Things have been so busy lately I haven’t been able to do much more than post a chalkboard drawing every now and then. I hope to be able to post more soon but until then, here’s my current chalkboard drawing. It was actually remarkably easy to do and I just love how it turned out!
School has started and all is well. Things are super-busy as my family and I rediscover our old rhythms and create new ones in our new home. I am loving my new class and enjoying all of the vibrant energy that is 4th grade. I have a classroom full of spirited vikings and we are having wonderful robust days together. I can hardly believe that tomorrow begins the final week of our Norse Mythology block.
We’ve done some wonderful work together and I hope to share more about that soon, but for now I’ll just share my chalkboard drawing of Yggdrasil. What fun it was to draw!
I have been doing lots of reading this summer on the subject of classroom management. One little bit of knowledge I have gained in my years of experience is that establishing rhythms, routines and habits in the classroom is what makes the bustle of creativity possible in main lesson. And, even more important, these rhythms, routines and habits need to be directly taught and regularly practiced. The first few weeks are the time to show the students mundane things like how we line up before school and how we hand out supplies as well as more complicated things like how to resolve disputes on the playground and what kind of language we use when talking to each other. Of course many of these topics go beyond the work of the first few weeks, but that time at the very beginning of the school year is most important.
I have received some great ideas for this work from the following books and I highly recommend them.
This book, Assertive Discipline: Positive Behavior Management for Today’s Classroom by Lee Canter is fantastic. What I appreciate most about it is that it lays things out in a very systematic way. It is very straightforward as it goes through methods a teacher can use for managing her class. Things as simple as suggesting that after giving the class an instruction, the teacher should watch and within two seconds give the class feedback like, “Oh, I see that Mary and Michael are taking out their pencils like I asked.” Doing this means that the students are hearing the instructions again without you repeating them, which has always been a no-no in my book. Following this, Canter instructs the teacher to follow up with anyone not following the instructions within 5 seconds. Though I am sure these guidelines will be more flexible in practice, it is good to start out with techniques that are so clear and straightforward.
Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Charney is another gold mine of information. It is so clear and really emphasizes teaching children the simple activities in the classroom that we might take for granted they already know and are familiar with. She goes through techniques of building classroom rules along with the children and how to keep your discipline and attitude towards the children positive. I am just thrilled with this book and I can already feel it shaping my interactions with the students.
The First Six Weeks of School is another positive, straightforward approach to teaching children the rhythms and routines that will sustain your work all through the year. It is so clear that it gives a day by day schedule of activities for the first six weeks that teachers can follow and it varies this schedule for differently aged students. There is a K-2 schedule, a 3-4 schedule and a 5-6 schedule. It emphasizes that these rhythms and routines are the curriculum for the first few weeks, which is a concept I had never considered until reading this book. Of course, teachers will adapt this resource to their own particular situations (I can’t imagine following someone else’s schedule for the day) but having a template as a guideline is very helpful!
I’m starting to dive into the fourth grade curriculum, as well, but that’s a separate post.
I spent a good part of this weekend preparing for more geometry this week — I’ll certainly have some beautiful drawings to show for it as the week progresses.
One of the things I needed to pull together this weekend was a new poem for my class to speak together in the mornings. It was my good fortune, then, that our school recently received a few copies of a great new poetry book.
The Waldorf Book of Poetry is a fantastic resource full of poems to use in the Waldorf classroom. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent poring through poetry books trying to find something appropriate to use with my students. Every time I do it I’ve thought that certainly countless Waldorf teachers before myself have spent the same hours trying to find just the right poem. David Kennedy has taken all that work and compiled it into one volume full of poems appropriate for all kinds of situations. Usually it’s pretty simple to find rhymes and poems to use with the younger grades but in this book I found poem after poem that was perfect for my sixth graders and even older students. I can’t recommend it enough!
Today was our first day back at school after Christmas Break. I always have a little bit of nervous, excited energy when we come back to school after a break, and I certainly did this time. Last night I could hardly sleep and I tossed and turned thinking about seeing my students again and starting our new block.
I think my nervousness was doubled because I just love this 6th Grade Geometry block so much. When I told the class today that we were going to be doing lots of drawing with our new compasses there were squeals of delight throughout the room. We just love our compasses. I know that when they learn the geometric constructions they’ll be able to do with these tools they’ll love them even more.
Today we did our first geometric construction — concentric circles.
The Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe begins with the circle as a representation of the number one — unity. We were able to see this most clearly today as we recognized that the circle has just one point in the center. We saw that while other shapes have three or four corners sticking out, the circle is a unit unto itself. We also saw that in the circle beginning and end become one. I could see that the students really recognized the circle as one perfect form.
Tomorrow we’ll work on some terms related to the circle. This evening I worked on my main lesson page that presents this information.
One of the things I love most about this block is the opportunity it presents for artistic work. I expect we’ll do some pretty beautiful main lesson book pages. I’ll try to post pictures as much as possible.
These three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are always such a whirlwind of activity! In our story of Rome we’ve made it through the life of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Caesar Augustus. We’re loving the stories and doing some great work with our writing.
In addition to the imaginative content we’re really taking a close look at grammar. We’ve gotten quite good at identifying subjects, predicates and direct objects. We can also tell when a verb is transitive, intransitive or linking. It’s so satisfying to watch the students identify these grammatical constructions with such confidence. We finished up last week looking at the verb “to be” which is one of those verbs that almost doesn’t seem like a verb. We conjugated it in past, present and future tenses, an activity which dovetailed nicely with the students’ work in French class.
This week we’ll take a closer look at verb tenses. We’ll take a critical look at writing to determine what tense it is written in. Students this age still often struggle with changing tenses in their writing. They’ve gotten pretty good at writing descriptively, but I want for them to be able to notice when they change tenses. I’ve noticed that the biggest challenges come when students are writing about a particularly engaging story. They’ll start out in past tense and then as they get into the story a bit more they start to feel like they are really there and they’ll switch to present tense. This is one of those mistakes that makes the English major in me twitch, so I’ll be happy when my students can start to notice when they’re doing it.
Tomorrow I’m going to bring portraits of three powerful Roman men — Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Augustus Caesar — and we’ll draw them in our main lesson books.
I love that moment in sixth grade when students start to see their drawing not as a collection of lines but simply as a mixture of light and dark. Marble Roman statues are perfect for this exercise.
So far on this blog my posts have had mainly to do with curriculum support. I completely enjoy immersing myself in the world of ideas and I love thinking about the most enlivening and exciting ways to present these ideas to my students. Curriculum building is truly one of my favorite things to do.
I have not, however, written too much about the subject of classroom management. The task of teaching today’s children is not a simple one. Children and parents are pushed to live fast-paced lives. Parents feel conflicted — they want to protect their children but they also want to prepare them for the challenges they’ll face in the world. As a result, parents think carefully about their children’s bests interests and they are not willing to blindly hand over their authority to teachers. Parents want to know that teachers understand their children and are watching out for their safety. Today’s parents don’t engage in blind trust when it comes to their children – they ask questions and get involved.
This means that often a teacher’s authority is questioned by parents (as well as by those older students). Without a good working relationship with the parents, a teacher can feel nervous about every decision he or she must make. Will parents understand my motivations? Will they know why this is the best thing for their children? These concerns can weigh so heavily that what is already a difficult task becomes even more challenging. Without strong parent support and a lot of confidence, teachers struggle and, when it is worst, they can feel completely paralyzed.
What is worse is that the child cannot be comfortable and successful in the classroom without feeling secure in having a strong authority at the head of the class. Above all, for the child’s sake, the teacher must be clear in her convictions and confident that she knows best.
What can the teacher do to confirm for herself and reassure parents (and students) that she is a loving authority? Of course, doing the work required to know and understand the children in her care is first and foremost. Learning about the curriculum and learning styles will help us know how best to meet them.
But there are also small things we can do to build authority in the classroom. Sometimes it is the small things that reassure parents and students the most.
- Be a stickler for the details. A little story — every Friday my students take everything out of their desks and set their things on top of their chairs on top of their desks. This is my system for making sure their desks are cleaned out regularly. The first time we did this I listed the things that should be on their chairs — in order, largest things on the bottom, smallest things on top. Ever since, they have been expected to order their materials largest to smallest. Now, does it really matter if their composition book is under their main lesson book? Not really. But since I did this (and went around making sure everyone had followed my instructions) the children know I am paying attention. Now we’ve taken this even further in that all of the chairs on the desks are facing the same direction. The empty desks and chairs look like ranks in a well-ordered military.
- Give instructions one time only. When you need to tell your students to do something first make sure they have your attention. I often do this by saying, “Listen closely,” or “Oh, this is so important.” You can also get their attention in more direct ways. Many teachers use, “1-2-3, eyes on me.” To which students reply, “1-2, eyes on you.” Once you have their attention, give your instruction one time and sit back and watch that they comply. Do not, however tempted you may be, repeat your instruction. If your students do not immediately comply this probably means you’ve been repeating yourself too much.
- Make sure everyone does what you ask. Early in my teaching career I was mortified one day when a student pointed out to me before the class that other students in the room were doing exactly what I had asked him to stop doing. If you tell one child to stop fiddling with his gummy eraser, you better do a quick look to make sure nobody else is either. This kind of consistency is essential, especially in the upper grades when the students are all too aware of each other’s actions.
- Follow through on everything. If you give an assignment, collect it, correct it and return it. Regularly collect and give feedback on main lesson books. Make sure this feedback goes to the parents as well as to the students.
- Be organized and prepared. If it seems like you are creating due dates and lesson plans on the fly, the students will respect your authority less. They need to know that you have a plan — you know where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Well, after starting and erasing several times, I finally decided on my chalkboard drawing for the beginning of Rome. We have another Rome block in December, so I decided to save the more militaristic drawing (including a map) for then. For now the seven lush green hills that existed prior to the establishment of the city will do just perfectly.
I said in a post earlier this week how much I’ve realized that it is those moments of hands-on, project work that really help the lesson material sink in. The lessons I remember most from my childhood were those times when I was able to engage with the curriculum in ways that involved more than just my thinking life.
Of course, Waldorf education engages more than the thinking life on an everyday basis, but I’m always looking for moments to engage all three aspects of the human — thinking, feeling, willing — in my lessons. The shields we’re making in class this week are a perfect example. As the children take up the work with their wills, they engage with the feeling as they imagine themselves to be Roman soldiers. During the rest of the lesson we work with the material in a more academic way that engages the thinking.
Putting this project together couldn’t have been simpler. I went to the local home improvement store and bought three sheets of wood. The wood that I used is somewhere between plywood and cardboard — heavier than your average cardboard box, but lighter than a piece of plywood would be.
I had them cut the sheets at the store so that each final shield is 2′ X 3′. True Roman shields were quite large and in truth were just about a foot and a half shorter than the soldier.
I then looked up shield designs and pretty consistently found a pattern similar to this one.
In the next couple of days we’ll finish up the painting and attach a handle to the center back. I’m hoping we’ll be done with them in time for them to figure prominently in our assembly this week.