Last night I attended some birthday bashes and, of course when a group of teachers get together, the conversation eventually leads back to teaching. One of the gang asked me why my year has been so successful, so I explained my new philosophy on grading. He then said that’s great, but how do I build successes for students who have not ever felt success in the English classroom.
As I explained last night, here’s how I start my American Literature course, the one which probably has the greatest range of skills:
On the first day we have lots of comings and goings because of schedule changes, so I start with an easy activity and a game. I have the students take the first ten minutes to write down any questions they have about me or the class on 2″ by 2″ pieces of paper. They can ask anything they want and do not put their names on the slips of paper. I don’t have to answer a question, but it’s rare to get an inappropriate question. The kids drop their slips of paper into my Mariners cap and away we go.
I answer every appropriate question, even if it’s a silly one because this is how we get to know one another. I always hated the list of rules (I don’t have any rules in my classroom–never needed them) and the reading of the syllabus on the first day, and this allows me to answer their questions, making their interests the focus from day one. It’s their class after all.
This takes about 30 minutes, and then I give them some word puzzles to complete in groups for the ever-requested extra credit. It’s only five points, but they think it’s a billion and will do anything for the points. This ends the period.
The second day is where things really get going, and this leads to one of my favorite activities of the year.