I know that in other parts of the country, school is already in full swing, but here in Michigan we are enjoying the last few days of summer before the academic year starts in earnest. Teachers are preparing their rooms, buying way-too-many supplies out of their own pockets, and planning those vital early lessons. During the first few weeks of school, students learn (or review) content, but they often learn much more about their teachers, their classmates, and the climate they can expect in their classrooms. One of the keys to a successful introduction is activities that make everyone feel welcome—as if when each student walks in the door, the teacher sees them as a valuable asset to the class, someone who is expected to be successful.
There are many ways to begin to communicate this hidden curriculum. Some of them are physical. The pictures we display convey information about who is important; the arrangement of furniture signals whether students will be expected to interact with one another or to focus all their attention on the teacher. Other messages are conveyed through our activities. Time spent learning about one another and building community teaches that those things are valued, that the human beings inside the classroom are even more essential than the content.
As you plan those introductory activities, whether they be activities that allow students to introduce themselves to one another, or early writing assignments that allow you to assess their interests and writing skills, consider how such assignments can impact students of varied backgrounds and opportunities. Given the chance to write or talk about “The most exciting things I did on my summer vacation,” the student who has returned from an whirlwind family vacation, spent weeks at basketball camp, or went to a favorite band’s concert is likely to approach the assignment with some degree of excitement. But what about the student who spent the summer caring for younger siblings while parents worked? What of the students who were never quite sure there would be enough to eat and are thrilled to be back to everyday school meals? Or the child who spent hours playing quietly so a parent could manage Zoom work and childcare simultaneously? Compared to a peer’s account of Disney World adventures, writing about quiet play or tending a younger sibling could feel disheartening. Consider how questions might be phrased to be equally open to diverse experiences. Here are a few options; I’d love to hear more.
- Who is someone you helped over the summer? How did you help? What did you learn?
- Describe a person you saw this summer who was either much older or much younger than you. How were they like you? How were they different?
- Describe something in your house that changed over the summer. It could be a living or non-living thing. What changed? Why?
- Pick an animal you saw this summer. Describe a summer day from the point of view of the animal.
- Imagine you could have changed places with a famous person for the summer. Who would you have chosen? What would you have done? What do you think would have happened if they came to live in your place?
- Pick someone you know who did something this summer that you admire. What did they do? Why do you admire it?