Sunday, August 18, 2013

Building Community: First Days Activities

Depending on your school configuration, some kids travel with the same kids from elementary throughout middle school, and other schools filter students in from many schools throughout a district. Regardless of the situation, there are first day activities that can not only reveal information about your students individually, but can also provide a class-wide snapshot of who your students are. Furthermore, students can get to know themselves and each other, building community within the classroom. 

One of the first activities I do Involve individual hobbies and interests. Students are asked to simply list up to ten things they love, like to do, hobbies, affiliations with extra-curricular activities (sports, church, youth-group, Boy Scouts, karate, etc.). I take that list and create a Wordle with it. The Wordle has their class title in the largest letters- “First Block” for example, and all the interests are in various sizes. I use Jing (www.techsmith.com)  to take a picture of the Wordle, and we look at it at the start of the following week. We discuss our similarities (the largest words) and our differences (the smallest words). I discuss that a community is made up of many similarities and differences, and that is what makes us who we are as a learning community. We need to respect our differences and who knows? We might even learn from each other; gain new interests as we take notice of what others are “into” around us.
I can see the class as a whole through this Wordle (www.wordle.net), and I can use those interests we have in common to bring in reading material and to help create writing prompts. I can also use those smaller words to gain the attention of my more difficult to reach students, tying in reading and writing activities that relate to those who might not otherwise be reached, had I now known their interests. I staple these Wordles on the bulletin board for future reference, and throughout the year, I am pleased to see kids studying their own class’ Wordle as well as that of other classes.
Another formative assessment I perform in class is a Multiple Intelligence test. I am able to gain a quick answer to how my students learn best, integrating these learning styles into lessons and activities. I don’t stop there, though. I want students to be aware of our similarities and differences in the class and I need to see the classroom as a whole. We engage in a graphing activity to do this. 

Students are given a post-it for their highest score, and asked to remember which Intelligence that high score was in. (If there is a tie for a high-score, and there often is, I give them two post-its, and so on.) Students are asked to write their name on the post-it. On the board I have listed each Intelligence across the top, and students take their post-it and place it under the category in which they scored the highest, forming a bar graph. Once more, I discuss our similarities and differences, as well as re-enforce how each Intelligence might be used to help them learn, and how I plan to integrate these Intelligences in lessons and activities. I also take a snapshot of the class graph, so I have a quick reference in order to plan my lessons.
Both activities create community, informs my instruction, and informs my students about themselves and each other- ultimately, aiding in the formation of a positive learning environment.