Revving Up for the Back-to-School
I get a lot of joy out of planning fun, unique reading and team building experiences during the summer because the pressure to perform is much less. Letting the brain wander over the possibilities is easier. I spend a lot of time thinking, “What if…” The pathways of this wandering are almost always productive.
If you want to get your teaching engine started again, consider letting your mind wander over a few of these possibilities. Get prepared to share a few books with vim and vigor to your new class of recruits. Take some time to ponder the organization of your classroom. Envision some unique and fun team building activities. Dwell on how to make your classroom and teaching as invitational as possible.
Revving Up Readers
Remember that the students that will be joining you won’t all love reading. It’s your job to help them enjoy reading more. You won’t convert all of them on the first day, but sharing your love of reading in a passionate and honest way will assist as you charge toward the ultimate goal of helping students find some joy in reading.
In the summer, I browse a lot of lists of books (okay, honestly, I do this all year. I love lists!) A good place to start with is the American Library Association website. This website is always a good place to launch any search for books for readers. They recommend diverse books, picture books, young adult books, and books for reluctant readers. Choose one or two titles that look scintillating and read them. Even if reading young adult literature isn’t your favorite, there’s lots of ways to read a few books quickly.
Grab a few picture books and tap your inner child. Students of all ages enjoy picture books. Frankly, I still love them as an adult. Not only can you share these books to spread joy, you’ll find that many lend themselves to the teaching points you wish to make during the first few weeks of school.
Check into novels-in-verse and graphic novels. You can knock out reading these kinds of books quickly. As an added bonus, dormant, disengaged, and striving readers generally love them, too. They give readers all the cache of carrying a normal thickness book around, without so many words to read. They’ve become quite trendy for readers in the past few years. The authors that write these kinds of books are prolific publishers and write about highly engaging topics and current issues.
Another productive way to rev up readers is to make connections with authors via social media. Start following a few of your favorite authors and some up-and-coming authors. We’ve had some teachers in our district strike up actual professional relationships with authors. Sometimes they get advanced reader copies of their books. Sometimes the author will connect via teleconferencing software with their class and visit virtually. Sometimes they send Tweets and letters back to the students. Even if none of those things happen for your class and you, you’ll have fun learning about these author’s personalities, how they get their ideas, and how they create their masterpieces.
Shifting Your Classroom into the Highly Organized Gear
For most of us, there’s that one thing that bugs us about how our classrooms are organized. Summer is a good time to problem solve. Sometimes you have the solution at the end of the year, but in a rush toward rest and renewal, these projects get put on the back burner.
Accelerate with Community and Team Building Exercises
You’ll need some time to get to know your new students’ preferences and individual styles. They’ll need some time to get to know yours as well as their peers. Community and team building exercises are fun, quick ways to start building relationships.
If you have used the same games and activities for a bit, it might be time to freshen up your repertoire. You can never have enough of these activities in your tool belt. Community building activities can be used later in the school year to provide a quick energy boost as well. Flagging energy and enthusiasm is a real buzz kill to learning.
Peruse TV game shows, internet videos, and you guessed it, lists!, for ideas. Then tweak them to meet your needs. Last summer I was watching videos of the best of late night TV—a guilty summertime pleasure. I happened to catch a video of Jimmy Fallon playing Word Sneak with his guest. I had that eureka moment. I could totally utilize this game as a team builder in August and as a vocabulary review game later in the year.
There’s lots of great fodder out there. All you have to do is pay attention and think, “How could I tweak this idea to accelerate either relationship building or instruction?” You’ll be on your way in no time to creating unique and fun experiences.
What we’re really striving for with this race analogy is inviting students into the work and finding ways to support them along the way. You schools will provide you with curriculum and instructional tools to meet the needs of your learners. You need to provide all the extras to make the experience as invitational and pleasant as possible. Thinking about engaging readers in as many positive interactions with text as possible, getting your classroom organized and attractively arrayed, and planning some peak moments for students that they haven’t experienced before are all assets that will serve you well when you welcome your new recruits.
Please share your ideas for creating an invitational and welcoming classroom in the comments box below.
Charmion Mohning is the Secondary Reading Coordinator and lead reader in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences about growing a love of reading, word study, and implementing READ 180 with fidelity. She is passionate about ensuring that every student can read. Before becoming an administrator, Charmion taught English as a Second Language in Grades 4-6 and was a curriculum coach for the district’s structured English immersion program. She has degrees from Upper Iowa University and Sam Houston State University.