Comics Show Who You Are!

Today was the second day of grade 4 this year, and my eagerness to learn even more about my students led me to turn to technology. I gave my students a quick low down on Comic Life, and then let them explore, play, and create a comic of themselves. Their only requirement needed was to take a picture of themselves, include their name, and tell me five things about themselves. If they had any questions about how to use the app, I encouraged them to ask their peers, as they are becoming wonderful teachers themselves!

Once their projects were completed, they were easily able to airdrop them to me, so I could share them as well. Besides the fact that my students were instantly engaged in their projects, their tidbits about themselves gave me insights into who they are. Leaving the project open-ended, instead of providing a simple fill in the blank all about me sheet, seemed to encourage the students to tell me a lot about them. Many of their thoughts made me smile, and taught me something new and interesting. I’m looking forward to using their comics to generate further discussion, make connections with each of them, and between them, to continue to build our classroom community.

Here are some examples of their finished pieces:

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A New First Day of School

Prior to my students arriving on the first day of school, I was trying to envision a new “first day.” I was tired of the same old ice breaker or get-to-know-you activities that really end up doing neither of their intended results. After a couple of hours spent reading blogs, exploring twitter, and searching on Pinterest, I knew that I needed to change the way I approached my first day of school. I wanted my kids to know that I value creativity, collaboration, and hands on projects, and what I had done in the past wasn’t representing the teacher that I am.

So I decided to scrap most of my plans, and start fresh. Although this can be a scary thing, especially for us teachers, it was something I felt that I had to do. In the afternoon, during our character time, I read the story Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. It’s a great book that talks about a rabbit who meets new neighbours, the Otters, and has to decide how he would like his new neighbours to be. It highlights important characteristics that we look for in others, like being polite and considerate, and ultimately leaves the reader with the rule to do unto otters as you would have otters do unto you. I’m a sucker for puns, so this book is right up my alley!

After we read the story, we shared our thoughts about it, and how the qualities the author discussed in the story are qualities that we look for in others. We also talked about when we work with others, that we must ensure we are treating them respectfully. My students came up with some great ideas about the ways that they want to be treated when in a group.

From here, I presented my students with a challenge: Each prearranged group of three would receive 20 pipecleaners and 3 large sheets of tin foil. They didn’t have to use all of the supplies if they chose not to, but these would be the only supplies that they could use. Together they would need to plan and create something. Much to my surprise, and with very few questions, the groups got right to work. They had over an hour to plan and design their projects, and the results were fantastic.

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Although the kids thoroughly enjoyed their creations, it provided me with insightful information about them. Instantly, I was able to see how my students interacted with one another; whether they were quiet and shy, or bold and took the lead, it gave me a quick read on their personalities and leadership qualities. Secondly, I could see how my students negotiated through their ideas. Some students were very adamant about their idea, but when others disagreed, it was great to see how they were mindful of the concepts we discussed to collaborate and come up with a new idea together. It was wonderful to see all students engaged not only in the process, but together as a team.

After completing this activity, it left me to wonder, what do I learn about my students in an ice-breaker or in a get-to-know-you game? Why have I chosen to do such activities in the past? Through a simple change, I am now able to answer these questions successfully and have a purpose behind my activity design. I challenge you to ask yourself the same question: Why?

Community Building Through Orientations

Each year, before the official day of classes, our school has set the day aside for student orientations. We meet the parents and students individually to get to know them, and for them to know their teacher prior to the first day of school. Not only does this help to relieve the stress and anxiety that our students could have with moving to a new grade, but it also allows me to start building a strong relationship with my students and parents.

In the past, our orientations have been more teacher directed: basically a relaying of information about grade 4, with only a small amount of time at the end to have a “real” conversation with our families. This year, we wanted to show our families how important their voices are, how we value our relationships with them, and how we want to build a strong classroom community. In turn, my grade level collaborated together to redesign the format of our orientations. Here’s how they looked instead:

Before our families entered the classroom for their meeting, they watched a video that we created, which highlighted features of grade 4.

Watching the video prior to our orientations eliminated the initial minutes of teacher talk, and instead allowed us to have an open discussion. From here, we created a¬†2017 Student Questionnaire¬† as a way to get to know our students better. I wasn’t entirely sure about how these questions could turn out, with students generally being shy on the first meeting day. Much to my surprise every single student had a story, thought, or specific fact that really showed me something special about them, outside of academics. I even received several laughs from parents about the things that their child shared!

After opening the floor for any questions or comments from either the student or the parents, each family had their photo taken together. I intend to print and send these home as a family keepsake. My students were then given a little treat (label courtesy of Teachers Pay Teachers), and the parents were given a parent questionnaire to complete at home. I’m excited to see the responses that I receive back.

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Through taking the time to redesign our orientations by putting community building first, we’re hoping to have long lasting benefits: That our parents will feel valued, our students will know that their voices count, and that our communication and relationships will continue to grow and develop.