Reflections on the First Month Back to School

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September has somehow come and gone.  I’ve seen a few posts of teachers sharing their reflections about how the first month of school has gone, and I thought it might be a good exercise for me to go through as well.  Here is what I have learned so far:

1)  Simplify with Fewer Routines. 

As usual, I started the year brimming with ideas of all the amazing, pedagogically-sound routines I was going to do with my students.  Most of my excitement was in the area of mathematics and I had plans for Journaling, Number Talks, Think/Pair/Shares, Depth of Knowledge Questions, Estimating activities, Fluency Stations,  problem-based learning, regular 3-act math lessons, and many more.

It’s been too much.  I have realized that I need to streamline my routines and just implement a few consistently.  I have chosen to focus on Depth of Knowledge Questions, Journaling, and Number Talks.

I know that I can introduce more routines as students become ready, but for now it’s enough for my students to work on these 3 routines.

Still, it feels like I am committing some sort of math sin not to include some of the other routines that I know about and see the value in.  To be sure, I didn’t cut them because my students wouldn’t benefit from them, but because it is proving too ambitious to implement too many routines at once.

Now that I write that, it seems kind of obvious…  It’s not realistic to implement 20 new routines during the first month of school, and well this year the number isn’t 20, it’s more like four.

And that’s ok.

Fortunately, we are running a marathon, not a sprint, and while the year goes by fast, and it’s tough to fit everything in, the solution is not to cram it all in but rather to be selective.

I am trying to think about it, not in terms of what I need to cut out, but rather as an issue of timing;  it’s a matter of when I will introduce some of the other routines and activities, not a question of if.

I thought deeply about what routines I would continue implementing and which ones will have to wait, and I will eagerly share my students’ thinking with the work we do tackle this term, and look forward to implementing some additional routines when the time is right.  Most of all, the 3-act math lessons.  I’ve been itching to try one.

2)  I Need More Groupings. 

I have a small class and I was hopeful that I would be able to have to make use of low-floor, high-ceiling questions as a way to differentiate and keep my groupings to two.  I have a small class, so number-wise, two skill-based groups not unrealistic.

This is proving not to work.  I teach a split grade, and in mathematics for example, I have students working at grade level (Grade 7), and some struggling to use “counting on” as a strategy to add numbers like 35 + 8.

I know I will be able to serve the students better by working with three groups instead of two even though it means I am spread a little thinner.

3)  Keep Going with the Meditation and Mindfulness Work

I have included a time of practicing meditation and mindfulness with the students  during a time of the day that has been a struggle for the past few years.  On Mondays,  I essentially lose an entire period between gym and their afternoon nutrition break when the students return from gym class.

In years past, I have experimented with what subject I taught during that time, as well as with the type of activity we do during that period such as quiet seat work, hands-on activities, and team-building activities, to name a few.

This year, I spend between 5 and 15 minutes teaching my students about meditation and practicing it.

It is still remains a challenging time of the day,  but some students are responding well,  and learning a valuable skill.  Despite the challenges, I am realizing that the students who are most disruptive during the meditation are likely the ones who need it most.  I also need to keep in mind that this is the first year I am teaching meditation and mindfulness.  There is going to be a learning curve as I figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Final Words

Reflecting on my practice tends to happen on it’s own as I think back on how a day, a week, or a unit has gone.  But rarely do I write my reflections down.  Articulating my thoughts in print, however, has me reflecting a little more deeply.

Thanks to those who have reflected on their September and inspired me to do the same.

Happy Learning.

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