Talk, Listen, Watch & Notice
The name tags were ready, pencils were sharpened. The fall is always an exciting time in first grade. This was my fourteenth 1st day of school, and I was ready. My lesson plan book was proof that I had it all planned out. The on-demand writing paper was copied, the math fact test was ready to give, and I even had my students’ names written on running record recording sheets. I know my Common Core Standards, and I am clear on my classroom procedures. However, the first few days of school did not go as I had so carefully planned. My lesson plans barely got a glance, and those copies never got used. They will…but I realized my time needed to be spent doing more important things.
These important things included talking with my students and truly listening to them, getting to know them. I listened about how this summer they tried things they had never done before–like learning how to ride their bike without training wheels and playing baseball. During snack time, I sat in one of those little red chairs and was simply available. I was available to laugh with them and answer questions–important questions like which recess playground was their favorite and what they liked about our classroom so far. I listened to one student share a story about becoming a big sister and another describe losing a tooth. I listened to them talk about their favorite kindergarten teacher and even helped one student write her a note.
These important things also included watching my students. I watched them play outside, and I even joined in. I went from being a Power Ranger to eating pizza with Ninja Turtles. I gave pushes on the swing and watched a group of girls try the monkey bars. In the classroom, I watched what books my students chose and what pictures they drew. Yep, the books I spent hours organizing were mixed up a bit, but the reason was because the kids were interested in all my informational books. During writing time, I noticed who was eager to write and who needed a little motivation. During choice time, I noticed I already had some Lego engineers! I also have artists! I have some very creative minds!
As I taught, I noticed more important things about my students. I noticed that they love stories about my dog and had plenty of questions. Their questions were really stories, but I had time for that–I made time for that. I noticed they enjoyed singing and if I called something a game, they were ready to win. I noticed who needed a hug and who needed a smile. I noticed little things like how one student didn’t like her lunch piled in the lunch wagon. I don’t blame her–who likes a squished sandwich? We solved that problem, and throughout the year, more problems will come up. We will solve those too.
I know the most important thing I can do is establish a relationship with my students. I want to find their passion and what motivates them. I will use all my observations in future lessons to make sure my instruction is relevant and interesting to them. I realized my “how-to” writing lesson will be about the monkey bars, and I am currently looking for books with adventure characters like Ninja Turtles. At the store, I picked up some more watercolors and at the end of each unit when they “fancy up” their stories they can paint their pictures if they want to. My math lesson on number sense will involve Legos. Those informational books they mixed up are now our new “book look books” ready for Monday. I will do what it takes to have my students trust me and truly feel safe and secure. I want them to know that they matter. I want to use their interests in my future lessons. I want them to make mistakes and be comfortable knowing that mistakes are a part of learning. I know my students will learn and grow this year. I believe in them and know they will be successful. I know what I need to do right now and throughout the entire school year…..talk, listen, watch and notice.
Amy Quinn is a first grade teacher at Gretchko Elementary School in West Bloomfield, MI. She is a graduate of Oakland University and has her Masters in Early Childhood. Amy was an active participant in the first grade MAISA writing unit study and kindergarten MAISA writing unit pilot and review. She is a member of her school leadership team, RTI team, and Jr. FLL school coordinator.