3 Days and Counting…..

Hours put in since the last post:  6+

Yesterday I met with our Team’s new Special Education Teacher, Melissa.  I don’t know about Melissa, but I am definitely feeling the overwhelming panic that encompasses the start of a new year.  The weird dreams have already begun.  It will be good to get back to school and find out the students are NOT throwing spit balls around the room while I chase after them in my nighty 🙂

I wrote a sketch of what I hope to accomplish over the first 3 days of school.  Trying to find a balance between the procedures and routines I feel are necessary to creating a classroom community and some fun stuff so the kids don’t feel overwhelmed is always a tightrope walk.  I like order; accepting that “things” won’t be perfected (or as close as they’ll get) until a good six weeks into the school year always gives me an uncomfortable feeling.

slassoverviewI did change the desk arrangements around, partly to accomodate a student in a wheelchair and with a wheelchair accessible desk and partly because I just don’t want to give up on cooperative groupings of 3 or 4 students.  I like grouping my students heterogeneously so that they can talk to each other when they are stuck, need help, don’t remember what to do. As you can see from this shot, a large meeting area takes a good part of the classroom.  It’s important to me to get down on the floor on the same level with the students and this is one way I achieve that.

At this time, there are minimal supplies on the students’ desks.  The empty red writing binder and 5 tab dividers, a word studydesktop test book, a spiral notebook used as a math journal, crayons and a bookmark.  Once my class list is fairly final — on Monday during Staff Orientation — I’ll add a personalized materials.  Working in urban schools for the last 20+ years has taught me to be cautious about personalizing materials until the students actually arrive in the classroom.  Over the last week my class roster has fluctuated from 18 to 20 to 19 as students move around the district to another elementary school.  Students will continue to enroll in the District through the week after Labor Day as not all parents will be familiar with the early start date.

Melissa and I read through the cumlative folders and IEPs of the incoming students.  It is good to think and plan ahead for these students: How can we adapt and change materials so that everyone feels successful? There are so many questions that need answers.

As of today, the physical space is prepared. The first 3 days of plans have been sketched out, and I am as ready as I can be at the moment. Waiting for the first bell on Tuesday with lots of First Day Jitters.

Organization Day 3

Time 4.5 hours

After cleaning and arranging the large items in my classroom, it is time to start prepping for the students’ arrival.  I purchased an additional 10 cardboard magazine files to be used as book boxes. That makes a total of 24.  I am prepping for 24 because that, in theory, is the maximum number of students that may fill the classroom — however, there’s always the possibility that more students arrive than anticipated.

After assembling the magazine boxes, I used some large format Avery shipping labels and created book box labels.  I use numbers, not student names, to label the boxes.  The student will use their “number” as their address at the mailbox center and for the book boxes.  Finally, I placed a line of yellow painter’s tape on the countertop so that the students can replace their book box on the counter at the end of the day without interfering with the countertop vents.

Each book box has the bare bones of a Readers’ Notebook and a baggie filled with essential reading supplies.  The baggie idea came about as a result of reading To Understand by Ellin Oliver Keene — and it’s one of those “why didn’t I think of this long ago” moments.  Each baggie contains a pencil, a highlighter, and some sticky notes.  After I assess each student using the F&P Benchmarks, we will make a Reader’s License and that will also be put in the bag for reference.  The Reader’s License has the student’s name, picture and a color dot corresponding to the student’s independent reading level.  This has proved to be very helpful in reminding the student — and me — where the student will find books that are “just right”.

After seeing the Fountas/Pinnell Reader’s Notebooks — and calculating the cost — I make my own version of a Reader’s Notebook for my students.  I chose a red 1-inch flexible vinyl notebook (it bends and fits right in the magazine box) and have been able to recycle these notebooks now for the 3rd year.  Inside the notebook are 5 dividers labeled “Record & Goal” (daily reading record and a recording sheet of what the students & I agreed would be a next step), “Genres” (defined genres and a monthly tally of the genres student has read), “Interests” (books and genres that student would like to read at some point), “Responses” (weekly letters about how reading is going/teacher directed responses to a shared text), “Reference” (mini lesson reminders).  I have a different organization system for Literacy Circle materials and storage which uses a plastic see-through box.

Once we have our Reading Workshop up and running, it is my expectation/hope that students will be able to take this book box with them to any corner of the room without scrambling to find all the necessary materials for 5 minutes.

Next up, I needed to check to see that all the materials I need for starting school are available.  We have particular requirements for our academics:  a composition style notebook for recording Buddy Tests (Fountas & Pinnell, Word Study), a math journal (I use a spiral notebook and have students paste or copy a problem onto a blank page before solving), and a Writer’s Binder.  Having worked in school districts where ordering and budgets are frequently challenging, I have been in the habit of replacing the essential school items with a portion of my previous year’s classroom ordering budget.  Luckily, last year was no exception and I have all the essentials that are needed.  Our ordering for the current school year was delayed and, had I not stockpiled, it would be a bit less than organized for start up.

Finally, I looked through the masters of essential printed materials that I use in the notebooks — things like the students’ reading record and the conferencing/goals forms.  I organized these items into folders so that, if copy assistance is offered, I can take advantage of it. These are mostly materials that will be introduced to the students during the first month of school as we build both the Reader’s Notebook and the Writing Binder.

On the way home I stopped in the office to get an updated roster.  Our class lists can be pretty fluid from June to September so expecting the unexpected is always a good idea.  However, I like to write to my incoming students about a week before school starts to welcome them to Grade 3 and, if nothing else, help them to remember their new teacher’s name!  But my main goal in writing to the students is to begin the process of opening communication between home and school — and this is the first step of many.  I keep my letter to the students brief — welcome, a few hints of the exciting things we’ll be doing in Grade 3, and a reminder about bus passes and dismissals on the first day.

Feeling a little better about being ready for the First Day, next up will be some long-range planning with my new Special Education partner and some specific planning for the first week of school.  Lots to do!

Building A Mystery, Part 2



Time Spent: 4 hours

This morning I loaded up the Jetta with our new shop vac — more power! — and began cleaning up the dust from the floor replacement.  Here’s what was all over every surface, nook, and cranny of my classroom (even behind closed cupboards – this stuff goes everywhere).

Cleanup meant first sucking all the dust with the shop vac and then wet mopping it with paper towels and cleaner — sometimes twice.  It was nasty stuff.  The floor installers left some panels off and the floor vents took a major beating as well as one of the built in metal shelves.  That’ll all need fixing by the pros.

By the end of the four hours, The room was cleaned up and all the decorating that I plan to do completed.  We are a Responsive Classroom school and one of the things we do to build community is to decorate (reference charts, etc.) together.  The only exception I made for myself this year is the alphabet chart. Due to a shoulder injury, I didn’t take that down — but if the students have some preferred spot, I will and with help put it up according to the consensus.  So here are a couple of shots of the classroom configuration right now:

Meeting Area Rug:  The classroom library and a large bulletin board abut this area.  I have put the easel at one corner (my coat cloMeeting Areaset and 2 storage closets are beyond that) and I keep the snapcubes for our math investigations in a crate under the easel.  Also against the wall I have shelves that hold supplies for Writing Workshop (editing/revising pencils, forms, paper, art supplies), a listening center CD player, and a crate of cushions and 2 large beanbags.

Longer view of backHere’s a second view from the front of the room.  My desk area, 2 clipboard crates, and my collections baskets are to the right.  The table barely visible in the foreground is a round table which I use for conducting small group reading or reading/writing conferences.

My current thinking (I love that phrase!) is that I will have students keep all reading materials — independentBinder boxes

book selections, reading binders and any small group materials in the recycled cardboard magazine files (why are the recycled? See the Leveled Library Organization Project) you see on the window shelf. I also will have students keep a reading supply bag in that box – highlighter, stickynotes (cutting a 1/2 pad of 3×2 notes should be enough), bookmark, pencil) – things that take time to locate when moving around the room for Reading Workshop.  We create our own Reading Binders using floppy vinyl (red) binders and dividers (more on that later); I’m proud that my students have been very conscientious about taking care of the binders and with one or two exceptions, these are the very same binders I purchased new three years ago.     Because there’s a very important air flow vent built into the counter directly behind those boxes, I will lay masking tape to mark where the front of the box needs to line up.  The blue space behind those boxes is where we generally put a word/vocabulary wall.

Front of Room The front of the room looks the most bare at the moment.  Usually on one end of the white board we record homework assignments and on the other we keep a magnetic chart tracking where students are in the writing process.  I also hang a daily poster of our Reading Workshop Schedule at the front of the room.  I do use an overhead a lot.  Storing it at the end of the second reading/conference table and rolling it into position works for me. I have a rack of frequently used materials (Venn diagrams, blank story maps) on this table so that students can take them independently.

When I moved from the Bailey School to the Lincoln School I was excited because of the shelves!  The Lincoln was Sink areaconstructed one year after the Bailey and the architect apparently didn’t think shelf units over the sink area would be all that useful.  Luckily, when the Lincoln was constructed a revision was made and the shelves are well used!  In fact, I wish there were more of them — but then that would just encourage teachers like me to hold on to more STUFF.  I have a rolling “art cart” in which I keep a minimal amount of construction paper and lots of composition and math paper.  On top of that cart, I have a 24-section sorting file that is used as student mailboxes.

Greatest Invention EVER This final shot is a closeup of the coat/storage closet area.  Over the first 2 doors are pocket folders from Really Good Stuff. The first one holds reading and spelling/Word Study materials so that the students can help themselves.  The second holds math game and other such materials for our math program (Investigations).  Door Number 3, however, is the prize winner.  One of my former colleagues, Patty Myers, shared how she kept the little “stuff” she always needed in a clear plastic over-the-door shoe hanger.  This has been the coolest tip ever!

So now the room is clean, minimally set up, and ready for the first day.  Now all we need are the students!

Building A Mystery, Part 1

It’s a good news/bad news thing…..

At the end of the school year, there was a rumor that our ratty carpeting would be replaced by tile.  Good news: the carpets

New Tiles

are gone!  Bad news: the replacement required some serious sanding before the new tiles could be laid.  Everything in my classroom is covered with a fine, white dust.

The new floor, however, looks outstanding.  No more wheezing – I hope!

From the doorHere’s what the classroom looked like after being packed away for the summer and after the custodians removed and replaced all the furniture – including my 5 bookcases full of classroom library books. I don’t envy them having to do this each summer.

Yesterday was spent surveying what needs to be done so the room can be put back in order before students arrive on September 1.  The dust is hopeless — a wet towel just created cement and didn’t really clean off the surfaces, so next trip back I’ll bring my shop vac from home.  I did manage to wipe down my desk, replace my desktop shelf unit and wipe down the bookshelves.

I had left a map of where I wanted furniture replaced after the summMore mess!er cleaning and Kevin, Delores and Mark did a great job of following my map!  I’m still playing with the desk arrangements; however.  I’ve always had students sit in cooperative groupings; the U-shape that I mapped just seems strange to me — so I’ll probably revisit the desk configurations.  And I will have a student with a motorized wheelchair so I need to rethink the room spacing to accommodate.

I’m hoping 2 days will be enough time to get all the classroom layout completed, computers reconnected and dusting completed.