Having a Great First Day

Post date: Aug 3, 2015 10:19:26 PM

Harry Wong led me astray. After reading The First Days of School and having it drilled into my head that his methods were the be all, end all of classroom management I made myself into a clone. My first couple years I spent a ton of time the first few days practicing routines, reviewing procedures and explaining rules. 

In other words, I spent the first few days doing everything I hated when I was a student. 

After 12 "First Days" I now feel I've got it down to a science and I'd like to share what I do. (I poll my students every year on day two what their favorite day one class was and though it is almost always mine it is ALWAYS one where they actually did something!)

Day 1 starts with me greeting my new students at the door. They are given a boarding pass with a seat number on it. They are told they will find instructions waiting for them on the desk when they get in. They match the card to the cards on the desks, sit down and get to work. This, despite my intro, is directly out of the Harry Wong playbook. It is simple, fast and leaves no room for doubt on seating. Those teachers who have everyone stand in the back while they call out names one by one are giving up incredibly valuable early time with their kids.

Here's the first day sheet on the desk:

Day 1 instructions.docx

Notice that the instructions require no new paper from the student, just something to write with. It is welcoming but also clear about the importance of getting right to work. As soon as they are all seated I start a 1 minute countdown on the video screen. When the countdown hits zero the lights go out and this video plays:

The lights come up and I finally introduce myself properly (they are pretty much in a daze at this point). I tell them who I am and that today instead of going over rules were going to do some real history and go on a field trip... unless of course you'd prefer we went over rules all period. Shockingly, they never choose rules.

They are given this worksheet for the assignment: 

Who is This Guy Worksheet 2015.pptx

I proceed to share 5 artifacts with them from life, using this PowerPoint to guide me, to help them answer the questions. I explain the importance and evidence and we go to work.

Artifact 1: Tickets - One concert ticket and one movie ticket from performances I've attended.

Artifact 2: Buttons - Two buttons/pins that I have from various family events.

Artifact 3: Video tour - a silent video tour of my upstairs room in my house known as "The Arcade."

Artifact 4: Pandora - Two 30-second plays of songs that randomly come up on my personal Pandora station.

Artifact 5: Field Trip to My Car - We go out to the parking lot and visit my car to see whatever they can find. I usually plant a few objects in there to help (or sometimes confuse) them.

We go over their answers and I share the real ones with a few more video clips. We talk about how their first impressions of me were probably way off and how the evidence is what drove their answers. I collect the sheet (passing them across the room of course - Harry Wong again...) and tell them that tomorrow will be their day to start sharing their lives with me. I assign their first homework of the year (which is actually for their parents to do) and tell them that homework, while rare in my class, is very important. This is their chance to show their parents what it feels like!

To be clear, I came up with nearly none of this myself. This is a mish-mash of activities that I have picked up over the last 12 years. The Who Is This Guy? stuff is mine but even it is based on Harry Wong's idea of what questions kids really want answered. The artifact lab and Million Words came from someone whom I can't remember via Twitter. 

The common theme in all of them is the importance of the individual. I spend the next day showing students that they will love history because they are ones at the core of it. It truly is all about them. It is like one giant selfie! I buy so much goodwill on the first day by doing class this way that we're off and running much more quickly than most other classes. I don't need to go over rules because they know how to be students. Why tell them the rules when instead I can demonstrate why they will always want to be on board with what I've planned for the day?

It works and makes for a wonderful first day experience. I can't wait for the next one. (8 days to go!)