The beginning days of school should be magical ones. While students meet their new teachers, view the classroom design, and try to sort out what it is they may learn during the year, it is imperative for teachers to create a culture of thinking and learning, as well as a climate of group collaboration on those first days.
This year we, Alice and Philip, combined our magical forces to teach as a team during the first week of school. We decided to improve upon last year’s See, Think, Wonder — from my (Philip’s) first days of school lesson and extend the students’ thinking further while creating new classroom dynamics. As we had made significant changes to the physical styles of our classrooms during the summer, we knew that the students had much to observe. Additionally, we, along with Julia (our Martin Institute Resident), flavored each classroom with many hints about us as people and teachers of reading.
To begin the lesson, we asked students to develop their own driving questions about the design of the 6th grade reading classes, the 6th grade reading teachers (including Julia), and 6th grade reading. Before starting, I (Alice) took a few minutes to review with the boys what makes a good question, focusing on the idea of writing deep, open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with one or two words. Our sixth grade guys easily recalled their past lessons on “Fat Questions” vs. “Skinny Questions.” We asked the students, “What do you want to know?” and allowed them a few minutes of think time. Then we asked them to write their questions on sticky notes. Using the group discussion connection rules as a platform, the students shared and posted their questions that would help focus their inquiry and drive the See, Think, and Wonder activity that would soon follow. The following are a few samples of the students’ “driving questions:”
- “Ms. Parker, why do you have brains in your closet?”
- “Why does Mr. Cummings like Phineas and Ferb so much?”
- “How does all this stuff connect to reading?”
- “How will the books we read connect to our lives?”
- “Why do you both teach reading?”
- “What do you do to prepare for the school year during the summer?”
After deciding “What Inquiring Minds Want to Know About 6th Grade Reading,” the students began exploring the rooms looking for answers to their driving questions. The students moved from room to room investigating the closets, checking out the bookshelves, noting posters on the walls, examining pictures on the shelves, and analyzing the arrangement of the rooms. The only areas “off limits” were the teachers’ wallet, purses, and backpacks.
The students returned to the desks and began making lists in response to the prompt: “What did you see?” They recorded their lists on a sticky note. After a few minutes, the students shared their best discoveries. Then, they came up to the board and posted their “Sees” for the class. The following are a few of the things they noticed:
- strategies for reading
- Phineas, Ferb, and Perry
- Flying Pigs
- various types of books to read
- places to go read
- many types of paper
- school supplies
Once the students had returned to their seats, we discussed what it means to make inferences and draw conclusions. “How does one make an inference?” The guys then responded to the prompt “What do you think?” making another list on a sticky note. After a few minutes they started sharing their thinking aloud. As teachers, we neither confirmed nor denied whether their conclusions were true. We only responded with an additional question asking “What makes you say that?” requiring the student to support his inference with evidence based on what he had seen. Here are some examples of our students “Think” statements:
- “I think the books will somehow connect to what we are learning in other classes.”
- “I think collaboration is important.”
- “I think Ms. Parker’s room is wacky and random, but Mr. Cummings’ room is cool and organized.”
- “I think there will be some freedom and independence in Mr. Cummings’ and Ms. Parker’s class.”
- “I think our teachers are optimistic.”
- “Mr. C and Ms. P like their students to use knowledge to build projects.
Each student shared his “think” statements by posting them on the board for the class to see.
Next, we asked the students to consider what additional questions they have now that they have explored the room. We explained that we wanted them to go deeper with their questioning. They responded by creating another list to answer the prompt: “What do you wonder?” Again, the following are a few samples of the responses they shared with the class:
- “I wonder how old Mr. Cummings is.”
- “I wonder if we’ll ever go outside to read.”
- “I wonder what the differences between the two classes will be.
- “I wonder why they are both so relaxed.”
- “I wonder how will the fun affect our performance of reading in school and out.”
- “I wonder how sixth grade reading will be different from fifth grade reading.”
At this point we were almost out of class time. As the students posted their “Wonder” statements on the board, we told them that their “ticket out” for the day was to come up with a “Headline” for the day’s class. We reminded them that good headlines capture the main idea and inform or entertain the audience. We stood at the door and gave high fives as the boys informed and entertained us with creative headlines, a few of which follow:
- Class Time Thoughts
- Classical Creativity
- Pigs and a Platypus: The Perfect Combination
- Cloudy with a Chance of Creativity
- The Odyssey of Reading
- Getting to Know Cat Daddy, Cat Momma, and Their Cribs
- See, Think, and Wonder So Much to Ponder
We have found See, Think, Wonder to be a great way to introduce ourselves, the subject of 6th grade reading, and our individual classroom design to our students on the first day while engaging them in inquiry and encouraging them to think. If you have never tried See, Think, Wonder with your students you can find an explanation of the thinking routine here.
What is your reaction to our first day lesson? How do you engage your students’ minds on the first day of school? We’d love to hear from you.