Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Back to School & The First Days' Razzle Dazzle...Feathers & Sequins Not Necessary

Give 'em the old razzle dazzle,
Razzle Dazzle 'em.
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it,
And the reaction will be passionate
                                                                              -Billy Flynn (Fred Ebb/John Kander, "Chicago")

I used to feel a lot like Billy Flynn on the first few days of school. Billy Flynn is the flim-flam lawyer character in the musical "Chicago." The first day of school felt like opening night at the theater...a little bit of grease paint, some sequins, some feathers... and JAZZ HANDS! 

First impressions are important. As much as we'd like to pretend that they aren't, humans are wired to assess, analyze, and judge within seconds after meeting someone new. And as teachers, we want our students to like us. It'll make our jobs easier, they'll learn more, and we'll feel good about ourselves, because let's face it, we are surrounded by a society that often boos us off the stage. We need to feel good about ourselves. 

Teaching is, after all, a form of show business.
                                                                                            - Steve Martin 

So, I performed. Yes, feathered boas were involved. On the first day of school, I played music, I taught the routines...acted them out, I cracked jokes, and I had them laughing in the aisles. Which is fine and dandy, except I was exhausted half way through the day. And, no one nominated me for an academy award. 

About thirteen years ago (I'm a teaching dinosaur), it occurred to me that I was working harder than my students, and this epiphany changed my teaching life. My paradigm shift meant that my first day of school, and the days and weeks that followed, became student-centered instead of teacher-centered. 

Click to download the observation sheet.
Now, my first days of school look different. They are prime time for teacher observation. One of the things I do is engage my students in game play.  I do this because I want to see my students interacting with each other. I want to watch the social dynamics and how they handle challenge.
I use a visible thinking routine called See-Think-Wonder. I have recording sheets that I use.They're 11" X 17" pages, divided into squares, six to a page.  Each square represents a student. I record my student observations on these sheets, all week.

Before we begin playing games, I draw a looks like/sounds like anchor chart, and we talk about what cooperation and collaboration looks like and sounds like. Then, we play.  I've found a few games that work well for the first days of school. I try to choose games that are not heavy in content, but have a smidgen of challenge. I do this because I need my kids to be independent so I can watch them and not have to support them with academic content. While they play the games, I watch them and record what I see.  I try to get to each grouping over the course of game play. 

I'm watching for sportsmanship, emotional resilience in the face of loss, perseverance and empathy. I'm also looking for problem-solving skills, bravado or cockiness, confidence, self-control, or a lack of these traits.

10-20-30 is a great game for the early days in upper elementary. You just need decks of cards. That's it. Kids work with a partner (it's a cooperation game, not a competition game). The object is to try to get through a whole deck of cards by removing three at a time to make sums of 10, 20 or 30, but there's a twist that makes it hard. You can find the directions for this free game by clicking on the picture.

I created another game called "Operation Slam." In this game, students receive a page full of little circles. Inside each circle, there is a number. Students play in partners to color in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. They may string together as many in one number sentence as they can find. They record their number sentences on a recording sheet. When they find 3 or more numbers that can go together in an equation, they color them in on the circle sheet with their chosen colored pencil. The partner with the most circles colored in wins the game. Click on the picture!

Another game that works well is one I found from Tried and True Teaching Tools. I asked families to donate used Jenga games they were no longer using. I followed the directions and colored the ends of the blocks with permanent markers. The colors coordinated to task cards. When students pulled an orange Jenga block, they answered an orange task card. The cool thing about this game is that it's structured to provide support to the child who is "in the hot seat." Click on the picture view this game. 

After each game, we return to our cooperation/collaboration anchor chart that we created together. We discuss the game, but then we zero in on how we worked (or didn't work) with each other. We make a list of our "Be sure to's" for next time. We write class collaboration goals based on their self-evaluations. 

Then, when they're at music, art, p.e., or recess, I cozy up with my observation sheet. I reread my notes. I may have written, "Tommy bragged to Ben about winning."  I move to the "think" part of the See-Think-Wonder routine. What do I think about that as a teacher? I know this may sound pretty lame, but it's not. In fact, when you give yourself a chance to really reflect on what you saw and heard, the revelations about your kids can be startling. 

For example, I might think that Tommy is actually insecure because he needs to brag. I might think that Tommy might have a problem with his emotions when he loses. I might think that Tommy is really competitive. 

After I do this thinking. I write questions that come up about my kids. For example, I wonder how Tommy would act if he played a game with a younger buddy. I wonder what Tommy's home dynamic is and how he navigates it. I wonder if Tommy is a perfectionist. I might ask, "What is important for me to remember when I teach Tommy?"

This is the See-Think-Wonder routine. I teach this routine to my students, and they use it throughout the year. However, in this instance, I use it to help me think more deeply about my kids. You can probably guess what I do next. The first week observations I do inform the classroom community and procedure lessons I teach the next week. And so the show must go on...with my kids as the stars.

There's no business like show business.
                                                          -Irving Berlin

P.S. Feathered boas still rock my lessons, but now my students wear them!

I use these resources to begin my school year. I hope they can help you as well.

Be sure to check out these other back-to-school posts from the phenomenal teacher authors below!