So, I finally started year 7, and I have to say, it’s the smoothest one yet. There are definitely a few bumps (quite a few these past few days actually), but I am glad to say that for the most part, the classroom is up and running.
I always have a hard time figuring out what to do at the start of the year, to ease my kids into the idea of school and what school requires.
This year, I was pretty happy with a short lesson I did on the third day of school. It’s something I did to set the stage last year when I took over a 4/5 combo classroom in November, and I tweaked it for my 7th and 8th grade math classes this year.
The philosophy of this stems from my experience that when students take part in creating their classroom rules (norms, agreements, expectations, blah blah), they are more inclined to at least grudgingly accept that they exist when they are called to account for them.
However, beyond just having a floating set of classroom agreements, I like to root it in why kids come to school anyway and WHY in the States, at least, we FUND free education. Reminding students of WHY we’re here, then looking at the obstacles that prevent them from achieving the WHY, then leads us to the agreements that the class sets for themselves. It’s a rather tidy package, and yes, it sounds tidier than the messy work of day-to-day getting along, but at least we have a foundation that I feel able to build upon.
Without further ado:
Materials: post-its, large construction paper, projector
Optional: slides with discussion questions/photos
Warm-Up / Do-Now / Bellwork: (2-min)
On your post-it, write your name and answer the question, “Why do you go to school?” (For kids who claim they have no idea, ask them why are their parents sending them to school. Allow the “I’m forced to.” responses)
Hook (10-12 min):
After most of the kids are done, I set up my projector and show these slides with photos taken from the article, “25 of the Most Dangerous and Unusual Ways to Get to School.”
I don’t preface these slides too much — just showing them gets the kids awed and amazed.
Once we finish clicking through the photos, I have the students turn-and-talk. Since this is the third day of school, prior to the turn-and-talk, we go through what a meaningful turn-and-talk is, and what students should be doing.
I ask the kids to answer 2 questions: Why do people go to school, and why do they (my students) go to school?
(Aside: Depending on the group, sometimes, I feel the need to remind them that unlike many other countries, and even the US 100 years ago, our schools are free and open to everybody. I ask them why people would pay for an education or why people care so much.)
Then, I have a spokesperson from each table group share their table’s main thoughts. As they do so, we practice listening respectfully, projecting our voices if we are talking, and using agreement hand signals.
Also, I collect the post-its from the individuals from the table that is sharing and post them on the large construction paper I have. I roughly group them in categories.
They range from “To go to college and get a good job, to make my family proud, and to learn” to “my parents make me go.”
Framing The Objective (2 min):
I explain today we are coming up with classroom agreements. I then emphasize how these kids have been in school for almost a decade already and they know what they need to succeed. I also don’t want to make a BUNCH of rules or USELESS rules, which is why I need their ideas in crafting classroom agreements.
Building Agreements (15-20 minutes)
To help us with agreements, we should root it in our reasons for why we come. I summarize for the kids what their main reasons are, and then, I ask them What obstacles get in the way? I bring up each main reason, “To learn, to succeed, to make friends, etc etc,” and then kids pipe up with obstacles. As I call on volunteers, I actually like to call one person, and then have that person call the next one. It helps me gauge the social meter in my classroom.
I end up with a whiteboard full of obstacles such as…
- not paying attention
- not getting enough help
- not enough money to get supplies
- distracting others
- others distract you
- feeling shy about getting the wrong answer
- having a bad day
Then, I talk about what we can control and what we can’t. I cross off the obstacles we can’t control (there usually are only 1 or 2.. mainly having to do with parents or money), and then ask students, “What can students do to overcome these obstacles?”
As they express an idea, I draw an arrow specifically to each of the obstacles the actions would fix (we are usually able to fix most of the obstacles). From this, we are able to specify, clarify, and narrow into 4-5 agreements. I frame it as, “Can we agree to…?” If a classroom is missing an agreement that I would really want, I just bring it up and ask them. “Hey guys, I know that these are your agreements, but do you think we could also agree to come to school prepared with our materials and homework?” I keep the explanation short, and kids are usually agreeable.
The paper with their reasons why they come is to the left.
This is the last class – the arrows are much more organized…
Lastly, I ask, “What can the teacher do to help?” I want them to know that along with their classroom agreements, I also want to actively join them in their endeavors for success. This ALSO is a time when I’m able hit the rest of the obstacles that kids feel get in the way (for instance, “Not understanding how to do something” gets nixed by the teacher agreeing to try to break down a problem if a student doesn’t get it the first time).
The first time I did this, it was a suuuuper long conversation on the rug, and most kids were able to hang in there, but I didn’t want it to last that long this year. So, my first period, we took about 50 minutes, but the rest of the classes took about 35-40 minutes.
Afterwards, I removed the post-its, but in that space, I wrote their reasons and made the ones that had more public approval a larger font while the random ones were smaller. It was interesting to see how some classes were mainly motivated by force while others were motivated with the desire to learn.
Then, I wrote each classroom’s agreements on separate sheets of construction paper. This year, I posted them at the front and grouped the 7th grade classes together and the 8th grade classes together.
Lastly, I combined all the agreements for the teacher from all the classes and put them into one sheet for me. (Aside, it’s really interesting and sweet to see just the obvious but simple agreements my kids wish from their teacher.)
The next day, I showed these posters to the class. I toyed with the idea of having them sign it, but to be honest, I was ready to move into some actual math lessons and didn’t want to spend time passing the poster around for them to sign. However, I know that a lot of teachers do that, and I’m sure it would be nice. I’m also certain that this will quell any child’s future retort, “I never agreed to…”
I also told them how rather than having different teacher agreements for different classes, that I believe that if one class felt it would be good for them, it probably would be good for all the other classes. I also have it so that all the agreements that I’m following number way more than theirs. This is ALSO good arsenal to have during follow-up conversations with a child who breaks an agreement by pointing out that Ms. Kim has more agreements to follow.
As the year progresses, I like to personally read it and remind myself what the kids want from me, and I like to gauge myself in public with a classroom (especially a class I might be having issues with), just to model what it means to agree to something within a community, and how to reflect on your progress. I also told them how rather than having different teacher agreements for different classes, how I believe that if one class felt that it would be good for them, it probably would be good for all the other classes. I also have it so that all the agreements that I’m following number way more than theirs. This is ALSO good arsenal to have during follow-up conversations with a child who breaks an agreement by pointing out that Ms. Kim has more agreements to follow.
Thoughts for the Future and Next Year
- Have students fill out a survey for why they come to school. Then, create a wordcloud for each class and one large wordcloud for the grades.
- Bring the 7th grade agreements to the 8th graders and ask them what they would keep or change
- In the 2nd month of school, bring up the “why we come to school” posters, and ask ourselves if we are on track. Tweak the agreements if necessary.
- Survey at the end of the year: see if reasons why we come are still the same or different.