It’s September! Time to get the dust off the shelves, the bulletin boards up and a big warm welcome out to all those bright and shiny faces as they enter the doors of our classroom on during these first days. The kinds of things we do with our students in the very beginning of the year, set the tone for the whole year. One thing I like to do is tell stories to my students. I tell them stories from my childhood, like how scared I was my very first day of school. I’d been sick with the chicken pox so had to start school a bit later than everyone else. I still remember the terror and embarrassment I felt coming in to that classroom. I attempted to sit at a desk only to be told by another child that I was sitting in an assigned seat for somebody else. After my third attempt to sit down somewhere, I ended up standing against a wall in confusion until the teacher finally rescued me. I use that story to help students get to know me as a human being and also help those who are a bit fearful themselves to know they have landed in a safe spot.
I thought it would be a good idea to start out this year with another story. I often pull out a story with a theme around some issue we are struggling with in the classroom. I call these stories my Sister Stories, because very often they feature the exploits of me and my sisters when we were little or of my three granddaughters. It is not uncommon for children to beg me to tell another Sister Story or even ask for the same story more than once. Especially when they feature me being a bit naughty, as some of my stories do. They all help students relate to me as a regular human being and also help build the culture and norms of our classroom community. Sometimes I will start the story and get students to give me ideas to add or they’ve even served as a springboard for my class to write their own stories during Writer’s Workshop time.
I have shared several of my stories before on this blog. If you go back to one of the first entries in January of 2009, you’ll find a story linked for download called Finder’s Keepers. I used it to help solve a problem I was having with someone in my class who had sticky fingers. In May 2010, there is a link to my Sister Story called Can Do. Research has shown that when children believe that their efforts to learn make them “smarter,” they show greater persistence in mathematics learning. Effort, not talent is the key to success in mathematics. Finding ways to motivate students to persevere is a challenge, especially when they encounter some of the mathematical problem solving tasks I ask them to engage in. So, telling them a story like Can Do was one way I challenged my students to stick with it when they found the going tough. I also talked about an article I had published in TOMT magazine about Math Difficulties. This article contains another one of my stories called The Elephant Lamp. It is about a little boy who thinks he is too stupid because he can’t do math.
The story I am going to share this time deals with a very common problem I’ve encountered over the years. Many students have focus and impulse control issues. Sometimes these types of focusing issues are symptoms of a bigger problem such as ADD or Asperger’s Syndrome. This story was written to help a student who often had trouble staying on task and acting out in ways that caused problems for himself and others. It is called Look Before You Leap. I hope you enjoy it.
Do you have any stories from your childhood you tell your students? How do you help build your classroom as a community of learners? What qualities do you try to highlight and bring out in your students?