To ensure a successful school year, routines and expectations must be taught carefully in the first weeks. While I have the advantage of working with 4th graders I had already as 3rd graders, my biggest challenge is getting routines and expectations into place with my new 3rd graders. Adding to the challenge is the fact that I only get to see my students barely an hour each day and I get fewer “days” than their homeroom classroom teachers due to scheduling conflicts. Translation… it takes much longer to get routines into place. (See “part 1” of this topic for more info)
We have added Vocabulary and Poetry stations to our set of choices. Vocabulary consists of a set of QR codes the children can scan to get a special word. They then have sentence cards (many are pretty funny) to use with the word they scan in a sentence. Most of the children love this station and it gives me a chance to hold students accountable for correct capitalization and punctuation (which should have been mastered in 2nd grade and should be done consistently in written work). For poetry station, I showed the children how they can choose a poem and ‘sketch’ their thinking about parts of the poem. The focus here is on recognizing poems have a different structure and so we use the language “lines” and/or “stanzas” to refer to parts in the poem.
A “side” activity that we learned is called “being a word wizard”. The focus is to work on inferring the meaning of words IN CONTEXT using context clues. Therefore I encourage the children to keep this in mind whenever they are doing any reading work so that they can jot down words as they come across them. (Some of the children have been trying to just find words in isolation and look them up, so I’ve had to clarify that the point is IN CONTEXT).
The next routine/expectation that I brought in was expectations for the novel we are reading together. In a previous post “The Why Behind The What” I explain why I use a few novels for us to read together. I have selected Clementine by Sara Pennypacker because it is not a challenge to read but works beautifully for various goals I have.
For 3rd graders, I start with just getting them adjusted to the expectation of having homework, as it is a new concept for many. With only 1 hour to do so much work, I think it is more than reasonable to expect some level of outside effort/preparation. Getting into the habit of doing what is expected and coming prepared to class is the first target. I want 3rd graders to take ownership and learn to be responsible on their own; that is without reminders from mom and dad. To help make this simple, Friday is our “book club” day and so every Friday we devote to novel work. Here’s a break down of what we have learned in regards to expectations so far:
Week 1: read the chapter and “annotate”. Then show up with your book and some annotations. Of course there were many “I forgot” or “My mom didn’t…” I put my hand up to the excuses and clarified: ‘This is the expectation and so you need to own the fact that you came unprepared. I am not mad. We all forget things in life however excuses won’t solve our problem. Let’s learn from this how we can try to remember next time.’ I also clarify that it is their responsibility to make sure they bring their materials (not mom or dad). I want parents to let me help their child learn to take personal responsibility now in a safe and secure environment. This is a LIFE skill. I have even used this comparison: “the electric company doesn’t care if I had the money in my account and forgot to pay because they still expect me to take care of my responsibility”. In life we deal with forgetting things and we just move on. That is what I want to instill.
Week 2: Again I asked the children to read the chapter and “annotate”. I added on an additional expectation and clearly outlined it in the “directions”:
It just so happened that less than 1/2 of the children actually followed the ‘read like a detective’ part in the directions, and so I worked on pointing out how we need to read directions when they are given to us and not just automatically assume we “know what to do”.
Week 3: I started by giving each child specialized feedback so they could evaluate how they met the expectations in weeks one and two:
It was eye-opening for many of the children. Again my goal is to help them step up and take personal ownership and plan to adjust what they do to meet the expectation.
Then after a group mini-lesson I gave them the next discussion guide:
They had some time in class to get started, and right away many did not read the directions. Reinforcing this will be a re-occurring theme…
Week 4: Coming with their book and some annotations seems to be a habit now. We are still working on following special directions. The guide they were given is based on the Talk About Text lesson we did for the week (more on these in a separate post). Clementine ch 4 discussion guide . We also had our first lesson about how as 3rd grade readers, we are expected to respond to text in writing. I find this is a new concept for the children even though if they are tested at DRA level 28 or beyond, a written response component is expected at those levels. We did our first ACE response (which stands for “A” answer the question “C” cite evidence to support your answer and “E” explain how the evidence supports your answer.
Our Friday “book club” or novel work also serves another purpose: discussion. I am spending time to directly teach the children how to have conversations because this is another LIFE skill. We have started with how to make eye contact with each other. These are the “rules” we are learning: (1) Make eye contact with the speaker (2) Wait until others finish speaking (3) Listen for the pause then speak (4) Be empathetic to others’ ideas (5) Respectfully agree and/or disagree (6) Support your claims with evidence
So while it is taking a LONG time to get everything in place, know that our routines are solid and even though expectations set are high, we are working towards them!