We're into the third week of school but actually, today was only day seven with my students. By this time, I'm itching to collect some hard core data on my kids. I'm eager to know more about their skills. I want to start planning my course for the year.
This is not the time to assess. I have to force myself to pump the brake. This is no time to pass out a paper and pencil test. This is no time to give kids the impression that they may not measure up. I don't want to do anything that will give my students the notion that they don't meet my expectations, I don't want anyone feeling like they don't belong in our classroom.
Instead, this is the time to build community. This is the time to build relationships and to establish routines so that kids can feel safe. This is the time to focus on developing trust. It is also the time to make valuable observations.
During these first couple of weeks I do what I ask my students to do so often. I notice and I wonder. I notice the kid fake reading during read to self time. I wonder if he needs help selecting good fit books. I wonder if he sees himself as a reader at all. I wonder if he is distracted because of something going on in his heart or head. I wonder if he worries about what the other kids are thinking. Is that why he holds firm to a book he cannot read?
I notice what the other students are doing when the new student speaks. Are they going to accept her and quickly count her among their friends? Are they really listening to her? Will she feel safe in this room? I wonder what else I can do to help her transition to a new school.
I notice how the boy who gets the math problem wrong reacts to my coaching. I wonder if he is embracing mistake-making as a learning opportunity and a welcome part of the process or will this mistake take him out of the game? Will I need to coach these kids around what to do when a mistake happens? Are these kids worried about the social consequences of making a public mistake or are they so self-assured, with a real growth mindset so that there really is no social consequence?
I'll notice how my students handle direction-following. Are there students who will need coaching here? I wonder how I can help them to acquire the skills they need, without embarrassing them, so that they can handle the projects, and longer-term assignments that are just weeks ahead. I wonder which strategies might work best for them so that their executive functioning won't hold them back.
You know I'll be watching to see who is misbehaving. I'll wonder which little darling is making those sound-effects. I'll wonder why one girl snapped her pencil in half and left it on her desk for me to find. I'll wonder why another student yells, "done" every time she finishes a task and won't revisit work when I ask her to add more detail or to check for accuracy. I'm wondering about the two kids who are constantly tattling on their classmates. I'm wondering what they need from me. Attention? Just a listening ear? How can I teach them to solve some of their problems with peers independently and how can I teach them to let some infractions go?
Finally, I listen and notice which voices are in the room. I wonder why some are not. Are the kids who are quiet simply natural introverts or do they lack the confidence to take a risk? Are kids feeling like our room is a safe place for them to share themselves? Are there specific things I should be doing to create a space for all learners in our room? How can I build the essential trust for all students in our room to learn and grow?
There will be lots of time to collect hard data. There will be time for those pencil and paper formative and summative assessments. Now is the time to set the stage for learning. If I get it right, all students will have a chance to thrive. If I blow it, the learning will be that much harder for my kids. The stakes are high. Game on.