Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Notebooks, Music, and Routines

I've been reading "Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry" by Sara Ahmed and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels. They discuss how Sara begins her classes calling it a "soft opening". The students come in and know where to place their homework, there's a message on the board, and they find a spot and begin reading. This eliminates teachers nagging and nudging students to get started on a "bell-ringer" or "warm-up".  I couldn't get that picture out of my head since I read about it, but this year I committed to beginning every day with notebook writing, Sacred Writing Time. I wondered if this could work with writing like it did for reading, so I tried it.

Three class days ago, with music playing, and a message for students on the board, me at my desk writing already, our soft opening began. The students came in from lunch. This means they are loud and laughing and silly. It took only a couple of minutes for my sixth graders to figure out what to do. They grabbed their notebooks, sat down and began to write. After our time ended, we discussed the change in how class began and we all agreed that we liked it and it would continue. 

Music was an addition to this time because I felt like it helped set the tone. I played some songs from my iTunes that I felt would be enjoyable but not distracting. We began this process on notebook check day and I'm glad it worked out this way. I had no idea how much impact the music had!

Students always request to listen to music in class and I flip flop between allowing in and denying it. Writing requires concentration, so I rarely listen to music while I write, but I'm not the only writer in the room. I turned the volume low and reminded my writers to find a place away from the music if they found it distracting. I thought that would be the end of it.

During the next couple of days, I read entry after entry about the music. Some students hated it! One of my quietest and most polite students wrote a powerful entry that shocked and delighted me...

She's right. We agreed on silent and I changed it without any discussion. We talked about this and I apologized. I asked her if we could try instrumental music and she took a deep breath of relief and nodded vigorously. The freedom that she felt with expressing these thoughts makes me grateful AGAIN for notebooks and our Sacred Writing Time.

A few other students wrote about moments and memories stirred by the music. Not one student said anything to me about the change in routine with the music, but at least half a dozen wrote about it.

Our class will continue to begin with our "soft opening" inspired by Sara Ahmed. Our notebooks will greet us and start our class. I will continue to read these notebooks and listen to my students.

How do you begin your class? 

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  1. I love this idea! I wish my kids' teachers would try it. I just may suggest it at some point. Thanks for sharing your idea and the results!

  2. In October, I started doing something similar and it has definitely changed the tone of my 6th grade classes.

  3. What a great idea! I think that I might try this for a unit next term. I am one of those nags. "Write down your homework, do the do now, and stand up when you're ready!" I time the kids and graph how long it takes them to get going in class... Basically the opposite of what you're suggesting, but it makes ME happy. I'm excited to try this in a couple of months!

  4. I love this! I start every class with a 15 minute choice literacy time. They can read, write, blog or shop for books. I did it because I couldn't do weekly genius hour anymore. So I switched it to a daily chunk of choice. They love it. I think your sixth graders will find things that will carry in to their lives (outside of school) in this time. As much as we are all crunched for time, I'd never give it up!

  5. Our 'after lunch' time was always read silently time. The early morning beginning was writing for 15 minutes, then choice of any work needed, collaboration or conferencing with me or other needs. It sounds like you've made a great start, and allowing the students to express desires and needs is wonderful. Great stuff, Michelle.

  6. We've been doing this since September - best thing ever!

  7. Small moments of writing add up to hours and pages when done routinely. It's a great way to start the class.

  8. I remember reading about Tara's "soft opening" and now I've enjoyed reading about yours. Isn't it fun when our students feel like they can be honest with us in their writing? Posts like this make me wish I was back in the classroom so I could try this out.

  9. Such honesty and bravery from your student! (It's kind of funny that I wrote about needing silence in my slice this week too. Add that to the list!) My students like to listen to instrumental music when they work. I found some Two Cellos music through my Amazon Prime account for free. You should check it out. It is very soothing.

  10. I love the honest response about music. I've tried it and the results are always mixed


Please share your thoughts. I love comments!