Oct. 13th, 2008

rockwood: (Default)
One thing I've been reading and thinking about lately is the use of 'bell work;' bell work is, essentially, an assignment that is already written on the board/placed at their seats for students to start as soon as they enter your classroom. This minimizes the transition time from "student enters room" --> "class is quiet and ready to start." If possible, it also gives the teacher a chance to take roll or similar without having to waste class time while students sit on their hands and wait.

This is important because students without a clear purpose and goal are much more likely to start causing trouble or acting out. The time saved is not just the time spent taking roll, but also the time spent disciplining students or getting everyone back on track. Time is already in short enough supply, so finding ways to conserve it is always a plus.

This can be especially true on the first day of school, according to Harry and Rosemary Wong, a super-widely-read husband-wife team who teach about teaching. On the first day of school, you have to make a first impression, get to know your students, introduce your discipline and classroom management systems, and get everything started for the rest of the year. Do that right and everything else will be much, much easier to handle.

Pondering this, I've come up with a few thoughts about how to start off my own classes. Assuming I'm teaching high school English, I want to have an initial bell work assignment prepped that will both introduce me/the course and do something useful. So here's what I'd do:

When they arrive on the first day of my class, each student will find on their desk an envelope addressed to them. Inside will be a short letter from me, introducing myself and explaining what to do with the rest of the contents of the envelope.

Once they've read the letter, students will write a letter of their own. I'll include a form for a letter very much like the one I wrote, allowing the students to introduce themselves to me that way. The letter will cover some basic preferences and factoids, and will also get them to give me a little information about their reading and writing experiences. Hopefully, beyond the simple benefit of getting to know my students more substantially,  this will help give me a pre-assessment of their writing ability (not just from what they say, but also from how well they say it), it might teach them a bit about letter writing for correspondence (something not everyone knows how to do), and it will give them the immediate impression that this class involves both reading and writing for specific, visible purposes.

The envelope will also include a copy of my classroom discipline plan and procedures, which I'll go over with the students soon after their bell work is complete and I've introduced myself orally to the whole class (though I'm still working on what, exactly, my discipline plan and procedures will be). Of course, while bell work is under way, I'll need to be doing more than simply taking roll. I'll stand at the door to guide and greet students until the bell rings/everyone arrives, and once I've taken roll by seeing which seats and envelopes are unoccupied, I'll circulate through the classroom and keep track of how things are going.

Or, alternatively, I suppose once everyone arrives I could stop the bell work before the letters are complete (making that a homework assignment), and then move straight on from there to a direct introduction.

I'll have to think about it some more, but I like the idea of bell work. I agree completely with all the sources I've read who say that an unoccupied student is a danger to the whole class's concentration. I'm not exactly sure that this is the perfect bell work assignment with which to start the year, but I like the idea of incorporating letter-writing into class in one or more ways, and encouraging students to write outside of class at all: first the letters, than hopefully their own fiction, if they're so inclined.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

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