The pressure to begin

Tuesday was our first day of school with the kids.  Unlike last year, I have not looped with these students. This year, everything starts at the beginning. And that is most definitely an overwhelming prospect when we teachers begin to think about what routines need to be taught. When I prepare for those first days, the burning question is “what do I want this to look like in our classroom at the end of the year?”

So much of this first week is not academic; it’s procedural. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Many education experts advocate for building the classroom culture over the first six weeks of school. However, the pressure to start academics weighs on all of us – administrators and teaching staff. When assessments are scheduled for the first month of school, there’s an implication that the academics have become the focus fairly early in the year.

In the Daily 5, reading stamina – the amount of uninterrupted time students read with focus – is built one minute a day, one day at a time.  Starting at 3 minutes, I need 27 school days (5+ weeks) to build reading stamina to 30 minutes daily (a minimal goal for fourth graders).  And when I take a shortcut to get to this goal? Well, that’s when some less-than-ideal behaviors pop up. Building purposeful habits can’t be rushed.

So if all these culture-building steps create a safe and vibrant classroom environment for kids, why don’t we just do it?

The pressure to start curriculum too soon is strong. Even experienced veterans start to feel the nagging pressure to be at a particular spot in the curriculum by a date carved into a calendar.  Am I trusted to assess my own students’ needs, design and deliver the instruction to take them from their entry point to where they need to be at this grade level?

I’m not sure I am.



I’ve been working – really working – at the conferencing table for the last several session of D5 choice. Up until this point, I have been “fake working” — monitoring students without their knowledge — so as to regroup if and when stamina for an activity is broken. We are nearly pros with Read to Self now and becoming much more independent with Writing; just a few missteps in the “”work quietly” department.

Word Work is still a work in progress as is Read to Someone. The kids are getting very accustomed to setting their goals for independently working (hurrah!) and are starting to verbalize why we do what we do in the classroom (extra hurrah).

When I hear other educators talk about the Daily Five, it is often said that D5 is simply an organizational structure. Well, yes, there is that aspect. However, for me, the beauty, the benefit of working with this structure is the explicit guide for creating independent students – students who become responsible learners.

It is not enough for students to comply in school just because teacher “said so.” Think about it: when you were a kid, you were probably often told to just do something. When you didn’t understand the point of the activity or the routine, did you find it easy to remember and to comply? I didn’t.

Building stamina for independence has been a painfully slow process. It is natural to want to get the show on the road, to be able to get in the routines of the day – all of them – as quickly as possible.

Independent habits of mind take time. We are building our stamina this year and already the payback is becoming obvious.