Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The First Days of First Grade

How exactly do first graders begin the year? After the first day when the goal is to "wow" the students so they want to come back for more, teachers quickly settle into the rituals and routines that will frame their year. The poster to the left is posted outside one of the first grade classrooms to remind the students that when they come to school in the mornings, they are to: 1. Put their snack in the baskets. 2. Put lunch money in a Ziploc with their name on the bag or put their lunch box on the shelf. 3. Put their take-home folder in the slot with their number (which refers to their table number) and finally, 4. Choose a book from the wagon and sit quietly until it is time for school to start.

Just like the early morning, each part of the day has it's own ritual and routine - coming to the carpet as a group, sitting on the carpet during mini-lessons, where and how to sit during independent reading, how to get writing supplies, when to go to the bathroom, how to line up - the list goes on and on, but this attention to the details of the day early in the year will more that pay for itself. When children know exactly what to do and how to do it, they can spend their energy thinking about the deep content as it is presented and teachers do not lose valuable time dealing with behavior.

As the day unfolds teachers begin immediately to keep their schedule as pure as they can. They begin with a Skills Block and then usually move into a Writers' Workshop and Readers' Workshop before lunch. After lunch and recess, teachers return for Math Workshop and Science Workshop along with a daily Resource (PE, Art, Music, Science, Character Education, Media) at the end of the day. To help with the routines, every Workshop has the same format with a mini-lesson, work period, and then a closing.  On the left is an artifact from these early lessons in Readers' Workshop, charting how independent readers look and sound.

After the first two weeks of rituals and routines, the first grade classes at Chets Creek will dive into an Author Study of Mem Fox. This is a favorite study early in the year. This is an Author Study not to be missed!

In these early weeks, it is also the time of year when teachers are assessing their new students. These assessments are interspersed throughout the day during the work sessions of each Workshop. Some of the assessments are done individually such as the running records associated with the DRA2 or in groups and are required by the district. Other assessments, most of which have been developed over time by the teachers in the grade level are also done individually or in groups. Each student in the class to the right has his "office" up so that he can work without distraction on an assessment of antonyms and synonyms written by the first grade teachers. This same assessment will be given at the mid-term and at the end of the year to monitor progress. This will be the benchmark that teachers will use to evaluate their own teaching and to differentiate instruction, using the information to divide the students into small group.

These early days are busy as a new group of first graders learn the workings of their new classroom, but a strong beginning means a happier classroom that assures academic achievement throughout the year. Stay tuned as an exciting new year unfolds.

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