I’m writing about how we can use opening days to set up the rest of the year, just like Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto purposefully designs his first levels last.
In your opening days, you can establish expectations to guide your year.
Do you want:
- your class to be kind things to each other?
- discussions that promote opposing opinions, but are also polite?
- your students to develop a growth mindset?
Deliberately spend time setting those behaviors up in your first days. As silly as it may sound, providing sentence stems or “fill in the blanks” can give your kids the scaffold they need to adopt a new behavior.
I had an expectation of kindness between my students. If anyone needed a group, students were expected to allow them in. I told them, unless your group is full, if someone asks to join you, the only answer is: “Yes, of course!” in a polite and enthusiastic voice.
So we’d practice with a bunch of ridiculous situations: imagine Dracula is asking to be in your group. We’d all practice saying “Yes, Dracula, of course!” What if it’s Darth Vader? “Yes, Darth Vader, of course!” What if it’s a kid with fourteen eyes and bad breath? “Yes, of course you can be in our group!”
This one was already put into place by previous teachers. Kids would come into my 6th grade class with an amazing ability to participate in an academic discourse. The cause? A bunch of sentence stems provided by our district.
- I disagree with you because…
- What did you mean by…
- In my opinion…
It was amazing! But it was simply the result of teachers practicing this skill with their students until it became routine.
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I Don’t Know… Yet!
Being called on and not knowing an answer is a top fear for any student at any age.
I borrowed an idea from Rick Morris: if a student was called on, and didn’t have an answer, they were always allowed to pass without any questions asked. Maybe they weren’t paying attention, maybe they didn’t know what to say, who knows… But I’d always come back to them after a couple moments.
But to emphasize learning, I’d make them say “I don’t know… yet” to get out of answering. Then, after other students gave responses, I’d come back and ask the student who didn’t have an answer and, almost always, they’d now have an answer.
We’d practice this early in the first week of school since it was a core skill in our classroom.
Set It Up With Your Students
What behaviors do you want to see from your students this year? How can you provide them with a go-to sentence to make this behavior easier? How can you practice it so that it becomes routine?