Nuts & Bolts: First Weeks

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The First Weeks in Renee Goularte's Classroom

In January of 1997 Renee Goularte posted on a multiage listserve a description of the first weeks in her classroom (at that time she team taught a class of 51 first, second, and third graders). It is very descriptive of one way to get a multiage class started off to a successful year. With her permission I have reposted it here.

The first two weeks of school we devote to "team-building" activities while we slowly introduce the classroom procedures and activities which are highly dependent on self-direction and organization. For example, we have PE almost every day of the first two weeks of school, at the start of each day, doing collaborative / cooperative activities in mixed-age groups. The older children are immediately thrust into the role of "mentors" for the younger ones, helping them learn how to bounce, throw and catch a ball, how to play tetherball, how to play foursquare, how to jump rope, etc. In the classroom, we do small group rotations for part of the day, mostly using math manipulatives for exploration. At this time, children learn appropriate care of materials, as well as where and how to clean up and put things away.

While these two weeks are progressing, we begin to introduce procedures and activities which will remain largely unchanged during the year, such as storage and care of their materials (we have no assigned seats), Daily Message, Incredible Equations, journal time, SSR, Independent Reading and Writing, and how to use all the language and math independent work choices on the shelves (games, task cards, assorted manipulatives, etc.). We try to introduce one new procedure a day and immediately have students try it. By the end of two weeks, everything has pretty much been introduced and the children have started working on their own. As the students work together these first two weeks, we have the opportunity to develop and discuss rules for the classroom (students do these together) and playground rules and rules for outdoor games, and also to observe students' motor skills and social skills, as well as students' levels of responsible, respectful, self-directed behavior. We don't "teach" during these times, but largely observe and discuss with each other what we see.

During these first two weeks, we assess each child's individual skills. On the first day of school, we have the children write about themselves and draw a picture of themselves. We don't give them a lot of directions for this assignment, nor do we "grade" it; rather, it goes into their portfolio for parent conference in November. It takes the full two weeks to have every child read aloud to one of us individually, so that we can get an informal sense of their reading skill level. We start with the literature-based basal for this, at the students grade level. If it is too hard, we go down a level or use "leveled" trade books, until we find the level where the student reads comfortably. Then we very loosely "assign" each student a color code (which is flexible and might change more than once during the year).

Renee Goularte
Multiage Primary
Blossom Valley School
San Jose, CA

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