How to Set up Democratic Classroom Jobs

When you set up your classroom, is democracy a mindful priority?

Background

I’ve never forgotten the story of how one of my favorite college professors was begged out of retirement to teach 2nd grade–the evening before school started. When she walked into her classroom on the first day of school, it was to bare walls, stacked desks, and puzzled students.

They sat down on the floor together. Eventually, a 7 year-old timidly shared that things felt a little off, to which the others agreed.  When my professor asked them what a classroom should consist of, one girl raised her hand and said, “Well, last year, we had chairs.” They set to work arranging the furniture, and then regrouped. Then, another boy offered, “We also normally have pencils.” Together, they procured a supply.  And so it went for the first part of the school year.

I’ve always remembered the ending to her story: that those students owned that classroom as none of her students had before or since. And with a wink, she added that she didn’t necessarily recommend having zero preparation before the school year started–at least for the sake of school administrators’ sanity.

The Set Up

The idea of incorporating classroom jobs centers around ownership. This is more than about classroom management or clean-up–it’s about empowering students with the understanding that the feel of their learning environment is in their hands.

Hold a class meeting early in the school year to discuss the shared nature of your classroom’s physical, emotional, and academic space.  Brainstorm tasks you all feel are necessary for smooth maintenance, safety, and support.  You may opt to show students your list from the previous year, and then allow them to help you modify it based on their unique needs.  Or you may choose to go the way of my professor, and allow your students to start from scratch!

Pass out a job application so students can list their top choices and reasons they believe they would qualify for the job.

Additional options to consider:
  • Interview each student before assigning jobs.  I’ve had groups that enjoyed dressing up for a more formal and “official” experience.
  • Set aside “job time” at the end or beginning of the day for those students whose jobs require some time; you may choose to have the other students read, journal, etc., during that time.

List of Job Ideas

Whatever your approach, below are jobs that have all been tried by my fifth graders (with the exception of a “social media manager,” which I plan on trying out as soon as I resume teaching)!  The number to the side is how many students I’ve typically had doing the job, but be sure to base things on your class needs and size!  Also note that some are combos based on how much time some jobs took. Feel free to share these with your students to help them get inspired!

Paper Passers/Absentee Buddies:
  • Description: Passes out any appropriate papers daily and picks up papers from groups. During job time, they get materials gathered for any students that are absent, write down assignments for the day, and leaves them neatly on their desks.  (2)
  • Qualities:  FAST, excellent attendance, organized, hand-writing
Folder Filer
  • Description: Files all graded papers and handouts into each student’s file of papers that are to go home. (2)
  • Qualities: Memory skills, FAST
Lunch/Classroom Maintenance
  • Description: Carries lunch basket daily. Also gets the room ready for projector use when needed by quickly pulling down the projector screen, turning off the lights, closing the blinds, and turning on the projector. During job time, they check all the walls for repairs & remind tables to clean up desks/floors. Takes care of all other classroom maintenance as called upon.  (2)
  • Qualities:  Strong, lines up quickly at beginning of line, tall, takes initiative
Homework Checker
  • Description: Checks all planners at the end of the day during job time.  They also check for completion of the homework journal/project each Friday morning, and reports and missing work to the teacher in the morning.
  • Qualities: Responsible, thorough, organized. (1)
Birthday Coordinator
  • Description: Makes birthday cards for each student on their birthday/half birthday, and then get signatures from everyone in the class.
  • Qualities:  Good handwriting, artistic, thoughtful, AMAZING memory! (1)
Question of the Week Keeper
  • Description: Comes up with brainteaser questions and answers for the Question of the Week and lets the payroll know who gets bonuses for getting it right. (1)
  • Qualities:  Good handwriting, likes puzzles, organized. (1)
Event Manager
  • Description: Updates the daily schedule and keeps the monthly calendar correct.
  • Qualities:  Tall, memory skills, VERY neat handwriting (1)
Assistant Event Manager
  • Description: Assists the event manager with anything he/she needs help with.
  • Qualities: Neat handwriting, tall, organized, memory skills
Board Eraser
  • Description: This person will need to erase the board after each recess and whenever else it is needed. Thoroughly cleans the board during job time. (1)
  • Qualities:  Tall, strong, pays attention, neat
Payroll
  • Description:  Reminds all students to add their paychecks to their check registers every payday.  They also check with students who have bonuses each day during job time to make sure they’ve recorded in their check registers.  (1)
  • Qualities:  listener, math money skills, honest
Debt Collector
  • Description: During job time each day, they check with any students who have fines to make sure they’ve recorded them in their check registers. (1)
  • Qualities:  organized, listener, math money skills
Cashier/Pledge Leader
  • Description: Handles money during the class store by helping students write checks and subtract from their check registers. Assigns prices to class store items. Also stands and leads the pledge every morning. (1)
  • Qualities: honest, math money skills, organized, memory skills
Behavior Recorder/Assistant Room Manager
  • Description: Writes down daily fines and bonuses and then records them on the board during job time. Also assists the room manager with filling in for absent students. (1)
  • Qualities: responsible, great memory, honest
Room Manager
  • Description: Makes sure that everyone is doing their job daily. Also fills in for any job if a student is absent. (Must know responsibilities of all jobs) Takes care of all other leadership/management tasks as called upon. (1)
  • Qualities:  Organized, attentive, fast Learner, leadership
Line Leader
  • Description: Leads the line daily. Learns assigned places to stop & keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file. (1)
  • Qualities:  listener, respectful
Line Ender
  • Description: Ends the line daily to all destinations and turns off the light as class leaves. If any student has to return to the classroom to retrieve a forgotten item, the line ender is required to go with them. Keeps the class straight and quiet by giving firm reminders to students that need to stop talking or walk single file.
  • Qualities:  Fast, good listener great memory, respectful
Class Journal Keeper
  • Description: Updates the class journal each day during job time with a description/illustration of the day’s events. (1)
  • Qualities: Artistic, neat handwriting
Class Photographer
  • Description: This person must have access to a digital camera that he/she can bring to school on a regular basis.  They are in charge to taking pictures of exciting experiments, debates, parties, and anything else; they then need to email pictures from home to me occasionally.  (1)
  • Qualities:  Takes initiative, very responsible, photography/technology skills
Messenger
  • Description: Runs any notes or errands throughout building throughout the day.  Collects Mrs. Wade’s mailbox items from the front office every job time.  (1)
  • Qualities:  Knows school and different teachers, communicator, fast walker, polite, honest
Lunch Counter
  • Description: Also, each morning makes sure all students have moved lunch magnets and then counts/writes down how many for each option. Moves the magnets back at the end of the day.  (1)
  • Qualities: organized, memory skills, fast
Sanitation Specialist
  • Description: Using disinfectant wipes, cleans all desks, tables, (and if time), chairs at the end of each day during job time. Cleans other surfaces as needed. (2)
  • Qualities: Attention to detail, helpful, respectful to others’ belongings
Organization Expert
  • Description: Helps keep the entire class organized; organizes the guided reading desk/teacher area as needed, helps other students with organizing their desks, organizes other things around the class when it gets cluttered. (1)
  • Qualities: Um, organized.  🙂 Also, takes initiative, meaning they don’t need to be asked to notice & jump in to help.
Class Medic/End of Day Caller
  • Description: Keeps band-aids in their desk and distributes to students. Also makes sure everyone takes home their lunch boxes/coats/backpacks.(1)
  • Qualities:  Fast, memory skills, reliable
Clubhouse keeper
  • Description: Straightens up the clubhouse and sorts the books during job time every day. Checks for any damages to books and fixes them or reports them to the teacher as needed. Maintains all other clubhouse materials to keep things looking nice. (1)
  • Qualities:  Organized, respectful to books
Scribe/Word Wall Attendant
  • Description:  On Monday Meetings, this person will write down all the items of business discussed and report at the end. This person also maintains the word wall chart during job time by neatly writing great words we encounter as a class. This person will also take notes whenever we go over important things, remind the teacher of things, and advance PowerPoint presentations during lessons. (1)
  • Qualities:  handwriting, organized, memory skills, strong computer skills
Supplies Station Manager
  • Description:  Sharpens pencils at the end of the day and keeps track of/replenishes all supplies that are running low.  Also cleans up/disinfects the entire supplies station area daily. (1)
  • Qualities:  Great memory, dedicated, attentive to detail, organization skills
Social Media Manager

For a printable version of my list, click here! And if you have additional jobs that your students have loved, please share in the comments!
Photo Credit (featured image): maaco

23 Guiding Questions to Make Student-Led Conferences More Informative

So you’ve decided to implement student-led conferences.  Congratulations!  You are well on your way to empowering students to own their 21st century learning.  If you’re still new to the process (or want fresh ideas), be sure to begin with our student-led conference practical starter guide and resources.


Continue reading “23 Guiding Questions to Make Student-Led Conferences More Informative”

How to Spark Joy & Individualize Students’ Needs with Guided Math

After boring both my students and myself with largely direct instruction math for a couple of years, I decided to try guided math. The results?  Increases in interest, one-on-one time, student initiative, and just plain joy in math learning.


Why Guided Math?

Most math programs are still set up in very traditional, teacher-centered constructs.  In the name of “offering support,” some even provide scripts!  This is typically followed by a barrage of worksheets. Then quiz tomorrow. Spiral review. Repeat.

Perhaps the monotony would be worthwhile if we all become mathematically literate adults, but this does not seem to be the case. As the National Center for Education Statistics keeps confirming in surveys conducted since the 1980’s, most Americans’ math skills remain lacking:

It’s time to look outside the box of traditional math education in order to foster life-long mathematical illiteracy!

Overview

_Untitled-1 via Flickr
_Untitled-1 via Flickr

One day, while complaining to another teacher about how I’d started hating the sound of my own voice, she introduced me to guided math.  What I found most intriguing:

  • The use of math “stations,” even for older students
  • The possibility of teaching lessons to small groups (4-8 students at a time)
  • Easier access to limited math manipulatives
  • More time for individual students to receive what they need most, whether it’s practice, instruction, or extension projects.

I started literally the next day.

And while it took longer than that to refine my approach, the beauty of guided math is you can easily adapt your school’s math program to its structure.

Set-Up

  • Time Needed: 1 to 1 ½ hours block
  • Breakdown:
    • Warm Up (first 5-15 minutes): Number Talks were one of my favorite ways to warm up (see this 3-page pdf for more details). At the end of warm-up time, write or project on the board any materials students may need to bring to each station.
    • Stations time (45-60 minutes): Students either rotate among or choose stations.
    • Wrap Up (last 5-15 minutes): Allow students to share any mathematical discoveries they noticed.
  • Stations Ideas:
    • Mini-lesson: This becomes a much more flexible idea than simply delivering lessons to the whole class. Some options:
      • The teacher works with small groups with math manipulatives, individual whiteboards, or other resources that are difficult to share/manage in larger groups.
      • Set up a computer with a video on the concept of the day from free video databases like LearnZillion or Khan Academy.  See a fantastic example of how a 4th grade colleague of mine uses her classroom blog to direct students to the video she selects (they have the additional convenience of checking out a mobile lab for the entire class during math).  The video option can be especially helpful on days that you need to have one-on-one math conferences with students.
    • Practice: Students try out concepts learned within the unit or the lesson of the day.
    • Fluency: Students work on math facts with flash cards, games, and/or websites like this one. I would sometimes have them record their progress on spreadsheets like this one.
    • Activity: Math board games, challenge projects, digital games from your class blog, or even blogging their math understanding using Educreations! Especially effective if you have parent volunteers available to help support!
    • Reflection: Students record their math thinking and processes in journals.
  • Choose a Structure: Rotations vs. Choice
    • Rotations: Divide your students into 3-5 groups (mixed or leveled based on benchmarks, quizzes, or daily formative assessments). Take the length of math block time, subtract 10 minutes for whole-class time at the beginning and end.
    • Choice: Right after Warm-Up, take a status of the class, asking your students which 1-2 stations they will be working on that day and why. You may choose to require all students to select the mini-lesson and/or practice stations each day before choice time, but that depends on your students’ needs!
    • Don’t be afraid to try out both options a couple of times! Ask students to notice successes and issues, and to be ready to report back during the wrap up or weekly class meeting.  Give them the opportunity to solve problems, and they will surprise you!
  • Model, Model, Model!

Troubleshooting Guide

  • Issue: Students become off-task at the game and/or fluency station
    • Possible Solution: Ask for parents to volunteer during guided math, either to help check off, help students with their practice, or even to bring a math game to share with groups!  You can also simply consider the location of your stations.
  • Issue: Students don’t get to every station every day
    • Possible Solution: That’s ok! If you’re doing rotations, just cut out one or two of the stations you’re using.  If you’re doing choice time, just have them choose 1 station a day beyond the mini-lesson and practice.
  • Issue: Instruction time not long enough
    • Possible Solution:  If you don’t find a LearnZillion or Khan Academy video you like, make a video of yourself teaching the concept!  Not only can it help you say things more succinctly and briefly, but your students can individually pause, rewind, and rewatch as many times as they need to.
  • Issue: Students don’t have enough time to finish worksheets in the practice portion.
    • Possible Solution: Become a more careful curator of your resources–sure, your manual assigns 38 problems to practice adding fractions, but is that really what your students need most today? Or do they really just need to practice the 4 problems that involve mixed numbers? Or maybe, they need you to design a challenge activity that gets them thinking more about the concepts behind fractions.  Never assume that the math textbook knows more about your students’ daily needs than you do!

Any other questions, tips, or experiences? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

 Photo Credit:

Why You Should Endorse “Now Learning” in the Classroom

“You’ll use this all the time when you grow up.”  “You’re developing skills you’ll need all the way through college.”  “Someday, you’ll be so glad you learned another language.”

[insert eye-rolling here].


Even if true, relying primarily on these kinds of future-tense phrases to justify learning may have harmful effects.  Nothing is worth draining our children’s inborn sense of discovery and enthusiasm.

The counterintuitive reality: instilling learning passion for the future only happens when we show students how to love learning today!

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Requirements for Now Learning

Think back to your classes that most sparked your passion.  Chances are, those instructors made relevance a daily priority–a skill that takes purpose and deliberate planning.  In our experience, that purpose and planning must consist of the following:

  • Student Choice:

Students must be enabled to tailor their learning in order to find relevance. Technological options for making this happen are almost endless–but possibilities outside the high-tech box abound, too, including project based learning, genius hour, and other innovative new strategies.

  • Student Creativity:

Start the video below at 16 minutes for a wonderful anecdote by Sir Ken Robinson:

  • Teacher Passion 

Applying Now Learning in a Real Schedule

My first year teaching overflowed with the kinds of typical pursuits designed to prepare students for the future demands:  book reports, math homework worksheets, and daily “independent study,” during which students would work for an hour on grammar, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling.  And guess where the most frequent strain on behavior occurred?

Over the years, we gradually replaced such activities with approaches that foster now learning–and I witnessed transformations in my students’ motivation, vibrance, and willingness to take risks. 

How much of your student’s day involves learning for the present?  Look below at tips for each part of my fifth grader’s schedule:

  • Word Study
    • Student choice: Is it really so earth-shattering to allow students to choose whether they read a book or study their spelling? When our school introduced Daily 5, that’s exactly what we did–and news flash: once they understood all the choices and their purposes, my students did in fact regularly choose from all the options. Status of the class also helped them develop purposeful decision-making skills (read more about that here!).
    • Student creativity: Post a list of book report alternatives for students to take their reading and writing to a creative level.
    • Teacher passion: Tell them about that cliff-hanger in your book, share your latest blog post, exclaim about your favorite authors, joke about common grammar errors. There is simply no underestimating the power of modeling your own literary pursuits!
  • Reading Workshop
    • Student choice: Help students discover their own interests and expand their reading horizons by giving them an interest inventory.
    • Student creativity: Students’ literary creativity will take flight once they discover that book or series that helps them fall in love with reading. Make curating a classroom library of rich and varied texts one of your main priorities.
    • Teacher passion: Throughout each reading unit and/or book group, read along with your students so you can more authentically engage in book discussions with them.
  • Spanish
    • Student choice: Individualize and gamify language learning with the Duolingo app!
    • Student creativity: Download the Google Translate app on your classroom devices and encourage them to discover its possibilities.
    • Teacher passion: At our school, another instructor would come in during this time.  However, I would try to follow up with my own appreciation and understanding in my personal language learning (ie, discussing how I connect “mesa” in landforms and the translation for table, or my interest in Dia de los Muertos).
  • Math
    • Student choice: Ditch homework worksheets in favor for homework projects with real-world applications.
    • Student creativity: Try flipped learning to give students more time in class for exploration, self-directed projects, or arts integration.
    • Teacher passion: No matter what subject(s) you teach, if you’ve ever expressed self-deprecating remarks about math, STOP today, and never do it again!
  • Snack/Lunch/Recess
    • It’s laughable to believe these growing, active beings can be expected to sit still and focus if their bodies aren’t fully nourished.  Make time.  If your school has scheduled a too-small chunk of time for lunch, allow students to finish eating in class.
  • Writing Workshop
    • Student choice: Make writing choices more about which animal to write the essay on.  Storybird, comic strip makers, Prezi, word clouds–the platforms and mediums for sharing ideas stretch for miles.
    • Student creativity: see above.
    • Teacher passion: Teaching a poetry unit? Write your own poems throughout, using the same techniques and skills as your students.Use your own daily struggles and triumphs as a writer as authentic teaching opportunities.
  • Social Studies or Science
  • Blogging
    • Student choice & creativity: Student blogs are a fantastic way for students to learn to curate their own work.  They give students a real voice in the global learning community, and encourage dynamic discussion and debate in comment threads.  To get started, check out our post on practical student blogging here!
    • Teacher passion: Make sure you keep your own blog alongside your students’!

Photo Credit:

  • Featured image: Frankieleon
  • Quote image created with Recitethis.com

How to Teach Empathy–& Why it Matters

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of efficiency as teachers.  Standards and tests and data and reports bear down on us with pressure to make every. minute. count.


Efficiency Enterprises

There also seems to be an endless supply of initiatives to maximize our efficiency–many of which seem to simply offer more fodder for burnout, like some ideas found in the video below (at the proposition for increased class sizes for quality teachers, I could only visualize the exhausted expression of one of my mentor teachers the year they increased her first grade class size–because she could handle it, right?).

2/3/15 UPDATE: It appears that OpportunityCulture.org has removed their video after we published this post a couple of weeks ago. So, to fill you in if you missed it, the ideas we found most worrisome in the video included: 1) increasing class sizes for “excellent teachers” so more students could feel their influence (while decreasing class sizes for novice teachers); 2) implementing rotating classes for those “excellent teachers” so they could reach even more students each day; 3) an apparent oversight of the teacher-student relationship in general. Instead, their page now says the following: 

“Watch this space for an updated motiongraphic, based on the experiences of the first pilot schools to implement their own Opportunity Cultures, showing the importance of models that let teams led by excellent teachers reach many more students, and let all teachers earn more and learn more—through more school-day time for collaboration and planning, and without forcing class-size increases.”

10/29/2015 UPDATE: A new video has been published. The model is explained differently, but the basis still rests on class-size increases for excellent teachers and efficiency, which still leaves us concerned about the lack of discussion on teacher-student relationships. 

 Kim Collazo’s response on Twitter brings to light what’s most worrisome about these kinds of ideas:

Empathy Over Efficiency

Efficiency values time-management; empathy values taking all the time that is necessary to build relationships. Both have their place in our classrooms, but we must be careful that the more aggressive pursuits for efficiency don’t swallow up the daily opportunities to foster our relationships.  To learn more about why empathy is so important in every relationship, see the poignant RSA video below in which Dr. Brené Brown describes how to discern genuine empathy.

After all, what does it matter if our students ace every test and memorize every chart if they lack the ability to connect and reach out to one another in compassion and understanding?

Strategies to Convey Empathy

Whatever your subject matter, empathy should take a prominent place in all your instruction–both indirectly in general interactions with students, and directly as you point students’ attention to learning opportunities. 

Love & Logic
  • Even when students are in difficult situations that they created for themselves (ie, sloughing off in class), help them understand that you are still there for them. Start with empathetic responses like, “Wow, I’ve been there, and it’s such a hard place to be.”  The suggestions for solving the problem can wait until after the student truly knows you understand and care.
  • Starting with the youngest children who may cry out in frustration with using scissors, students can begin to gain a sense of authentic human connection when you respond with an empathetic, “I hate it when that happens to me!”  Help them know they are not alone from the earliest age!

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Take the time
  • Joe Bower shared a powerful example of what taking the time to teach a child about empathy–while reflecting genuine empathy–looks like.  “Working With Students When they Are at Their Worst” is definitely a worthwhile read!
  • If your class begins to have more widespread issues, such as dishonesty or unkindness, take time during weekly class meetings to discuss it.  Talk honestly about how those choices are impacting you as their teacher. Talk about everyone’s observations on how it’s impacting the class.  Then brainstorm possible actions everyone can take to solve the issue.
Cause & Effect
  • Have frequent conversations in which students picture themselves in another’s shoes.
  • Discuss possible personal struggles that peers may be experiencing, and which we would never know about.
  • Read books like Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker that explore the impact of bullying.
  • Engage in process drama activities such as Decision Alley that get students thinking about different perspectives
  • Display the quote below by Philo, and frequently brainstorm ways we can be kind

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