Ten Guiding Principles for the Beginning of the Year

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Let Students Decide and Choose

Share responsibility for decision making with your class from the outset. Let them know they will be encouraged to make choices and participate in classroom processes. For younger students, participatory experiences that first day might include choosing seats, deciding what game to play, deciding what song they prefer to sing, choosing a library book, writing classroom rules, and so forth.

Include a Literacy Experience

Let the kids know that very first day that you value reading by incorporating some simple reading or reading-related activity into your plans. You might visit the school library, introduce the librarian, and let each child choose a book. Or you might read a favorite picture storybook to younger children or read to older students the first chapter of a book that is related to your subject matter. Additionally, you might engage kindergarten children in their first language-experience activity and have them read back a story they have dictated and committed to memory. Or you might have a sustained, silent reading period of classroom library books after lunch on that first day. Whatever you choose to do about reading that first day, make it fun! Perhaps you can turn the tide toward reading by showing great wonder and enthusiasm for the world of books yourself.

Acknowledge Every Student

On that first day (and all others) enable each student to feel unique. Let each one know with a verbal or nonverbal response from you that she or he is welcome, valued, and special. It can start with an individual greeting to each one on the way into the room. A greeting in the primary language of second language learners will make them feel welcome. It continues when you listen to their introductions and learn their names. It is reinforced by your positive remarks and smiling demeanor. It is expanded when you ask them to help you write the rules. It ends with a special good-bye to each student at the end of the period or class day and begins again the very next day.

Review, Assign, and Post Easy Work

Prepare work for the first day that is slightly below the anticipated level of the class. Why? Students should go home that very first day feeling successful, feeling that they have accomplished something. For younger students, a few papers can be sent home that very first day with an appropriate happy face or comment by you so parents can see the results of their child's initial efforts. Step in when you see that a given task is too difficult or frustrating. You have the whole year to challenge students and encourage them to work beyond their capacities. But during the first week, make success your sole criterion for work given. Encourage students for all of their small steps as well as for their giant leaps.

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Excerpted from Your First Year of Teaching and Beyond, by Ellen Kronowitz.

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