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In your letter, be sure to model the correct parts of a friendly letter! On the first day of school, display your letter on an overhead projector. Then pass each student a sheet of nice stationery. Have the students write return letters to you. In this letter, they will need to answer some of your questions and tell you about themselves.

This is a great way to get to know each other in a personal way!

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Mail the letter to students before school starts, and enclose a sheet of stationery for kids to write you back. Each piece should have a matching piece of the same length. There should be enough pieces so that each student will have one. Then give each student one piece of string, and challenge each student to find the other student who has a string of the same length. After students find their matches, they can take turns introducing themselves to one another.

You can provide a list of questions to help students "break the ice," or students can come up with their own. You might extend the activity by having each student introduce his or her partner to the class. Give each student a slip of paper with the name of an animal on it. Then give students instructions for the activity: They must locate the other members of their animal group by imitating that animal's sound only.

No talking is allowed. The students might hesitate initially, but that hesitation soon gives way to a cacophony of sound as the kids moo, snort, and giggle their way into groups. The end result is that students have found their way into their homerooms or advisory groups for the school year, and the initial barriers to good teamwork have already been broken. Hold a large ball of yarn. Start by telling the students something about yourself. Then roll the ball of yarn to a student without letting go of the end of the yarn. The student who gets the ball of yarn tells his or her name and something good about himself or herself.

Then the student rolls the yarn to somebody else, holding on to the strand of yarn. Soon students have created a giant web. After everyone has spoken, you and all the students stand up, continuing to hold the yarn. Start a discussion of how this activity relates to the idea of teamwork -- for example, the students need to work together and not let others down. To drive home your point about teamwork, have one student drop his or her strand of yarn; that will demonstrate to students how the web weakens if the class isn't working together. Questions might include the following: What is your name?

Where were you born? How many brothers or sisters do you have? What are their names? Do you have any pets? Tell students to write those questions on a piece of paper and to add to that paper five more questions they could ask someone they don't know. Pair students, and have each student interview his or her partner and record the responses. Then have each student use the interview responses to write a "dictionary definition" of his or her partner to include in a Student Dictionary.

You might model this activity by creating a sample dictionary definition about yourself. Born in Riverside, California. No brothers or sisters. Have students bring in small pictures of themselves to paste next to their entries in the Student Dictionary. Bind the definitions into a book, and display it at back-to-school night. Ask each student to write a brief description of his or her physical characteristics on one index card and his or her name on the other. Physical characteristics usually do not include clothing, but if you teach the primary grades, you might allow students to include clothing in their descriptions.

Put all the physical characteristic index cards in a shoe box, mix them up, and distribute one card to each student, making sure that no student gets his or her own card. Give students ten minutes to search for the person who fits the description on the card they hold. There is no talking during this activity, but students can walk around the room.

At the end of the activity, tell students to write on the card the name of the student who best matches the description. Then have students share their results. How many students guessed correctly? Patricia McHugh, John W. Set up a circle of chairs with one less chair than the number of students in the class. Play music as the students circle around the chairs. When the music stops, the students must sit in a seat. Unlike the traditional game, the person without a seat is not out. Instead, someone must make room for that person. Then remove another seat and start the music again.

The kids end up on one another's laps and sharing chairs! You can play this game outside, and you can end it whenever you wish. Afterward, stress the teamwork and cooperation the game took, and how students needed to accept one another to be successful. Reinforce that idea by repeating this game throughout the year. Danielle Weston, Willard School, Sanford, Maine Hands-On Activity Have students begin this activity by listing at least 25 words that describe them and the things they like. No sentences allowed, just words! Then ask each student to use a dark pen to trace the pattern of his or her hand with the fingers spread apart.

Provide another sheet of paper that the student can place on top of the tracing. Because the tracing was done with a dark pen, the outline should be visible on the sheet below. Direct students to use the outlines as guides and to write their words around it. Provide students a variety of different colored pencils or markers to use as they write. Then invite students to share their work with the class.

They might cut out the hand outlines and mount them on construction paper so you can display the hands for open house. Challenge each parent to identify his or her child's hand. Then provide each student with five different-colored paper strips. Have each student write a different talent on separate paper strips, then create a mini paper chain with the strips by linking the five talents together.

As students complete their mini chains, use extra strips of paper to link the mini chains together to create one long class chain. Have students stand and hold the growing chain as you link the pieces together.


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Once the entire chain is constructed and linked, lead a discussion about what the chain demonstrates -- for example, all the students have talents; all the students have things they do well; together, the students have many talents; if they work together, classmates can accomplish anything; the class is stronger when students work together than when individual students work on their own. Hang the chain in the room as a constant reminder to students of the talents they possess and the benefits of teamwork.

Your school librarian might have a discard pile you can draw from. Invite students to search through the magazines for pictures, words, or anything else that might be used to describe them. Then use an overhead projector or another source of bright light to create a silhouette of each student's profile; have each student sit in front of the light source as you or another student traces the outline of the silhouette on a sheet of by inch paper taped to the wall.

Have students cut out their silhouettes, then fill them with a collage of pictures and words that express their identity. Then give each student an opportunity to share his or her silhouette with the group and talk about why he or she chose some of the elements in the collage. Post the silhouettes to create a sense of "our homeroom.

You can use such cards to gather other information too, such as school schedule, why the student signed up for the class, whether the student has a part-time job, and whether he or she has access to the Internet at home. As a final bit of information, ask the student to write a headline that best describes him or her! This headline might be a quote, a familiar expression, or anything else. When students finish filling out the cards, give a little quiz. Then read aloud the headlines one at a time. Ask students to write the name of the person they think each headline best describes.

Who got the highest score? It seems as if parents are contacted only if there is a problem with students. At the end of each grading period, use the home address information to send a postcard to a handful of parents to inform them about how well their child is doing. This might take a little time, but it is greatly appreciated!

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Pop Quiz Ahead of time, write a series of getting-to-know-you questions on slips of paper -- one question to a slip. You can repeat some of the questions. Then fold up the slips, and tuck each slip inside a different balloon. Blow up the balloons. Give each student a balloon, and let students take turns popping their balloons and answering the questions inside.

Contributor Unknown Fact or Fib? This is a good activity for determining your students' note-taking abilities. Tell students that you are going to share some information about yourself. They'll learn about some of your background, hobbies, and interests from the second oral "biography" that you will present. Suggest that students take notes; as you speak, they should record what they think are the most important facts you share. When you finish your presentation, tell students that you are going to tell five things about yourself.

Four of your statements should tell things that are true and that were part of your presentation; one of the five statements is a total fib. This activity is most fun if some of the true facts are some of the most surprising things about you and if the "fib" sounds like something that could very well be true. Tell students they may refer to their notes to tell which statement is the fib. Next, invite each student to create a biography and a list of five statements -- four facts and one fib -- about himself or herself.

Then provide each student a chance to present the second oral biography and to test the others' note-taking abilities by presenting his or her own "fact or fib quiz. Mitzi Geffen Circular Fact or Fib? Here's a variation on the previous activity: Organize students into two groups of equal size. One group forms a circle equally spaced around the perimeter of the classroom. There will be quite a bit of space between students. The other group of students forms a circle inside the first circle; each student faces one of the students in the first group. Give the facing pairs of students two minutes to share their second oral "biographies.

After each pair completes the activity, the students on the inside circle move clockwise to face the next student in the outer circle. Students in the outer circle remain stationary throughout the activity. When all students have had an opportunity to share their biographies with one another, ask students to take turns each sharing facts and fibs with the class. The other students refer to their notes or try to recall which fact is really a fib.

Contributor Unknown People Poems Have each child use the letters in his or her name to create an acrostic poem. Tell students they must include words that tell something about themselves -- for example, something they like to do or a personality or physical trait. Invite students to share their poems with the class. This activity is a fun one that enables you to learn how your students view themselves. Allow older students to use a dictionary or thesaurus.

He can be contacted by email. This article reviews the findings of one of the major projects, the Oracle project Observational Research and Classroom Learning Evaluation which was carried out during a five year period beginning in The evidence collected in this study, which is supported by more recent work, suggests that the kinds of practice endorsed in the Plowden Report were only partially implemented.

Most of the changes which have been carried out concerned the organisational structure of the classroom and have had far less to do with the curriculum content and the teaching and learning processes. At one level, therefore, there exists uniformity and continuity while at the other, considerable discontinuity because of the ways in which different schools interpret ideas about informal approaches to teaching.

Various explanations for these discontinuities are explored but rejected on the grounds that they place too much emphasis on those aspects of the teaching process which operate at the strategic level. Much more important are the tactical decisions which take place during the course of the lesson. These arise largely because of pressures and stresses within the participants both teachers and pupils and give rise to considerable covert bargaining as teachers try to find a balance between the imposition of authority at one extreme and pupil autonomy at the other.

This suggests the need to redefine progressive practice which allows 'open' negotiations to take place both about pupil learning and about pupil behaviour. Various ways of bringing about these changes are suggested. Since the publication of the Plowden Report in , the study of teaching, based upon empirical investigations of classroom practice, has been one of the major growth areas in educational research. Most of the British studies, particularly those using 'direct' or systematic observation as the major research technique, have been conducted in primary classrooms Galton ; Hargreaves Although the reasons for this focus on primary teaching were largely pragmatic with one teacher per class it was easier and cheaper to obtain a reasonable number of observations , undoubtedly the controversies which developed in the wake of the publication of the Plowden Report stimulated and to a certain extent directed attention to a number of issues related to teaching methods in informally organised classrooms.

Chief amongst these issues was the shift towards individualisation of the learning process and the change in organisational structure of the classroom which could enable a teacher to achieve this objective. While the Report never completely clarified the distinction between individual work [page 82] and individual attention in the former children engage in different tasks while in the latter they all work on the same task but interact with the teacher on a one-to-one rather than a whole class basis it is clear that individualisation was largely seen as a combination of both approaches.

The other important issue to engage the attention of researchers was the nature of these one-to-one interactions which according to Plowden should emphasise children finding out rather than being told, so that the child was 'an agent of his own learning' paragraph This Plowden-style classroom is typified by the following description from a small country school where, according to the teacher: I know all my twenty children as individuals.

Of course, there are times when we come together and share activities like music making, drama, or perhaps just quietly listening to a story. But in basic work I give twenty different lessons. The children work individually, each at their own pace, and I circulate among them, helping, guiding and correcting.

Always I have the particular needs of a child in mind. Sometimes the children help each other. The juniors who are fluent readers might hear the infants who are at a stage of needing a lot of practice. They just wouldn't work I never teach a class. While in a two-form entry junior urban school, the teacher argued that with 42 children in the class: The great implication for me is that class lessons in the basic skills would be poor lessons.

My teaching would be directed at the middle of the class. Therefore for basic work, at least, I break the class down into three or four groups. In addition, at the extremes of ability, the groups themselves break down into individuals The composition of the groups varies for different subjects and the children move from group to group as time goes on.

I have found it dangerously easy to allow the groups to harden into permanencies To avoid this, I often make a fresh start to the grouping when a new field of work is begun. There has to be continual opportunities for me to adjust my teaching to the varying rates of children's development. Coe, These descriptions drawn from the West Riding were echoed by accounts of schools in other pioneering areas with a national reputation for progressivism, such as Oxfordshire and Leicestershire.

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The beginning of the s also saw a number of enthusiastic accounts of 'the primary school revolution' Rogers ; Silberman As Simon has observed, when commenting upon these descriptions of primary practice in the early s, it is difficult to make any objective assessment of how typical these descriptions were of primary classrooms up and down the country. More importantly, such descriptions failed to make a key distinction between discussions of classroom practice at the strategic level, concerned largely with the teachers' intentions prior to the start of a lesson, and tactical decisions to do with what Bellack et al have referred to as the 'moments of teaching', the minute by minute occurrences throughout a lesson.

Classroom researchers have throughout the last decade provided a detailed picture of the range of strategies and tactics used in British primary classrooms and have identified important relationships between these two pedagogic levels on which the teacher operates.

Such evidence supports the view that [page 83] the revolution was less revolutionary than the critics implied, so that many of the prescriptions set out in the Plowden Report have yet to be adequately tested in practice. Amongst this research are studies of the primary school classroom carried out in the early seventies using the techniques of questionnaire and interview.

The first of these published in covered a ten per cent sample of teachers in two local authorities in the Midlands Bealing Although her survey showed that the traditional classroom layout with its rows of desks and static children had been replaced by children sitting in groups and that classes were overwhelmingly mixed ability in terms of achievement, this grouping strategy was often used to stream pupils within the class. Whole-class teaching was still quite widely used for all subjects except reading, although the accent was on individual work - as recommended in the Plowden Report.

Bealing, however, concluded that despite these relatively informal classroom layouts there was much evidence of tight control in such matters as where the children sat and whether pupils were allowed to choose or organise their own activities. Other surveys have confirmed these earlier findings. Bennett suggested that only a small proportion of teachers surveyed could be classed as 'informal' or 'progressive'.

Although the teachers claimed that the children worked either individually or in groups for eighty per cent of the time, more than three quarters of all work was teacher-directed. Out of 25 hours of teaching over 15 were devoted to academic subjects including number work, English and reading, with very little emphasis on integrated approaches in areas such as environmental science and social studies. The sample was drawn entirely from the North-East of England but similar findings were obtained in Nottinghamshire by Bassey in his survey of primary school teachers.

These surveys show that in line with the Plowden recommendations, the shift towards individualisation of children's work was, for the most part, complete by the mids. These studies also suggest that some of the other recommendations emanating from Plowden had received very little support.

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Bennett's and Bassey's results, in particular, demonstrated that the major part of the primary curriculum was still taken up with basic skills. Both researchers suggested that the enquiry approach, although approved of by teachers, was not often used. For the most part the work remained strongly teacher-directed and controlled with the emphasis on the products rather than the processes of learning.

Eight out of ten teachers in the Bennett survey, for example, required children to learn their tables by heart. Questioning teachers by survey, however, cannot provide reliable information about tactics: A number of studies, notably that of the Ford Teaching Project, demonstrated at the beginning of the seventies the existence of a 'perception gap' in teaching Elliott Teachers tended to perceive classroom activity in accordance with their aims rather than their practice, so that their descriptions of what takes place in a classroom were often at variance with those of outside observers.

For this reason researchers refined their observation techniques to study the extent to which the informality of seating arrangements was matched by informal approaches in teaching. In three local authorities, all with a strong commitment to comprehensive education, over a hundred teachers and their pupils were observed for three days each term, each year from to 79, using two observation schedules Boydell Children were also tested annually on basic skills and in addition a number of exercises designed to assess certain qualities associated with 'independent study' were examined.

In the third year children were observed when they transferred out of their primary school into the next stage of education which in some cases was a middle and in others a secondary school. The results are too numerous to describe in detail here but are set out in four volumes Galton et al , Galton and Simon , Simon and Willcocks , Galton and Willcocks The more important findings, relevant to the themes of this paper, are summarised below. Instruction mainly took place between a teacher and an individual child. Managing this situation with upwards of thirty children in a class presented considerable problems of organisation for teachers who were thus under continuous pressure.

They mainly coped by setting relatively undemanding tasks, keeping children occupied until they could find time to help them. Although children were, for the most part, seated in groups of five or six, they worked as individuals and there was little evidence of collaborative work in those groups where children worked together on a common task. The nature of the interactions was overwhelmingly managerial and didactic in these individualised settings, despite many teachers' claims that they favoured an enquiry based approach.

More importantly little feedback about work was given. Children with incorrect answers were generally sent back with the instruction 'to do it again'. Because of this lack of discussion about work, particularly work where the children had got a correct answer but had used an inappropriate method, the match between the pupil's developmental level and the task set was often poor.

Observation also highlighted large discrepancies between the curriculum strategies deployed by schools or by class teachers in the form of curriculum guidelines or class timetables and the manner in which the curriculum operated at the tactical level. A more recent study of the primary curriculum, undertaken at the University of Leicester, has found that there exist considerable variations in practice between local authorities, between schools within local authorities and between classes within schools. In one local authority, for example, it was found that the total teaching time devoted to all subjects varied by as much as one day per week across the sample of schools studied.

Teachers tend to tolerate less interruption when working with children in certain subject areas so that the curriculum on paper often does not match closely the curriculum as taught by the teacher. Even then there are considerable variations between the amount of time on which different pupils engage in their curriculum task. Similar findings concerning the curriculum time allocated by teachers and the proportion of that time in which the pupils engage on tasks associated with certain curriculum subjects have been obtained in American studies Denham and Lieberman Different classroom settings appear to have a minimum effect on teaching style.

The pattern of individualised working, described above, was much the same in the open plan areas and with classes where there were children of mixed age vertical grouping. These findings are paralleled by Bennett's study of open plan classrooms Bennett et al Class size, which varied from 25 to 38 pupils, had very little effect upon the style of instruction or the quantity of interaction received by pupils. In contrast to Plowden's endorsement of group work, particularly for promoting enquiry and helping to stimulate thinking and communication skills, collaborative group work was a totally neglected art in most of the classrooms studied.

While children were usually sat in groups there were very few cases where children were given the kind of work which required them to collaborate together and to work as a team. It was much more usual for children on a table to be working at a topic which required each pupil to make an individual contribution.

Not surprisingly there was little conversation between pupils about work and many of these exchanges did not extend beyond one second time unit. The majority of conversations which lasted longer were mostly sources of distraction. Transfer tended to be a source of particular difficulty for many pupils.

Earlier studies have all shown that although most pupils become anxious about the move away from the primary school, this anxiety is very short-lived and only about ten per cent of pupils remain disturbed after six weeks in the new school. While the Oracle research confirmed that this was so it also highlighted the difficulties which children experienced when adjusting to different teaching methods in different subjects. For forty per cent of the pupils this was reflected in their performance on the tests of mathematics and English where they did less well in absolute terms than in their last year in the primary school.

The hiatus in progress was accompanied by a decrease in motivation and a decline in standards of behaviour that paralleled the anti-school feelings described in studies of deviant pupils at the top age range of the secondary school. This behaviour was particularly noticeable in mathematics where eighty per cent of the pupils adopted a strategy of working termed easy riding. Pupils when instructed to complete a worksheet or a set of examples from a mathematics text book gave the appearance of working but did so as slowly as possible even when engaged in the most mundane tasks such as drawing a margin or finding a page in the book.

In classes where individualised work was more typical, another strategy adopted was that of intermittent working where the pupils worked at the task when the teacher's eye was upon them but then began other conversations once the teacher was engaged elsewhere. Both types of pupils appear to refuse to do more than the minimum of work required. This was in contrast to a group of strongly motivated 'academic' pupils who were hard grinders completing the work as quickly as possible, making life stressful for teachers who were constantly trying to slow down these fast workers, while exhorting the slower ones to speed up.

In practice, therefore, the teaching seemed to be focused on the performance of the 'middle range' of pupils in much the same way as with the earlier class approach. It would seem, therefore, that although there had been considerable change in the organisational patterns in the primary schools, within that framework the teaching emphasis had hardly changed. Learning was largely controlled by the teacher. Children were talked 'at' rather than talked 'with' and the focus of the teacher's attention was mainly on the traditional areas of reading, writing and computation.

Art and topic work received less teacher direction not because it was in accord with the Plowden [page 86] philosophy but because painting was a task which could occupy the children's attention, leaving the teacher free to concentrate on the 'basic skills'.


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  • Despite this research evidence, secondary schools have continued to believe the rhetoric concerning primary teaching methods so that the emphasis in the first year after transfer has been on revision of these 'basics' while taking it for granted that pupils were highly proficient in the range of skills required to pursue independent studies. After transfer pupils were assumed to know how to use a book reference but were re-taught how to add, subtract and divide.

    The more able pupils became bored and disillusioned while the slow learners were often confused by having to learn new methods and new terminology. In secondary schools, pupils do not 'take away' they 'subtract'. The work of Southgate et al , for example, illustrates the same kinds of organisational problems when teaching reading in the infant classroom with teachers unable to give a particular pupil their attention without having to deal with continued interruptions by the remainder of the class.

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    Bennett and Desforges also identify the problem of 'teaching to the mean' in their finding that the tasks set to the 'more able' children were often too easy while those given to 'slow learners' were generally too difficult. They also, by implication, confirm the Oracle finding that teachers are unable to devote sufficient time to extend the pupils' thinking, particularly by providing adequate feedback about the work that children have completed. In the classes studied by Bennett and Desforges, most of the tasks set were repetitive practice ones.

    The authors conclude that The philosophy of individualised instruction has informed the education of young children for many years.