Each year Valentine’s Day brings a sense of community to a classroom that is exaggerated by the media and everywhere you look. But this year, my Valentine’s Day was a very different experience.
I am blessed to have looped with my class from First Grade to Second Grade and I love everyday with my students. It is a very different feeling in the classroom when you have been together for so long. I am fortunate that this class gets along very well. It is a very accepting group of students that support each other in many different ways.
This year I did not organize a Valentine’s Day swap. Truthfully it creeped up on me and all of a sudden it was Thursday. I had one parent email me asking for a list of names. I then quickly asked the students if they wanted a list and ALL hands shot up in the air. On Friday morning the bags of treats came in. We quickly made bags to collect the items. At the end of the day we handed out the items. Out of a class of 21, I have 3 students that did not bring anything in, but they helped the other students that needed assistance matching the names and keeping track of who they had given an item to.
The best part of the swap came when the students got to go through the bag to see what they had been given. I sat at my table with tears in my eyes as they interacted with one another. As the students started to go through the items, they got up and walked over to thank their friends. Some students gave hugs, others thanked their friend for the specific items, some gave exact examples of what they were going to do with the item. It was such a beautiful scene, all of it possible because there is a community that has grown together over a year and a half.
At the beginning of each year, I get excited when thinking about creating a community in the classroom. It is so important to put the work in at the beginning of the year and then your students will benefit throughout the year. In Chapter 7 of Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, he states that “children, just like adults, learn better in a supportive environment in which they can risk trying out new strategies and concepts and stretching themselves intellectually” (p. 65). This supportive environment creates learners that feel comfortable to take risks and feel comfortable in the learning environment.
I love the idea of creating reflective learners and Johnston gives great examples to use when creating a reflective environment. When working with my students to improve either our behavior or our academics, we discuss the improvements as a class.”We” are working together to make the classroom a better place. At the beginning of the year, I tried to implement compliments as a class. It worked at the beginning, but the students needed guidance. I can see the students that have continued the compliments by themselves in the classroom, but would love to see more in the classroom.
This month I started working with above grade level guided reading group. The group consists of students from 2 classrooms. We have been studying characters, feelings of characters, point of views and the plot of characters. The students are able to answer my comprehension questions, but I did not feel we were getting enough out of the group. We discussed what a book club is and how people are part of book clubs. I give the students an assignment and then we meet back in a couple of days. I let the students guide the discussion. The students ask each other questions, take votes on whether they agree and disagree (holding each other to give a reason for the response) and they discuss the character and the plot. It is amazing to see how much they have grown and the responsibility they take when discussing the book.
After reading Chapter 8 – Who Do You Think You’re Talking To? I thought back to my first year of teaching. I had a little boy in my class who needed a lot of support both academically as well as behaviorally. One day I was trying to work with the student and trying to reflect on a behavior that had just acquired. He looked right at me and said “you don’t know me!”. This statement caught me off guard and made me think about the student as an individual. I felt like I knew this student pretty well, I went to his football games, communicated with his family and set up success plans in the classroom. But if he was able to make that comment, then there was something that I needed to change.
Throughout Choice Words Johnston gives great strategies and word choices to use in the classroom. This book can create a new environment that students feel comfortable in and feel safe to take risks. I am going to continue to use the strategies in the classroom and try tom implement new structures to help my students be successful.