In the first month of school, my aim is to establish a beachhead from which to launch a successful year with students in which we accomplish more together than any prior year of my career. I go into the year expecting that bad or insane or tragic or frustrating things are liable to happen at any moment, and my job is to faithfully steward the people, time, and potential that I have been entrusted with. My success doesn't depend only on the first month, but the first month does have special strategic importance.
With that said, here are the basic objectives I want to meet in the first month of school.
- Finish a unit. In each course, I want us to complete a unit. This gives students a sense of progress and me a sense of keeping to a schedule (I'll have the end dates for every unit set before school starts) and where each student is academically.
- Establish the normality of each component of the Non-Freaked Out Framework. By the time a month is over, my students should see that, just like the poster at the front of my room states, “We are all about becoming better thinkers, readers, writers, speakers, and people.” Toward this end, there are a few consistent practices and ways of thinking that I want my students to be familiar with (the remaining objectives).
- Establish the routine of Think-Pair-Share. Eighty percent of the speaking my students do this year will be with a partner using Think-Pair-Share. I need to know that every time I present a question and release it to pairs, quality work is taking place. Here's how I establish that, and here's how I'll occasionally modify it into the “Conversation Challenge” to keep pushing student growth.
- Establish the routine of Pop-Up Debate. Three weeks of Think-Pair-Share will culminate in our first pop-up debate. Here's how I help many of my students progress in the first month from terrified to speak publicly to standing up and talking on their own: Beyond the Fear of Public Speaking: Making the First Pop-Up Debate a Success for All Students.
- Establish the routine of Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week assignment. By the time the first month ends, students will have completed four articles of the week. Here are my key teaching points for the first article of the week, here's an extensive explanation of my history with Gallagher's assignment, and here's how Gallagher and I grade the assignment.
- Establish my classroom policies. I use Michael Linsin's approach, which I walk through in the Pay What You Want School Year Starter Kit. I also explain how I came to adopt Linsin's work and show you how you can determine whether you'd like to do likewise in this post.
- Establish the norm of bell-to-bell effort. If you've read my work for a bit, you know how passionate I am about the power of small things — in the first month, I want my students to start to at least know that about me so that, by the end of the year, it's a part of who they are. This is most easily demonstrated in my persistent teaching of what is expected when the starting bell rings: students are at work on the warm-up that I have posted on screen (ninety percent of the time, that's going to be a 100-word quickwrite).
- Establish the normalcy of writing at least 100 words. At the ninth grade level, there's no reason that our written responses to any question worth answering ought not to be 100 words. I pay attention to when we become word-mongers using vapid filler sentences and share student models of the kind of 100-word-minimum written responses I expect. I've found few things that break my students out of the “Why do we have to write so much?” mindset than the simple, matter-of-fact knowledge that 100 words is simply not much writing at all, and we do it every day. I coach them into taking pride in the production of 100 words per day, as this is one of the key things that separates would-be writers from actual ones.
- Establish the norm that we work toward career- and college-readiness, regardless of our goals. As ninth graders, I want to constantly push my students to think toward ending high school career- and college-ready. I have them read and analyze a chart from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics showing how levels of educational attainment affect median income and unemployment rates (see this example; these charts can be Googled), and a blown up version of that chart hangs on my classroom wall beneath the clock. I don't push an expectation that every student will attend and complete college, but I do push an expectation that every student will develop their skills and knowledge to the career- and college-readiness level. They are not allowed, as ninth graders, to sentence themselves to an adulthood devoid of options.
- Establish that their education is theirs. I'll start the year with an index card activity that teaches purpose, both so that I can understand a bit more of what they're after and, more importantly, so that they can understand that education is about way more than GPAs and credits — education is about becoming the people we always hoped we'd be.
- Establish a class vocabulary about procrastination. I haven't done this before, but I'm excited to get the Instant Gratification Monkey labeled in the first month. Here's how I'll do that.
And that is the super-macro version of the first month of school for me this year, God willing. What objectives are on your list?
Gerard Dawson says
When you say this: “I go into the year expecting that bad or insane or tragic or frustrating things are liable to happen at any moment, and my job is to faithfully steward the people, time, and potential that I have been entrusted with.”
I’m immediately reminded of the Stoic thinker Marcus Aurelius, who said: “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil…none of those things can injure me”
My addition to the list: get kids genuinely engaged in the class, both through showing them the relevance of the content and skills I’m teaching, and by showing that I’m actively getting to know them.
Thanks for the awesomeness arriving like clockwork!
Gerard, my man, thank you for providing specific comments these past two posts! I really appreciate it — and I always learn something from your comments, like the fact that you and me have some stoic tendencies 🙂 I love your addition, Gerard. You heading to NCTE in Atlanta this November? It would be great to meet.
Great ideas! Are your students doing the 100 words online or on paper? If the latter, how much space would 100 words require on college ruled paper? Also, I have 7th graders who have a hard time writing a sentence. Any tips for helping the younger students?
I just teach them to estimate word count by counting a few lines and multiplying by the total number of lines they’ve written. This takes care of one student having a large print and another having smaller print. For your kids who struggle writing a sentence, I would definitely use Level A of Doug Stark’s warm-ups book — http://davestuartjr.com/mechanics