It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
—Henry David Thoreau
What if students entered the classroom on the first day and the rug was the only item in its permanent location? What if the furniture was scattered throughout the room and the school supplies were still in boxes? What if kids saw stacks of math manipulatives, books, and art materials piled in the corners? Imagine baskets for books, containers for mark-making supplies, and paper trays all empty—all waiting for kids to make decisions.
What if the children arrived and went to the rug, where each one took a clipboard with a piece of paper that said only, “Welcome. Please draw or write how you think we should set up our classroom”?
What if then, at the morning meeting, kids heard, “Welcome. I am so happy you are here. We’ve got some work to do to make this room our school home. Let’s begin”?
Children could pick up a clipboard, work with a partner, and record their ideas to these questions:
- “What is your name?”
- “Can you tell me your ideas for setting up the classroom?”
- “How do you like to work—in a private space or near others?”
What if students hung this information on the whiteboard, studied it together, and made a giant to-do list? Then, what if students signed up for jobs to complete and worked in small groups? Couldn’t children move tables and chairs, write names on folders, organize the pencils, markers, and crayons? Couldn’t they fill the paper trays and create labels?
You see, setting up a classroom feels like getting ready for a celebration. Isn’t opening boxes of newly purchased items and making sure everything looks just so part of the fun? In fact, isn’t planning, deciding, and preparing sometimes the best part of a celebration?
I’ve decided to let the children do this joyful work. I know what the children create on this first day won’t be perfect. What if this is okay? My first ideas, my first words on the page—they aren’t my best either. The cycle of creating, rethinking, and revising is just what I want them to learn.
What experiences are you creating for your students’ first moments in school during the first few weeks?
Happy New School Year! May it be filled with joyful connections with your learners.
This week we take time to consider the needs of our youngest writers—plus more, as always.
This month’s featured contributor is Tammy Mulligan. Tammy co-authored It’s All About the Books and Assessment in Perspective. At work, you can find her teaching and thinking alongside elementary teachers and kids. On other days, she is in her garden, hiking in the woods, or hiding behind a pile of children’s books. Connect with Tammy on Twitter @TammyBMulligan or Instagram @TammyReadsKidLit.
Join the Choice Literacy Book Club! Tammy Mulligan selected Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways by Michael Genhart and Viviana Garofoli as our August read. Grab a copy, and join the conversation using the hashtag #ChoiceLiteracyBookClub.
Katrina Edwards shares her plans for presenting children’s literature to help her first-grade students acquire the skills they need to be positive and proactive problem solvers. This article was first published in 2016.
The Kindergarten Writers Classroom Field Experience Course allows participants to spend time with the youngest writers and be mesmerized by their writing processes. This course is free for members and available to purchase for others.
Tara Barnett and Kate Mills have a confession to make: In the first weeks of school, many of their fourth-grade students didn’t write much at all in workshops. It was only after tackling the issue of writing stamina head-on that they saw rapid progress.This article was first published in 2016.
New members-only content is added each week to the Choice Literacy website. If you’re not yet a member, click here to explore membership options.
Cathy Mere identifies ways to support our youngest writers.
In a new video, Hayley Whitaker confers with Grace about her writing early in the year.
In an encore video, Max Brand uses the “big table” in his kindergarten classroom as a communal spot for writing. You can see how he interrupts students naturally to make quick suggestions, and allows some interruptions of his own writing as he works with his students.
In an encore video, Hayley Whitaker confers with a kindergartner and shows him the connections between talking, drawing, and text.
In a Coaching Minute, principal Lee Snider talks about the challenges new teachers face and how principals can support them.
In a Deep Dive course, Matt Renwick guides instructional leaders to implement and strengthen instructional literacy walks. Through literacy walks, leaders seek out promising practices, note and name them during formative visits, and lead coaching conversations with teachers. The outcome is not only school improvement, especially in literacy, but also a community of learners who engage in continuous improvement as a natural stance. Free to Literacy Leader members.
One of the great misconceptions we often carry throughout our lives is that our perceptions of ourselves and the world are basically accurate and true, that they reflect some stable, ultimate reality. This misconception leads to tremendous suffering, both globally and in our personal life situations.
—Joseph Goldstein, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening
That’s all for this week!