Category Archives: Back to School
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and heck I’m going to say it right now: Don’t underestimate the power of a well-planned seating arrangement.
I had allowed my students the privilege of sitting beside a person of their choice. I know when I do this, it probably won’t last the day. However, I let them know up front that they will keep their seats if I don’t have to speak to them for being chatty and off-task. Having to speak to them more than a couple of times shows me that they obviously won’t be able to work productively beside that person and they will have to move. So, fast-forward a few days into the seating arrangement (basically chosen by them). Some partnerships are working (as usual) and others are crashing and burning. There were a couple of pairings, in particular, that were poison for one another. So, one day at break-time, I made some quick seat changes and the difference in the noise level from before lunch to after, was measurable – especially for a Friday afternoon.
If you have never given much thought to your seating arrangement OR you need to give some more thought to it now, I’ve got a few things that you’ll want to keep in mind. This is not a complete list – just a few things to get you started.
Seating Arrangement Tips (in no particular order):
1. When you’re planning your arrangement, think about the space that you have and how you usually teach. Will they be taking notes? Can everyone see the board? Will you be asking them to work with a group every day?
2. Survey your room and see if there’s any furniture that could be placed elsewhere to free up floor space for desks. Your teacher desk, computer, shelves – are they all in the best spot giving you the most usable classroom space? (I hadn’t considered this one until just this past August. I had my furniture as it was when I inherited the room and I realized that the configuration wasn’t optimal for space and utility.)
3. Think about the different seating options that will fit/work in your room: Single rows, rows of pairs, rows of threes, small groups of 3 or 4, a horseshoe shape, a horseshoe shape with a few rows inside the horseshoe etc. Have a look around your school for inspiration of desk/table configurations that will work in your room.
4. Students with hearing or seeing issues should be placed close to the teacher if possible.
5. Are you going to seat by ability, pairing like students together or students with different abilities together? There are pros and cons to both – there can also be some mixing and matching here to try to reach the needs of your students.
6. Who is easily distracted? Try not to seat these students by the sharpener, the windows, door or other high traffic areas – IF possible. Try to seat these students beside students who tend to be more focused, to balance things out.
7. Students who tend to turn around in their seats need to sit at the back, if possible.
8. When you make changes to a seating plan, always move more than one person. If ONE person is being a problem and s/he comes in to class to find that s/he is the only one moved, s/he may feel targeted and could get defensive. However, if you have moved multiple people, you can say that a few pairings weren’t working out and so you had to make some changes.
9. Write each student’s name on a post-it (there are online options for doing this as well) and then move the post-its on your desk until you have students where you want them.
I’ve stopped at 9, hoping that you can help me to continue this list. What other tips or lessons learned about seating arrangements could you share?
I’ve spent much of the day prepping for Thursday which will be my first day of school with students. I go back to work tomorrow for our Orientation and PD days before the kids arrive. I’ve got mixed emotions about going back this year, but I’ll fill you in on that after. I honestly don’t know where the summer went!
Anyhow, I’ve been trying to figure out which activities I’m going to start off with, and so I thought I’d share one of the things I’ll be doing on the first day of school.
I always like to have students do a student survey so that I can learn a bit more about them, straight away. In addition to that, I also like to have students do a Multiple Intelligence (MI) Inventory and a VAK (Visual-Auditory-Kinestheic) Inventory so that their learning strengths are identified early on. Learning preferrences and styles, also happen to be a part of our grade 7 Health curriculum, which is a bonus.
I found a great MI Inventory to use this year! There are various versions of it, but the link I provided is the PDF version. The home site has tons of knowledge quizzes and a VAK Inventory, as well. There are also awesome inventories in Start Where They Are: Differentiating for Success with the Young Adolescent (with CD-ROM) by Karen Hume (I know that I’ve mentioned this book before and I’ll mention it again – it’s just that good) if your school happens to have it. I’ll be using her VAK inventory from the book.
Starting with these quick little inventories gives me some insight into the types of learners I have in my room. This year I’m pairing the inventories up with my “A Piece of Who I Am” activity (a visual ”get-to-know-you” activity) asking students to include their learning strengths on their puzzle pieces.
Another plus for me, is when a student inevitably asks why students are doing different work (students on IEPs are doing “easier work”) I can go back to the inventories that we did on the first day. “Remember how we all learn differently and we all have unique strengths? Students do different work, because I am trying to reach everyone in a way that they learn best, and I’m doing the same for you.” Usually, this satisfies these inquisitive students and they seem to understand.
The first day butterflies are setting in already! This year is slightly tramatic for me, as I’m also taking my four year old with me to start Kindergarten, hence the mixed emotions. On that note, I’d like to share something that my mother-in-law posted on my Facebook page that had me in tears. I don’t know the original source – sorry! But, I do know that it had me sobbing. It’s everything I’ve been thinking, while I anxiously anticipate sending my little boy into the big bad world. To all of you mothers out there, perhaps you can understand…
~To all of the teachers beginning a new school year ~
For all of the lessons that you plan,
All of the prep that you do,
Always doing whatever you can,
Willing to try something new.
Doing your very best each day,
To reach your students – every last one,
Not wanting to end the year asking,
Is there something else I could have done?
Teachers are a special breed,
This is nothing new,
Desiring success for your students,
It’s who you are – not just what you do.
But, when you’re frustrated and you’re tired,
Not sure if you’ll make it to the end,
Remember the students you’ve inspired,
Those you helped when they needed a friend.
With the beginning of another school year,
You’re busy and will feel some stress,
So hold on to the passion you feel right now,
Take a deep breath and just do your best.
From my classroom to yours, thank you for all that you do and will do this year. Don’t ever let there be a doubt in your mind – your hard work IS appreciated, and so are you. I hope you all have an awesome year with all of your “little lovelies”.
As a special thank you for all that you do, I also have an announcement. Tomorrow, Ann Marie Smith (Innovative Connections) and I will be launching an event that we’ve been planning for the last month! It’s called “The Ultimate Middle Years Giveaway and Blog Hop”. We have $300 worth of prizes up for grabs, and a fun blog hop that will earn you LOADS of freebies, if you choose to take part. Make sure you come back tomorrow to enter the giveaway, discover LOTS of middle school blogs to follow and maybe even grab some freebies (if you’re up for our blog hop challenge). We have planned all of this just for you guys – so I hope you take part and enjoy!
There are lots of philosophies on creating class rules. Some teachers try to keep their list to five, and have it posted on the wall to go over with students on that first day of school. Other teachers rather create a list of class rules with their students so that they have more ownership in the rules and hopefully, will be more likely to follow them.
Personally, I don’t really do either. I have a class discussion about what they think our class rules should be and why it would make sense to have those rules in place. Sometimes I’ll record their ideas on chart paper, other times we keep it to a discussion. When we get to the end, I tell them that they have great ideas (they always do) but I think we only need to have ONE rule in our class – can they guess what it is? Someone always names my ONE rule: RESPECT.
Everything else, all of the other rules, fall under the umbrella of respect and so I keep it to that. We talk about examples of what respectful behavior looks like and what it does not look like. They’re in grade 7 – they know! Our “Respect” rule is in place for all of us – them and me. I tell them that I will always show them respect and I need for them to show that respect back to me, their classmates and the school. If we can follow our one rule – we won’t have too many problems!
I always look forward to this class discussion, because it’s effective in setting the expectations and tone for the class, for the rest of the year!
How do you go about establishing rules in your class?
Do your students use the agendas that they’re so excited to buy that first week back to school? I’m lucky – many of my students do buy an agenda. Using it, however? That’s another story.
I’ve actually realized that I’ve been part of the problem.
I teach grade 7. I have been using the fact that I teach junior high, as an excuse of sorts. “They’re old enough to know what they need to do. If they don’t do it – that’s really their problem. I’m trying to teach them to be self-sufficient and independent here!”
Well, I’m thirty. I KNOW that I need to exercise. Do I always do it? Sometimes, I get lazy – plain and simple. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a cheerleader helping me along? Wouldn’t I be more apt to go for a run? Well, I’m going to be more of a cheerleader to my students this year (probably in more ways than one). They know what they need to do (just like I do) but they’re going to need my help to get and stay on track.
Here are some things that I plan to share with my students to help them get on the right track with using their agendas.
Here are a few things that I’m also going to try this year, in regards to agendas.
1) Give students more time and REQUIRE that they use their agendas. I wasn’t forceful enough in the last few years with getting students to use their agendas – the result? They didn’t use them. I don’t plan on using my brute force or anything, but I do plan on setting my expectations MUCH higher!
2) Spend MORE time talking about the agendas at Meet the Teacher night - how I plan to use them, what parents can do to help etc. I plan to really talk them up!
3) We always send home monthly reports about student behaviors, homework etc. I’m thinking about switching to weekly reports and then having students staple the reports in to their agendas. Then, parents will know to ask to see the agenda each week to check out their child’s report.
I’m excited about the changes I plan to make with the use of agendas in my class this year. If you would like a copy of the tips and poster above, head over to my TeachersPayTeachers Store to grab a free copy. I hope that my raising of expectations and putting more responsibility on the students will increase their overall success!
What are your thoughts on student agendas?
This is the third post in a series about how you can effectively communicate with home – which is so important at Back to School time, and all year long. The first and second posts are here if you missed them.
Communicate regularly (from the beginning)
After that ever important first phone call, and the homework and other info that you’re providing on your class blog, some of you may think you’re done. Others, know better of course! The really tough part is to keep it all together on a day-to-day basis. My tips for this, would be to make yourself reachable and have a system in place.
Making yourself reachable begins with a helpful tip that I stole from another blogger, Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6. She had said that she always starts the year by giving her parents a fridge magnet with her contact info on it. What a great idea! At my school, we all get little blue cards to send home with our students with our name and the school phone number – but a magnet is so much better.
I found Vista Print this summer and so I ordered custom magnets from them. What a deal! I had them within a week and I ended up ordering 50 (enough for two years) for $26 Canadian – and that included shipping! I plan to pass them out to the parents who come to Meet the Teacher and send one home to the parents who can’t make it that night. I included my name, blog url, school phone number and email on the magnet so that I’m as reachable as possible for parents.
Having a system in place could be anything – using student agendas, weekly class newsletters or monthly reports. The other grade 7 teacher and I use what we call “The Clipboard”. We track behaviors and send home a report at the end of the month. I’m thinking, maybe we’ll do it weekly this year - it may carry even more weight! We are also continuing to try to link consequences to these monthly reports, but we haven’t found a fool proof method yet – loss of privileges (attending school events for poor behavior) natural consequences (lower marks for no homework) and so on…We re-vamp it a bit each year.
We are going also going “live” this year with our mark system, meaning parents will have online access to their child’s attendance and marks, so that will be a help for sure, as far as keeping the doors of communication open. No surprises at report card time!
Finally, I’m thinking about really training my students to use their agendas more effectively this year. I find, some students buy them – but then never open them and perhaps they just were never shown how to actually utilize them as an organizational and time management tool. (Look for a future post on using student agendas more effectively.)
How do you maintain communication with home for the whole year?
Teachers Pay Teachers is having their annual Back to School sale August 12th-13th. They’ll be offering their usual 10% off, with many store owners offering up to an additional 20% off.
Communication with home is essential, no matter what grade level you teach. With Back to School on the horizon, I’m sharing some simple ways you can connect with your students’ parents. Here’s the link to the first post if you missed it: Communicating with Parents.
Keep a class blog/website.
I just started my class blog last year, but I had numerous parents who checked it regularly and really depended on it to know what was going on at school. Mine is a WordPress blog. It’s free and it was simple to set up. Here’s what my class blog looks like:
I’m in the middle of cleaning it for the new year – but feel free to have a peek. It’s a work in progress at the moment, though.
For me, there are lots of benefits to keeping a class blog.
-I keep their homework posted, so when a student is absent, they know what they missed. Lots of other students (and parents) also depend on the homework feature to stay on top of things.
-Once the parents know about the blog, they can subscribe to follow it and will get email updates whenever I post something new.
-I can keep all fundraising and school event info on the site to inform parents.
-I can keep students informed of upcoming assignments, and parents informed of work that has gone home.
Some other sites to look into for setting up your own class blog/website that I have found:
You may want to double-check with your school tech person before you register a blog. Some districts block certain sites and you wouldn’t want to go through the work of setting up a website or blog for nothing!
All in all, once your site is up, even if you just use it for homework and important updates – I think it’s a great investment of your time because of the connection it creates between home and school.
Do you have a class website or blog? What site do you use?