Many of you are ready to jump off the end of the pier – sometime in the next few weeks, kids are heading back to your classrooms.
To help energize your first awesome week with kids, here are six great ways to kick off the school year. Use what you can. Adapt what you can’t.
What not to do
But before we get too far along with what we know works, it’s probably a good idea to think about what doesn’t. I’ve mentioned Fourteen Things You Should Never Do on the First Day of School before but it’s still a great reminder of what it looks like when we’re doing it wrong. Mark Barnes suggest that your goal should be a very simple one during the first few days of school:
You have many days to assess students’ strengths and weaknesses. You have months to discuss high stakes testing and standards. You’ll spend weeks probing the textbook.
The first day of school should be dedicated to rapport-building and to joy.
Your goal should be that students go home that night and tell their parents: “I’m going to love history class because my teacher is awesome!”
So what should we be doing the first week?
Kids need to be in groups. They need to be solving problems. They need to get a taste of some social studies and play with some social studies tools. They need to know that it’s okay to fail. Find out more about them. They should practice a few critical thinking skills. Maybe a little tech here and there. Have fun.
Several weeks ago, I had the chance to work with a group of high school teachers as we brainstormed new Inquiry Design Models. Any time I get the chance to spend time with a bunch of other social studies teachers, not much can ruin the day. Seriously . . . a whole day talking, sharing, playing with, and exploring the best social studies tools, resources, and strategies?
And during our time together we messed around with a tool that I had almost forgotten about.
The Pie Chart.
The Pie Chart is a powerful graphic organizer / writing scaffold / assessment tool / Swiss army knife. It does it all and is drop dead simple. I first learned about the Pie almost a decade ago from social studies super star Nathan McAlister.
Nate was part of our Teaching American History grant as the summer seminar master teacher and used the Pie Chart as a hook activity to kick start a conversation about the causes of the Civil War.
We’ve all been there. You just finished putting together a great instructional lesson or unit. Kids are gonna love it. They’re working together. Doing research. Creating stuff, not just consuming it. The historical thinking will be off the charts.
Then you realize . . . you haven’t created the rubric yet.
You know that clear expectations and feedback are critically important to the learning process. You know that rubrics can help you in assessing what students know and are able to do. So you sit back down and eventually decide to use four scoring columns instead of five. Six rows of criteria instead of three. Clear descriptors. Nine point font all crammed into your matrix so that it fits on one page. Definitely tons of feedback gonna happen from this beauty.
But it’s worth it, right?
Mmm . . . using a great rubric can speed up the grading and assessment process but they can also create other issues besides the amount of time it takes to create them. A student shows creativity way beyond what the rubric asks for in a way that you hadn’t anticipated and your columns and rows aren’t able to reward that. Or a kid spells everything correctly but the grammar and punctuation is terrible. Maybe she nails the document analysis but fails to use evidence in her claims and your rubric has those two things together.
And is there any way – other than individual conferences – to really know whether students actually go deeper into your scored rubric than to look at the final grade circled in the bottom left hand corner?
Yes, analytic rubrics are useful. I’m not saying rubrics shouldn’t be part of your assessment toolkit. They can help you develop and create assignments that are aligned to your end in mind. They can provide clear expectations for students and a way to share feedback. But they can also be difficult to design correctly and may seem so overwhelming to students that the expected feedback we want never really sinks in.
And, sure, holistic versions are much quicker to create and use. So that’s nice. But they fail to provide specific and targeted feedback. You get a kid who wants to know why they got a two instead of a three or worse, he won’t ask at all. Missing the whole point of providing feedback in the first place.
Jill Weber is a middle school teacher in Cheney, Kansas and former Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year.
Today? She talks rubrics.
One thing I love about the teaching profession is that we are always constantly learning, growing, trying new things . . . all in the process of becoming better. This is true whether it’s your first year and you’re improving from the first month of school to the second. And it’s true if you’re a veteran teacher who decides to try something different to “shake things up.” There is always an opportunity to learn and improve.
One thing I am learning more and more as I keep going is how important it is to have clear expectations. Now, it’s not that I didn’t know that I needed that when I started but I keep learning that what I think is “clear” doesn’t necessarily translate that way to my 7th and 8th grade students. I find that they ALWAYS do better when I am as simplyspecific as possible with my expectations.
Don’t let that fool you. I didn’t say I lower my expectations.
I simplify my explanation of the expectations so that it is as clear as possible.
I am constantly getting better at this.
And one of my favorite examples is with my rubrics.
I am a FIRM believer in having rubrics to score students on. Nothing is more frustrating for a student to receive a score on a project or assignment and not have a clear picture as to why they were given that score. So when I’m making and using rubrics in my classroom, I’m always keeping in mind this #1 major rule . . .
During a recent trip through different parts of Texas, I got the chance to lead several teacher conversations around these three questions. We worked together to share strategies and resources designed around creating knowledgeable, thinking, and active citizens.
With a specific goal of training our kids to be effective consumers of online information. So our conversation wasn’t just about fake news – it was also about online civic literacy.