June 11, 2024

6 Things I Tried This School Year

This year I tried out six different things related to classroom management and organization. Here's a review of what worked and what I'll change.


Last year I tried a number of new things related to how I organized and managed my classroom. You can read all about the 7 things I tried here. Some of the ideas stuck and I continued to use them this year, some of the ideas I modified to see if they would work better, and some of the ideas I dropped completely. 

Different things work for different groups of students, but also if it isn’t working for me as a teacher then it isn’t worth my time and energy to continue it. Just like last year, I tried some new things in my classroom this year and some were successes, but some still need work. Here’s a review of the X things I tried in my classroom this year.

This year I tried out six different things related to classroom management and organization. Here's a review of what worked and what I'll change.


1. Proactive Community Circles

While I received training in restorative practices through the International Institute for Restorative Practices at a previous school, my current school completed the training two years ago and continues to prioritize use of restorative practices in how we interact with students, families, and each other. I am part of a team of staff members who spent this year planning out how to continue to teach, reteach, and implement restorative practices so that the ideas become part of our school culture.

This year I made a commitment to myself to hold check in circles at the start and end of each week. Part of the restorative practices philosophy is the 80% of circles should be proactive (and only 20% reactive). We used circles in the first week of school to help establish classroom norms and then moving forward, I did my best to hold one each Monday and Friday. 

Questions or prompts during these circles were very low stake, like rate your mood, share a weekend highlight, or choose the image that best represents how you are feeling. Sometimes I used these circle to address academic issues like dealing with homework, balancing school work and other activities, or completing nightly reading. End of the week circles might include a game. Sometimes check in circles segued into academic circles, where the class might read a short text together or share examples of vocabulary terms.

For the most part I liked hosting circles and I see the value of using them in the classroom. Many students openly looked forward to our circles and were disappointed on days that I didn’t host them. However, throughout the year, my students struggled with the “one voice” rule. My school is planning on holding circles more school wide next year, so I’m hoping others will have ideas about how to get students to be better listeners to each other. 

This year I tried out six different things related to classroom management and organization. Here's a review of what worked and what I'll change.


2. Sadlier’s Vocabulary Workshop

Early in the summer, leadership at my school asked if I would use Sadlier’s Vocabulary Workshop Level A with my sixth graders. This was partially because of a desire to up the amount of homework students are assigned nightly. Our students go on to high schools where they are unprepared for the amount of homework they receive once there.⁠ The other reason for the ask was that building up students’ vocabulary skills would also helpfully build up their reading skills.

I had used Sadlier’s Vocabulary Workshop when I taught high school years ago so I had some concerns about the answers to the exercises in the book being widely available on the internet (they still are). Thankfully other teachers on Instagram shared their experiences using the program and the routines that worked with their students. I was able to take that information and make it work for me and my students (what that routine looks like deserves a blog post of its own). I won’t make any major changes to what I did this year, but hope to continue to add activities where students are writing with the vocabulary terms as well as connecting them to other content in our class.

This year I tried out six different things related to classroom management and organization. Here's a review of what worked and what I'll change.


3. New Novels For My Dealing With Disaster Unit

For the past few years, I’ve used the novels Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer during my “dealing with disaster” unit. The novels are the first two books in her Life As We Knew It series and students had a choice of reading one or the other. The same disaster plays out in both books, just in different places (rural Pennsylvania and New York City), so students are able to see how different individuals are impacted because of the setting.

The books were starting to feel a little dated, so this year I switched things up and gave students a choice of Alone by Megan E. Freeman (a verse novel) and 96 Miles by J. L. Esplin. I have no regrets about changing the books, but I do regret waiting to plan anything for the unit until it was basically starting. Like with the vocabulary program, I won’t make any major changes to the unit, but I will continue to add to the activities we do with the books.

This year I tried out six different things related to classroom management and organization. Here's a review of what worked and what I'll change.


4. Featured Author Fridays

The goal of Featured Author Fridays was a way to introduce students to authors in our classroom library with multiples titles. This was a flop, but it was entirely my fault. I brainstormed a list of authors to spotlight over the summer, but only had a few slides prepped ahead of time and kept forgetting to include it in my daily slides on Fridays. 

One of my summer projects will likely be prepping a year’s worth of slides over the summer and adding them to my daily agenda slides so that they are all ready to go for next year.

This year I tried out six different things related to classroom management and organization. Here's a review of what worked and what I'll change.


5. Monthly Pencil Challenge

Last year pencils were a huge problem. Without alerting me to the issues, my student teacher depleted my whole stash of extras. Students were supposed to have their own supply of extras kept with their homeroom teacher, but for too many students those extras were gone or they lost their pencil throughout the day.

This year on the first day of school, we read about the environmental impact of pencils and challenged students to use just two pencils a month. We put little tape flags on the two pencils and at the end of the month, if students still had at least one of their flagged pencils, they got a little lollipop (I did a bag of mini Tootsie Pops, but Dum-Dums would be perfect). If students needed new pencils, they could get two more flagged pencils for the next month’s challenge.

We continued to keep students extra pencils and other supplies in bins in their homeroom and students could get anything they needed at any time, but that was rare and less than five students in my homeroom of twenty five ran out of their pencils before the end of the year. I emailed the parents of any students who did run out and most sent in more pencils.

This year I tried out six different things related to classroom management and organization. Here's a review of what worked and what I'll change.


6. Reading Graphic Novels

Not that I’d never read a graphic novel before this year, but since January I have read more than 10 and before that, I could probably count the number on one hand.

During independent reading time in my classes, I read books from my classroom and graphic novels were a nice change of pace the second half of the school year. I also try to read within any themes for the month, like reading Black authors in February for Black History Month and Asian American authors during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so that helped me narrow down my selections of what to read.

I would say five out of six of these tries were a complete success, with Featured Author Friday something I still want to do next year, just be more consistent about it. Let me know in the comments if you try any of these ideas with success!

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