3 Do’s and Don’ts for Teachers in the Start of the School Year
By: Amy Bilek, K-8 Math Instructional Coach
Teachers’ choices during the first few weeks of school have a profound impact. These first few weeks are an opportune time for the getting to know your students, creating classroom culture, and setting the tone for how mathematician work and communicate their thinking.
How can you make sure that the decisions you make support these goals and don’t work against them?
Whether remote or in-person, here are 3 Do’s and Don’ts to start the school year off right!
Teacher Tips: 3 Do’s and Don’ts
1. Don’t: Give a traditional pre-assessment
This fall, more than ever, teachers need reliable information about where their students are at in the learning progression. Not only may there be the usual “summer slide” but also students’ learning may have suffered when forced to be remote last spring.
However, in my opinion, a long pencil and paper pre-assessment that goes through the multitude of skills from last year is not your best option.
Doing that starts off the year with a focus on assessment and right-and-wrong answers rather than creativity and community building.
Yet, you do need to know where your learners are at, so let’s consider a more well-rounded approach to pre-assessment.
1. Do: Begin the year with open-ended, creative tasks that help you get to know your students
Think about how much you can learn about your students when they are interacting with an open-ended, collaborative task. If teaching virtually, consider how to utilize breakout rooms and digital whiteboards, and if in-person, think about how vertical non-permanent surfaces (such as butcher paper or whiteboards on the walls) may allow for socially distanced collaboration.
With open-ended tasks, you will not only be able to take notes on students’ math skills and knowledge but also on their mathematical mindsets and practices such as perseverance, communication skills, and work ethic.
I love to start off the year with YouCubed’s Week of Inspirational Math.
2. Don’t: Hand out your syllabus or read out expectations
It is essential (whether in person or remote) to set the norms and culture for your classroom during the first weeks of school.
Yet, if you want a math classroom that values student voice and is collaborative, then teacher written rules work against you creating that culture.
Additionally, spending the first day reading through a syllabus puts emphasis on the grading and assessments rather than learning.
2. Do: Work with your class to come up with norms and a class culture together
I like to start the year by having students partake in a collaborative task. Following the task, I have students share what they liked when working with their groups and what they didn’t like. I add their ideas to an anchor chart, so the students are responsible for articulating what a group member should look and sound like.
Students voices are valued as we decide what we want our classroom culture and norms to be.
Four 4’s is one of my favorite tasks for the start of school, and I’ve used it with grades 3 through 8.
3. Don’t: Start off by reviewing last year’s concepts with traditional abstract problems
After a longer break than ever due to CoVid and summer, it is important to review last year’s concepts. However, I don’t recommend jumping into abstract, traditional problems like the ones shown above.
I find that the students that really need this review feel overwhelmed and increased math anxiety from problems like this, causing them to give up and shut down.
The students that do solve the problems, I find, are often the ones that didn’t really need this review in the first place and were not challenged or pushed by it.
3. Do: Start with visual, open tasks that connect many concepts
Consider tasks that are low-floor, high ceiling. Consider tasks that are visual and can be worked through with manipulatives. Consider tasks that have minimal text and abstract symbols.
Tasks like these encourage exploration of previous learned concepts in a way that meets each kid where he or she is at and maximizes student learning
Estimation 180 has great visuals for kicking off a class with an image-based bell ringer that all students can access.
While it is true that due to Covid19 this school year may start differently than past years, these 3 tips help you stay true to your same start-of-school-year-goals.
- Get to know your students in a way that aligns with how you want them to view mathematics and with the culture you are fostering in your classroom.
- Encourage collaboration and student-voice when creating the class norms, and culture.
- Review last year’s big concepts in ways that are accessible, visual, and meaningful.
Good luck in these first few weeks of school!