Setting the Tone for Learning

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The first day of school is all about setting the tone. Escort your students to their new classroom. Have them find their assigned seats. Do a little icebreaker. Review and write down the classroom rules. Read the code of conduct in student hand book. Have students write a paragraph about what they did over the summer holidays. Now, time for math. Hand out worksheet with a variety of questions covering all operations. Students work independently and silently (call it a diagnostic test) so teacher can determine where students are “at”. Teacher marks worksheet and hands back the following day. Now, time to crack open the math text and turn to page 1…. The tone has been clearly established for a give and get style of teaching; one where compliance and following rules reigns. It’s the kind of learning I remember as a child and modelled as a beginning teacher.

Things have changed…. 

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The first day of school is all about setting the tone. I meet my students outside on the playground to chat and break the ice while keeping a look out for new and anxious kids. Prior to doing a roll call, I welcome all students and insure them that all the feelings they are experiencing are natural and that even I am feeling a bit are nervous. Being nervous simply means I care.

Upon arrival at their new classroom door, I encourage my students to find a “home base” where they think they’ll feel comfortable and will work well. I talk about the set up and routines of their new learning environment, where there is much freedom of movement and choice. There are no “rules” posted in my classroom. RESPECT is the only “rule” we need.  We have a discussion about what respect means. I share my “I am” statements with my new class and give kids time to reflect upon and share their own. Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 8.51.17 AMThe agenda has been replaced with a class blog and the “Remind” App to engage and inform parents and to make our learning visible.  I encourage my students to ask lots of questions and to provide me with feedback about their new classroom. At this point, I want to get the kids moving, so we head outside for an ice breaker which usually includes a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors  and time for kids to sit and chat and to learn something new about their classmates.

After Nutrition Break, I have my students self select a book of their choice and give them a chance to find a different place in their new learning space to enjoy it. During this time I play some quite nature music from Calm while I circulate around the room to chat with my kids, listen to them read and allow time for them to ask me questions or to tell me something they haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so. As the students are reading, they may also be reflecting on a single word that will guide them as their “One Word” Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 8.53.29 AMgoal for the year.  We transition to using the technology and I establish “norms” for its use. Kids find a new place in the room to work; some may sit at a variety of different desks, others will stand and others may even use a mat in our room to lay down (what)!? Kids fill in a Google Form which will allow me to get to know them even better. Upon completion of the form, kids log into Google Classroom and begin their One Word assignment. During this time I continually circulate to listen, prompt, and question. Time for a body break! Time for Go Noodle! We may begin our read aloud “Paddle to the Sea” to develop a sense of adventure and exploration and to introduce our new Social Studies unit OR we may break out a variety of board games…. I’ll let the kids dictate that, based on their energy.  More can be read about I use a variety of cross curricular resources to build a sense of connectedness and global citizenship in my classroom: ‘Building Global Citizens’.

Now, time for math! I want to hear my students talking and learning. I want to hear them questioning and explaining. I want my students to be excited about conquering math problems. I want them working on problems that are meaningful and relevant. I want them to realize that math problems are multifaceted. I want my students to understand that math problems are not confined to the pages of a math text and that math is literally all around them.

One of my favourite places to do math is in the gym. Run for a quarter of a minute. Do jumping jacks for 60% of a minute. Jog for 2 whole minutes and 3/5 of the third minute. Divide into two equal teams. Arrange the 96 beanbags into 5 equal piles….

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But I digress. Back to the first day. Perhaps I’ll get my kids thinking about how many days, minutes and seconds they’ll spend at school this year. It could lead nicely into a writing assignment or discussion about how they’ll make “Every Second Count” this year. I might jump right into my “Back to School Math” problems which helps to have my students see the relevance of the 5 math strands in their daily lives. Perhaps I’ll pull out the K Cups and challenge the kids with a few KCups4Classrooms problems.

Regardless of what I decide to do, I’ll be sure to be present in my students’ learning. I’ll work with them, ask questions, prompt, probe, redirect and support. But most importantly, I’ll be listening. Listening to each of my students “talk math”. It is in listening that I will learn. I’ll learn what they’re thinking, I’ll learn where they’re strengths lie and where they struggle. I’ll learn about their attitudes towards doing math and how each one of them “thinks math”. I’ll learn new and interesting strategies myself. And together we’ll grow.

The tone will be set and the learning will begin.

See this storify where a number of teachers have weighed in on how they “set the tone” in their math classes and Laurie Azzi shares how she does the same with her students identified with learning disabilities.

Would love to hear how you set the tone for learning in your classrooms! Please #SharesEase


About mrcameron14

I am a Grade 6 teacher of 18 years in Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada. Passionate about sharing with teachers throughout the world. Teaching students how to use technology 4 good and to make a positive difference in the world. Apple Distinguished Educator 2013, SMART Exemplary Educator 2013, Google Educator 2015.
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1 Response to Setting the Tone for Learning

  1. Norah says:

    Hi Pete, I was a bit concerned when I read your first paragraph. Fortunately I read on! 🙂
    I agree with the importance of setting the tone and establishing the environment. The one rule of respect is great. Children, and adults, including teachers, need to know what it means though. I enjoyed the 4 cups video and loved that it was accompanied by cup music. Great ideas and low cost resources.


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