Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Getting Ready 2

Yesterday, my sixth grade team sketched out a plan for orientation week. Today, we had to start writing lesson plans. Meanwhile, Ms. Principal and Ms. Dean (now Ms. AP) needed the team leaders to meet to refine certain policies for the staff handbook. So, I met with my team for only a few minutes and left them with the task of dividing up the lessons and writing up lesson plans. They got so much done, it was awesome! I think we are going to do a great job with the sixth graders this year. I was happy to leave them working, because it allowed me to step back so that other voices on the team can get stronger. It also allowed our brand-new art teacher to spend some time planning lessons with more experienced teachers, a great way for her to get both practice and feedback.

In our grade leaders' meeting, we discussed a schoolwide notebook policy. We are supplying the students' basic supplies this year, a binder with dividers, folders, portfolio folders, etc. They pay us back for the supplies. It reduces student choice but it ensures that everyone has what they need and it helps us help them keep their things organized.

For those unfamiliar with the idea of a notebook policy, it is basically a system of checking or supervising notebooks so that the students take all the notes, keep them in order, put papers where they belong, etc. Some teachers/schools give notebook grades. I have never done this. My approach is to be very, very clear about what materials should be on each student's desk, and to keep things like backpacks and extra books off the desks. This allows me to scan the room easily and see which students are and are not taking notes. Then I can walk over and redirect the attention of those who are not taking notes. This works well for >90% of the students and mostly works for the others. I don't have to grade the notes because I keep on top of notetaking every day. Every so often, usually at the end of a unit, I give the students class time to organize their notebooks. I list on the board which materials they need to keep, which go into their portfolios, and which they can throw away. They always have the choice of keeping worksheets or articles that were particularly interesting to them, but they can ditch old worksheets that are not their best work and that we have moved past in our lessons. We go on to the next unit with a fairly clean slate.

This works for me. It doesn't work for everyone. I don't want to give a notebook grade; it's extra work for me and does not, in and of itself, help students develop good work habits; you still have to have good classroom routines to teach organization!

In the end, we decided that one day a week, during homeroom (which we are extending to be 30 minutes long this year as a kind of quasi-advisory), the students will be given time to organize their binders. Most students just need a little prodding and some time in order to keep their things in order, and the homeroom teachers can focus on helping the students who are real organizational disasters. The subject area teachers will be responsible for setting clear expectations about what belongs in that subject's section of the binder, and how they want it organized.

We also talked about portfolios. Our long-term goal is to have a schoolwide portfolio system where the students select and reflect on their best work, and then use their portfolios as the basis for student-led conferences with parents and teachers at conference time. Our short-term goal is for all teachers to get into the routine of having students select and reflect on their best work, while we do some research and PD on student-led conferences.

I am passing the Health baton to one of our new teachers. She took it in stride: "Wait, am I going to have to teach them about, like, their periods?" and a minute later, "Ohmygosh, I'm not going to have to demonstrate how to use a condom, am I?" ('Fraid so!) I assured her that it would be fine, that she and I would sit down and plan together and she might even end up enjoying the subject. She has a great attitude and will do well.

Our other new teacher, the art teacher, is a bit of a wildcard. She is very sweet and creative and well-intentioned... but she drew a drawing of the Virgin Mary on her chalkboard today, and apparently spent quite a bit of the commute to school trying to convert the teacher who is carpooling with her. She also had a very heated discussion about evolution versus creationism with one of our math teachers today. Hmmm. We have other teachers who are quite serious Christians, but it hasn't come up in quite this way before. As long as she skips the evangelism during the school day, it'll all be okay.

Decorated more bulletin boards. Sorted the science trade books and distributed them among the three science classrooms (we are using a different classroom for seventh grade science so that we can set up labs in there and not have to break them down for the other teacher to take them to his room or so that we can do a different lab with our other grade level). Moved some materials around. Put chairs around all the tables. Finished my Confratute homework. Couldn't find the professors' email addresses in order to submit it.

I am SO ready to meet the new sixth graders. Not ready to teach them, just curious about the people I will be spending so much time with over the next few years.

*****

And let me just point out that teaching in Turkey would have counted as something happening. ;-)

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