Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content
Most classes, starting with about middle school, begin the school year with reviewing the content to be covered, expectations regarding grades, and other academic information provided by the teacher or instructor. The human or social element is often disregarded.
What is interesting is that most learners enter the classroom wondering who is in the course. They want to know about the teacher and the people in the class not what material is to be covered. What this says to me as an educator is that it all begins with a social connection – between the educator and the learners, and between the learners themselves.
Because of this belief, I begin all classes focusing on having the students make connections between themselves and me. I want students to learn about one another in a personal way. I want to learn about my students so my instructional strategies can be more personalized and tailored to their needs and interests. Beginning class with a focus on connections rather than content gives learners the following messages:
- You are the focus of the class not me.
- You are important as a learner in this class.
- You will be expected to engage in the learning activities during class time. You will be an active learner.
- You will be expected to do collaborative learning during the class time.
- I, as the class facilitator, will be just that – a facilitator. I will introduce the learning activities, but you will be responsible for the actual learning.
- I will get to know you as a learner and try to help you find learning activities that are of interest to you.
Based on age/grade level, I have begun my classes in a variety of ways. What follows is a sample of activities I have used to begin the school year or college course.
Class members meet in small groups to develop guidelines for making the classroom a safe place to learn and to take risks. The groups then create a visual project that represents their guidelines.
Team Building Games
There are tons of team building games that can be used in the classroom. Some of my favorite sources of these include:
The activity in the pictures is called Puzzling Moves Tangrams - a favorite of students of all age students.
All About Me Activities
Some example activities I have done:
About Me Posters
These are store bought posters. They provide a great way to get to know students. After they are completed, I ask students to share them with the rest of the class and allow time for questions of each presentation.
For the older students, I had them randomly select another class member and they used the Biography posters to create a biography for the selected student. These were posted on one of the classroom walls drawing immediate attention of classroom visitors.
I Am Poems
Students created I AM Poems using magnetic poetry.
Students began by creating an origami wallet. They then drew self portraits and included identifying information.
When I taught 6th grade, I did not spend the week prior to the school year decorating the classroom for the students. I just piled the furniture and wall decorations in the middle of the room. In small groups, students developed blueprints for the classroom. Teams presented their designs to the rest of the class and their favorite design was voted upon. Students arranged the room according to the winning design.
After the Roomination exercise, students built and painted their own cubbies. I provided the wood pieces and specifications, but the students built them needing to assist one another to do so. They individualized their cubbies through painting them as they desired.
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