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Brainstorming and Re-imagining

[Editor’s note: Ms. Flecha is the pseudonym of a fifth-year elementary school ESL teacher in Queens. She blogs at My Life Untranslated, where a version of this post first appeared.]

Few things are better than a fresh start. To come at something with new eyes, new lessons learned, and a chance to do things differently than before — it’s reinvigorating. And teachers get one every September: a chance to re-imagine everything from how you teach to how you decorate your classroom. The opportunities can be endless, if you look at the things you hope to do differently with an open mind. Not many professions offer that.

At the beginning of September I returned to the school I left in June to set up my classroom and start anew. To psych myself up, I spent weeks visualizing the space and how I wanted to arrange it differently and make it more efficient.

Every year I have a different kind of class, not just different students, and this really demands that I be open to fresh starts (as well as some degree of chaos!). Some years my class has been filled with struggling long-term ELLs while other years the majority of my students have been newcomers and students with significant gaps in their school history. This year I am starting with nearly 30 students coming out of the bilingual classes, and it will be a bridge class that combines two grades.

Some of what I plan to do differently this year incorporates what I found to be good practices from previous years along with what I learned from past mistakes and weaknesses, and books I am reading.

One thing I plan to do differently this year is to create and emphasize class goals, rather than class rules. I feel this allows for more positive discussions each day about whether we are meeting our goals and how better to do so, rather than checking who is following the rules.

Being an ESL class, there are two central items that determine its success: academic language acquisition and strong partner work. Students need time to talk but they need to know what language is useful to discuss in class. They also need to learn to work well together so that sharing and re-teaching is beneficial and not random and haphazard with lots of reminders of how to be nice to each other. Projects that require partner work can make or break a class. So, I plan to do more daily partner work that incorporates academic language from day one. Set the standards really high and show the students what they are capable of from the get-go.

And finally, I’m going even more paperless than before. In addition to keeping my conference notes in Google Docs, I am going to use PlanbookEdu.com for my schedule and plans (though since I am such a furiously-write-ideas-in-the-margins kind of person, typing this stuff instead will take some getting used to). Also, depending on my students’ home Internet access situation, I may use the online grade book Engrade.

So, with these new ideas in mind, I am psyched. I’m ready to meet the new challenges of a new school year, ready to re-imagine the mini-world I get to create with my students, and ready for what is always a bumpy ride.