we were able to send the boys to Morning Break for 15 minutes.  This gave my co-teacher and I a chance to chat about what was going on.

She was very frustrated.  She didn’t understand why they weren’t understanding the words or directions.  She explained how she had done this activity at her last school and had no issues.  I reminded her how different this group is.  She wasn’t sure how to proceed following break.  So, I gave her some suggestions.  You should go through each word, one by one, and have each student share their definition with the group to be sure that every student understands what they mean.  This may take a while, but it is vital to the activity.  She seemed to understand what she needed to do and the changes she needed to make.

Once the students returned from break, she did what I suggested.  She reviewed the words slowly and carefully so that each student fully comprehended their meaning.  I then took notes on the whiteboard, synthesizing the definitions into simplistic language.  Although this discussion took the full period, the students clearly needed the extra time to process the eight terms in order to understand them.  I also explained to the boys why we were discussing these terms.  As we learn about other cultures and countries this year, we will use these terms to define and discuss them.  It is important to have a strong understanding of the terms.  I hope this clarification helped.

Today, when we reviewed the terms prior to having the students create their social identity wheel piece, they recalled much from yesterday’s discussion, highlighting the success of spending a lot of time discussing the terms.  For me, yesterday’s class was a way to help my co-teacher grow and see her teaching and the class from a different perspective.  It’s so important to have someone else to work with so that these conversations and opportunities can take place.  Had I not witnessed the lesson, I would not have been able to provide her with any feedback, and then she may have struggled with the second portion of the lesson following break.  While mistakes are part of life, being able to learn from them is the most vital part.

Trying New Things to Best Support Our Students

I take criticism and feedback very personally.  While my goal is to continually improve as a person, husband, father, and educator, I am generally very hard on myself when I receive feedback that might be construed as negative, even if it isn’t.  I blame myself and think poorly of my performance.  Yes, my self esteem is low and I’ve been working on it for years.  I am great at what I do, but like a wise man once said, “All of you are perfect just as you are and could use a little improvement.”  I strive to grow, which is why I welcome feedback.  This way I am continually forced to deal with the fact that I’m not awful, there are just always going to be ways or areas in which I can improve.

Recently, I’ve realized that a student in my class is excelled in math.  His abilities in mathematics are incredibly high.  He has mastered most pre-algebra skills and is working at an algebra one level in the sixth grade.  He is humble about it, but wants to grow.  While my STEM class is structured in a very individual way, I only created three tracks based on the Common Core Standards, which my school uses in the Math Department.  I have a sixth grade track, seventh grade track, and an eighth grade track.  I figured this would cover and support every student this year, even my most advanced students; however, this doesn’t seem to be the case thus far.  While we’ve only just begun the year and the first unit tends to be easy as it is review, I’ve noticed, as has this student, that even the eighth grade track is too easy for him.  He has mastered many of these skills.

So, now what?  How can I best support him to help him grow and develop as a math student?  My first instinct was to have him work through this unit and then complete a unit in Khan Academy to further challenge him.  But what about direct instruction?  How will he learn new concepts?  He will need the support of a teacher.  Then, my co-teacher suggested having this student complete the Pre-Algebra Placement Exam used in the other grades to see where he falls.  If he does well on this, he could take the Algebra One Placement Exam as well.  Then we would know what concepts he has mastered and in what level to work with him.  This would allow my co-teacher to tailor the curriculum to meet this student’s needs through a one-on-one pullout during Math Work Days.

Brilliant idea.  I love it.  Then, immediately, I went to a place of, “Why can’t I help him?  Why didn’t I generate that idea?  Am I not good enough as an educator to help this student?”  No, that’s not it at all.  By being open to new ideas and ways to best support this student, I am being the best educator I can be.  I’m using my colleagues for help and guidance.  I’m allowing new ideas to take root.  I’m not trying to control every situation.  I want what’s best for this student and since I’ve realized I can’t give it to him with my own ideas, I need to seek help.  Teamwork is a vital 21st Century Skill which I try to teach my students daily.  Modelling this through my teaching and flexibility as an educator allows my students to see the value in it.  Everything is not all about me and I’m not always in the wrong.  Realizing this allows me to become a better educator and person.  I need to take and employ new ideas and suggestions in order to grow and develop.  If I want to best support and help all of my students, I need to admit that I can’t do it all.  I do need help and do need to try new things even if they are outside of my comfort zone.  Dealing with this student has helped me to realize this.  I guess that saying about great teachers really is true, “I learn more from my students than they learn from me.”

Building Routines

Growing up, my parents ingrained within me the importance of routines and repetition.  Every morning I woke up at the same time, brushed my teeth, got dressed, ate breakfast, and ran to get in line for the bus.  It was the same thing every day.  As a parent, I am all about routine.  When my son was in elementary school, he would come home from school each day, enjoy a tasty snack, use the restroom, and complete his homework.  Then, he could go outside.  We wanted to instill the importance of hard work within him.  It seems to have helped.  He’s in the ninth grade this year and working hard.

As a teacher, forming routines are essential to what I do in the classroom.  As much as students say they dislike routines and being controlled, it helps keep the peace and creates a sense of safety amongst the students.  They crave routine.  They love knowing what to expect.  Inconsistency and not knowing creates fear and anxiety within children.  As teachers, we need to prevent that from happening.  So, one of the first things I try to do at the start of each new year is to build a routine within the classroom.  Each class period begins in the same manner.  There is soft music playing, the lights are off, and it is silent.  If students wish to speak, they do so in the hallway.  If they want to check their email or surf the Internet, they may do that silently inside the classroom.  If they have a question for the teacher, they may of course speak with that person quietly at the front of the room.  The room is quiet and reflective as a way to center and recalibrate the students.  This calmness allows class to begin in a serene manner.  The students need this.  It helps to begin class in a very positive way.

Each class I teach also has its own set of routines.  In Reader’s Workshop, the students know to read silently or update Goodreads.  There is no talking in the Reading Nook area.  If the students have a question they know to see the teacher when he or she is not conferencing with a student.  The students love this routine the most because it allows them a chance to read in a quiet setting.

In STEM class, each work period has its own routine.  During Math Days, the students, using their Haiku webpage as a guide, work through their individualized math unit.  They have their Math Notebook out and are solving the problems in them.  They work in small groups and ask their peers questions before seeking out the teacher for assistance.  We want to foster a sense of community within the classroom.  By working together and using their peers as teacher, a community of learners is generated.  We’ve found that the boys use more student-friendly language sometimes than we do and so they are better at explaining new concepts to each other.  This routine really helps foster a sense of compassion and empathy within the students.  It’s one of my favorite routines.

While creating routines are of a high importance to me as an educator, building them can be challenging and time consuming.  During the first few weeks of school, very little curriculum is covered in order to create these routines.  To some, it might seem like wasteful time, but to a trained teacher, they are crucial to setting the tone for a productive year.

Today during STEM class, the students worked on their math unit.  However, a good amount of time was spent reminding the students to ask two students before they ask a teacher, properly set up their Math Notebooks, and follow directions on Haiku.  Many students only completed a problem or two during the 40-minute work period.  However, most students are beginning to understand the routine and its purpose.  I’m hopeful that within a week or so, the students will have the routine down and we’ll be able to really delve into the content and concepts.  But, we can’t go deep-diving if the students don’t know how to record what they’ve learned or what to do when they have a question.  As Limp Bizkit, sort of, sang in one of their most famous songs, “We do it all for the routine!”