First Day Notes

Whether we begin our first day with a story or with the CWB cards doesn’t matter. And it is possible to take just one card and work with one student exclusively for the first two or three days to create a story from the card by asking the questions where and with whom.
It’s not so much what we do in this work, but how we do it. Here are some first day notes that I think are important to keep in mind as we get ready to start our years next year:
1. Simplicity and SLOW and repetition and cheerfulness are the key things to keep in mind.
2. We don’t need to explain the rules. We can explain them as we need them in that first week. There will be no shortage of kids to model incorrect behavior in that first week. We need to learn how to stop each infraction in the moment and that is how we teach the rules, with the laser pointer and this formula:
1. Stop teaching.
2. Look at the student and smile.
3. Turn to the poster and laser point to the rule he just broke.
4. Read the rule out.
5. Explain in English what the rule means to the class in general, not directly to the student.
6. Look back at the student and smile.
If we explain the rules in English at every infraction for a week we won’t have to explain them, or only minimally, for the rest of the year. The rules are strong and powerful. Of course, there are no rules about explaining the rules on the first day and if you want to explain them all at once by all means do so. There is no one right way to do this work.
3. Whether you use the CWB cards or start with a story, or something else (please share other things that you do in the comment fields below), what counts is latching on to whatever structure you are using and staying on it in everything you say. In this work we are always teaching one structure at a time, but it sounds like PQA or a story, but all it is is just repetition of a structure camouflaged in some CI. So make your mind up now in the spring to constantly repeat the structure(s) you have targeted for that class in the fall in everything you say, each sentence, each question. If you do this slowly and with a smile and good humor, it will go well. Slow, constantly repeated (circling is no more than repetition in context), humorous, lighthearted single structures with judicious use of the laser to point to posters in those first days to start getting reps on the question words is the way to do it.
4. Which posters? The key posters to have up on that first day are obviously the question words and the rules and the jGR/ISR poster, if you plan on assessing according to the standards. They will get the CI airship off the ground. No sweat after that. If you are doing word associations to start class, have those posters up. If you want to do some verb slamming, or TPR, it might be nice to have some empty butcher block up in the second tier higher part of your classroom walls to add each new “conquered” verb up on with a big sharpie. Just make sure that the blank poster space is plentiful and way high up near the ceilings, out of the way of the other posters. You will need a lot of room and I guarantee that the kids will use them. I have observed in DPS enough times over the years to see that when kids did writing their eyes frequently looked up to those posters, trying to locate a verb. It’s really cool to see that. (The verbs are not translated up there due to not enough space and if you have to write the translation it means that they don’t know them anyway, haven’t been conquered via TPR, verb slamming, etc.)
5. If you use a story, make sure it is a super mini story. We spent about a month talking about those little starter stories here in December, and those are useful little stories to start a year or, for newer people, maybe a little later in the year as they get their feet under them with CWB and OWI.
6. Quiz early, after maybe two classes. If you are on a block schedule, quiz twice in one class maybe. Get the grade book loaded up with grades in that first week because it forces confrontation with students who are either too afraid to interact with us in the TL as per the jGR/ISR poster or just don’t know how, were never taught. (It seems such an odd thing to say that some kids have never been trained in interpersonal communication with a teacher, having been in schools since they were just little tykes, but it’s true. Chances are high that the kid’s family is under stress, not enjoying dinner together, all those things that happen in poverty brought on by greed in a failing society.)
7. My idea is to give maybe one or two weeks and set a date maybe two weeks into the year, in that first month certainly, for English explanations, but then when that date comes, third Monday in August or whatever, to lower the boom, maybe getting out my little high tech light that Keri (or who was that?) brilliantly (get it, brilliantly?) thought of, and start having that little light lit 98% of the time after that date. The reason for this is simple, I need English in those first weeks to train the kids up to the point where I don’t need English after those first few weeks of animal training.
If others have points to add to the above, I’m sure some of the newer people would like to read them, because this topic of how and what we do in the first few days of class is a super big deal and sets the tone in no uncertain terms for the entire year. If we blow it in the first week, we’ve blown it for the year. This statement particularly affects the topic of letting certain kids have license to blurt, which actually happens. Stop those little fiends now, in May, as we look forward to the 2015-2016 year.



9 thoughts on “First Day Notes”

  1. This is so helpful! Thank you.
    I’m looking for ideas to help with needing to display posters in both French and Spanish in my room. Should I just split the room in half and train kids which side has their language?
    I have double-sided question-word posters that students are willing to help me flip over at the end or beginning of class.
    As far as the light to signal TL only-use–I saw on someone’s blog that they used a string of Christmas lights around the board.

    1. Love the Christmas lights idea!
      Personally I would flip the posters and limit how many you put up in the first month. That is the crucial time – Rules, jGR (if you use it) and Question Words. The problem would be in flipping the question words through the day because there are so many but I believe if that kid is willing to do it it would be worth it. I wouldn’t want to teach in a room with half Spanish and French posters up all over the place.

      1. Yeah, that’s my biggest gripe about teaching two languages. My biggest gripe used to be trying to organize two sets of “resources” (textbooks and worksheets! so many worksheets!) but TCI takes care of that!
        My prep is also, of course, super simplified. Right now I have 6th grade Spanish, 7th grade French, 8th grade French, and 8th grade Spanish, and we’re all reading BB wants a dog.
        For ten-question quick quizzes, I randomly pick a pattern of yes/no answers in the first class, use that same pattern for all the other classes and just make up T/F sentences that go with those answers when I’m giving the quiz (I’m not ready to ask/trust a student to make the quiz). Just one answer key for eight classes in three different grades in two different languages!
        <3 <3 <3
        p.s. I successfully lobbied for a simpler schedule (with looping!) so next year I'll just have 6th grade French and 7th grade Spanish, so there will be less flipping of question word posters. πŸ™‚

        1. … one answer key for eight classes in three different grades in two different languages!….
          This is major. If you don’t use a quiz writer you follow a pattern of the same answers being yes or no in each class. We have to do things like this, get creative with work, throw out quizzes if we don’t need them and/or are swamped with organizing the prom, etc. Our mental health comes first. This career of teaching in general has for far too long been dominated by teachers who think they are being “tough” when nobody cares. They make up different answer sheets for major tests at great expense of their time, yet they do it to catch cheaters. It’s a big game of “Gotcha!” They would rather find a kid lacking than find out what they can do. That small-mindedness and test driven instruction is something most of us here are just done with. We have figured out that our jobs can be fun and rewarding and we have found a way to reach kids. We give easy tests but that doesn’t mean our kids don’t learn. They learn far more with those easy tests. We build a sense of being a team in our classes. The old sense of opposition that splits teachers from kids is greatly diminished in our classrooms. We teach for the kid’s growth, not the gradebook. We are so different than that old guard of tighty whities who so much need to be the star of the room, and the controller, and the decider.

  2. I got rid of everything on walls except question words and colours (word in Spanish, in the colour), and the rules.
    Ben’s idea about a listening quiz almost right away is good: sets the tone and should be easy for all the kids who are payng attention.

  3. I, too, teach two languages and I don’t like having to hang posters in my room for each! But I have no choice and I’m lucky to have a classroom. So, what I have done this year is split my room in two and the posters are color coded. One side of the room is Spanish and the other is Italian. I also have a two big signs in the back of my room that simply say “Italian” and “Spanish, each with an arrow pointing in the appropriate direction. It’s worked well this year and I haven’t had any students that confused them. I guess they get used to where they are. I got rid of my posters for a couple days recently because I was making bigger and brighter ones and the kids freaked out. They absolutely love the posters!
    Also, the light and “pagame” (pay me) system has worked so well for me! I didn’t implement it until January but the kids all accepted it and it definitely eliminated any blurting. I gave my classes an exit survey yesterday and many said that they actually liked the light! Also, it allowed for great reps on “The light is off/on”, the light was off/on”, the light “will be off/on in 5 seconds”. The kids say these sentences without me even asking in all three verb tenses because they hear it all the time!

    1. Hiya Keri,
      I’ve come to the conversation a bit late – could you explain the light system real quick for me, please? I teach 6/7th graders and I too have found they respond well to environmental signals.

      1. Hi, Jason! Sorry I just saw your question now!
        I have a small closet light attached to my front board. When it’s on, the kids actually get penalized for using English, for not being proactive to tell me they don’t understand something with some sort of sign, and for being off task for about a minute or more (no eye contact, etc.) It may sound a bit harsh at first, but it works! In fact, a lot of kids commented on my exit survey that they actually liked it! I was a bit surprised myself. They said it really kept them on their toes. There is also no blurting at all and the kids know that they are held responsable and really do not want to lose participation points. When the light is on, I use Blaine’s “Pay me” system. If you’re not familiar with it then I could explain. Basically, if there is an infraction I say the student’s name “Joe, pay me” (in the TL of course) and they give me one of their cards worth 5 points. (They know to take the cards out when the light comes on. And it is not a distraction.)
        Just to make it clear, we speak the TL even when the light is off but I feel that it may be a bit too tense for the kids, and maybe even myself, to be able to take away a card from them for a full 84 minutes. I’m not sure. I am contemplating myself now for the fall if I should do away with the light and implement the system every minute of every class (or keep the light on ALL class) It sounds ideal but I don’t think I will. Any ideas are welcome! Right now the light comes on when we are about the enter the land of make believe: PQA! (This happens practically every day in my class…it’s the best part, in my opinion, of this work!)

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