Sunday, May 26, 2013

First Grade

A total transformation happens between the beginning and end of first grade. At the beginning of the year, most students can't read. Their writing consists of simple sentences and copying teachers' writing. By the end of the year, most students can read independently. They can also write short paragraphs about a subject, using "inventive" spelling for words they don't know.

I believe this is a key time in education, which sets the patterns in place that a student lives by for the remainder of their lives. That is why it is important to have clear, specific expectations for students in first grade, starting with letter formation. Make students erase letters that are not neat and rewrite them. This tells students there is a correct way to write the letters. I have excellent handwriting myself, and I believe it is because my first grade teacher demanded I write my letters neatly. My mother told me she found a paper with tears on it from my handwriting practice during my formative years.

This reminds me of the interesting ways students sometimes try to avoid doing work. Some students will cry, others will throw a fit, and some will act like a clown. As a teacher, I must look beyond all of this and push students to reach their potential - telling students, "You can do this. I believe in you." When they correct their mistakes, I say, "Great job!" as they beam with pride.

Here are some ideas I like from first grade classes I've worked in:

As students enter the classroom, have a chart with  pictures of the "Enter Routine"
1. Turn in folder
2. Hang up jacket and backpack
3. Choose your lunch
4. Start morning work.

Students have a specific way to choose their lunches:
Some classes use clips on a cardboard chart.
One teacher has kids put cards with their lunch number in a baggie that is hanging by a magnet on her file cabinet. Then, she hands these cards to students when they go to lunch.

For discipline, students start out with their clip on green- "Good Day"
For bad behavior, they move down to "Slow Down" -yellow 
Then down to "Time Out" -red
For good behavior, they can move up to "Excellent" and then "Outstanding"

Some teachers I know have excellent routines for calendar, reading and math. At the beginning of the year, the teachers run through the routines, and slowly incorporate student jobs and hand over reesponsibility. One teacher has students read through all the sound spelling cards they have learned so far- saying the picture, the sound, and repeating the sound and spelling each pattern. The Math Expressions curriculum lays out a great plan for incorporating student leaders as well.

Just remember, as teachers, we are laying the foundation for tomorrow.

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