Thursday, February 04, 2010

On one of those hot sunny August days when the light seems extraordinarily bright, the goldenrod is exceptionally yellow, the sky is deep blue, instead of lounging on my front porch, reaching yet another novel, as I have been most of the summer, I'm in my classroom, putting student names on manila folders using a fat black Sharpie. Last name first, all caps on these folders; then, when I put student names on black and white composition books for their lit letters, I use upper and lower case and put first name, then last. More personal that way, on the notebook that will be the receptacle for their very personal thoughts and reactions. Inside one manila folder will be sheets for recording final copies, sheets for recording lessons learned about drafting, revising, editing, a letter from me to their parents to take home and get signed during the first short week of school.

Or perhaps I'm rearranging novels on my mismatched collection of bookcases, making sure each shelf or case has only one genre, and books are in the right place to start the year, at least. The box for turning in lit letters has to be covered with wrapping paper (some years this took a few months to happen; I got used to the dull brown cardboard appearance, but stars and glitter look better). I might be putting names on index cards that wait for the names of books each student borrows from my classroom. I might be placing the plastic crates around the room, the crates that will hold students' work folders, in alphabetical order. The first week of the first year, I put each class in a different crate, alphabetically, and then waited to start class while every student lined up in front of that one crate. I learned quickly; I alphabetized ALL my students, not each class, and spread them out over five or six crates.

I write my students' names many times before they actually enter the room. In addition to the two manila folders (one work folder and one final copy folder), the composition book, and the index card, I put students' names on sheets in a binder, one binder for each class, so I have a place to record what I need to remember about each piece of writing the student gives me over the year's time. I like to have different colored binders, so they can vary from class to class. I'll be carrying them with me while I meet with students during their three writing classes each week.

Equally important, I have to have procedures in place that I use every time a student turns in a paper or a lit letter. I have to mesh those procedures with whatever grading system the school uses. At first, I had only my physical gradebook to worry about, but when we switched over to E-School, a decade later, I had to find a way to fit my grading and record-keeping into that software system.

I spend more than a few days in my classroom before the first day back for teachers. This time is so important for a workshop style class. I have to be organized. I have to have systems in place before students arrive so the papers they write won't be lost, the comments I need to share with them will be accessible when I have a conference, and the responses they have to novels and their free writes are safe and secure. Many other aspects of my classroom will seem messy, chaotic, or loose, but not these important points. It is difficult to operate a successful reading and writing workshop class without this advance preparation and attention to detail.


Elisha said...

I enjoyed reading this post. The beginning really grabbed my attention and made me long for those lazy summer days. Seems like a lot of work to prepare for the first day of school!

redhead said...

Your post reminds me of LouAnne Johnson's book: Grabbing Students By Their Brains, which we are reading in Dr. Stearns' class. I enjoyed reading your thoughts because if this connection especially.

I do have one suggestion: in the beginning of your post you talk about "extraordinary sunshine" and "exceptional goldenrod", and a "deep blue" sky. Have you considered using some continued alliteration in your description of the sky...maybe a word like "extravagant" would go nicely? Just a thought...

starwatcher236 said...

oh, yes, extravagant would work perfectly. thanks!
maybe you would lend me your copy of the johnson book when you're finished with it for dr. stearns' class...

CassandraCaryl said...

You have such passion when you write about your students, your classroom; I can tell that you are inspired by what you do!

Like Elisha said: "The beginning grabbed my attention."

You were so descriptive, and that made it possible for me to envision what was happening!

Awesome Piece!