A Big Year of Growth

Making the transition from fifth grade to sixth grade allows a lot of room for students to grow. What is special about sixth grade is that you can see a significant amount of growth in one short year, for a variety of factors. Sixthgrade students are "new middle school students." I always advise sixth-grade teachers to start the year with the mindset of having a "blank slate." Some incoming sixth graders had bad experiences in elementary school and think that teachers "know about me," "know I can't do xyz," or "know that I am bad." These ideas were not magically put in the student's head: the actions or words of an adult influenced the student to think of themselves in a certain way, or that they are "bad." I highly recommend mentioning the idea of a "blank slate" the entirety of the first month you teach sixth graders. This reassures the students that they have a fresh start with you and that their past is important but does not define who they are as a student in your classroom. The point I am making is that students in sixth grade can "flip the script" on how they feel about school, or at minimum how they feel about school while they are in your class, based solely on how you interact with them and respond to comments about "what happened in fifth grade."

Creating a Sense of Community

I wanted to delve into the mindsets of sixth-grade students to provide insight into what occurs at the start of middle school. Again, you will be one of six or seven teachers for each student. Establishing a sense of community is extremely important when teaching sixth grade. Students are in a new school, with new peers, new teachers, and new routines. Having to wake up earlier in the morning can throw off the student's schedule. As stated earlier in the book, establishing a winning system is extremely important during the first week of school. However, I want to speak to the specifics of sixth grade and what to do the first week of school to establish a classroom community to better integrate students to your classroom and middle school. Conducting "icebreakers" throughout the first week of school allows students in your class to become more familiar with their peers. When adults are asked to do icebreakers during a meeting, they definitely are not thrilled! Keeping this in mind, I suggest not referring to such activities as "icebreakers" to your class. Frame the activity so that it has a clear purpose to the students. For example, "We are now going to conduct classmate interviews to further develop our classroom community." I also suggest allocating a specific amount of time

Name Date Period

Interview Form

Name of person who is being interviewed:

  • 1. What is one goal that you have for the 20XX-20XX school year?
  • 2. What was your favorite part of summer vacation?
  • 3. In your opinion, what is the best way to achieve a goal in school?

Name of person who is being interviewed:

  • 1. What is one goal that you have for the 20XX-20XX school year?
  • 2. What was your favorite part of summer vacation?
  • 3. In your opinion, what is the best way to achieve a goal in school?

Name of person who is being interviewed:

  • 1. What is one goal that you have for the 20XX-20XX school year?
  • 2. What was your favorite part of summer vacation?
  • 3. In your opinion, what is the best way to achieve a goal in school?

Figure 9.2 Student interview assignment. (An assignment for students to interview their peers about a goal they have, how their summer break went, and how to achieve a specific goal.)

each class period during the first week of school to "icebreaker" activities. For example, each school year I allocate a chunk of time on the second day of school for sixth-grade students to interview three of their classmates. Figure 9.2 provides an example of an interview worksheet I give to students during the first week of school.

I purposely have students interview three classmates so that they branch out and meet their peers. I allot five minutes per student interview and cap the assignment at three interviews. I make it very clear that students cannot interview the same classmate more than once. It is easy for students to interview someone they already know or a friend in their class. However, by providing three interview slots, I am hoping they interact with at least one person that they do not know. An activity such as "student interviews" builds the capacity of a classroom community to grow since students are interacting with each other in a social and an academic way. Every teacher has students that are quiet and do not like to talk. This activity allows for the "quieter" students to build their social and verbal skills by interacting with other students. I always allow students to choose their own partners for this activity for each five minute interview.

This "icebreaker" activity also allows you to make observations about your new students based on how students interact with each other. This activity highlights which students have a large social circle: "Student John Doe had six classmates approach him to conduct the interview, which shows he has a large social circle." This activity also allows you to see which students are leaders: "Student Jane Doe volunteered to partner up with the Student Kim Doe, who had no partner to work with for the interview." And this activity reveals which students struggle with following directions: "Bill Doe tried interviewing Matt Doe again after I asked him not to." This activity also shows which students may struggle socially with their peers: "During all three rounds of interviews, I noticed that Student B struggled finding a partner each round."

This icebreaker helps sixth-grade teachers develop a winning system for their classroom. To be clear, how students act during one icebreaker does not define who they are or how they will act for the entirety of the year. However, it does allow you to make inferences and educated assessments of the personalities that you will have in your specific class period. This icebreaker activity should leave you with a general idea of the social capacity and make-up of your class period. This icebreaker activity also assists you to help students in their transition to middle school. If you noticed one or more students struggling to interact and find partners during the icebreaker, you can write their names down to recommend them for a lunch group or "lunch bunch." Most middle schools have "lunch bunches" that are organized by the counseling department. School guidance counselors often get student groups together during lunch to promote social skills and relationship building amongst sixth-grade students. I have seen so many students make friends through "lunch bunches." In middle school, finding one friend can make a world of difference for students. Over the years, it is powerful looking back at how many students benefited from structured social gatherings at school based upon my own and my fellow teachers' recommendations to the group. I want to mention that it is very possible that those students have social connections outside of the students in that specific class period; however, it does not hurt recommending them to a group to boost their social skills.

 
Source
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >