Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why I Stopped Assigning "Morning Work"

photo: Eric Johnson (Tumblr)

Time is precious. Instructional time is important. Wasting classroom time, a crime. Well, maybe not that serious, but most teachers I know work very hard to make sure that every minute of their daily instructional time is used wisely. Everyday should be focused on learning, except for maybe field day and the day before Winter Break, no student is in a mood to learn anything on those days.

So, like most, I felt a need to incorporate 'morning work' into my class' routine. Morning work, a learning activity, is placed in the first part of the day. Its intent is to transition the kids from outside activity to classroom activity and learning. Once the students take care of their belongings, go through morning routines (attendance, lunch procedures), perform morning jobs (electrical stuff plugged in, computers fired up, etc), the students start their morning work. The work, usually tied-in to content we were covering in class that week, has always been part of my kid's morning routine. Usually a worksheet, the activity occupies the time between arrival, school announcements and the first class of the day. Until this year. 

I started off this year doing the same thing. The kids were greeted with work on their desks. Except this year, I had different goals. Last year was not one of my favorite years, to say it as nicely as I can. The culture of the classroom was...well we never reached a point of learning, respect, and fun that I desire for Room 216. I think I rushed things at the beginning of the year and never established our identity and community. So this year I was determined to spend more time getting to know my kids, fostering relationships, and establishing community and slow down.

One morning early in this school year, I looked around the room and something just didn't seem right.

The kids were all at work, everything was quiet, their work was diligent, but were they learning? Was the activity furthering their learning? Was the activity meeting my goals of a a community focused classroom? Were we using our time wisely?

I'm not a worksheet teacher. I'd rather give the kids the choice to demonstrate what they have learned without filling in a blank or circling the correct letter on a worksheet. Most worksheets are learning garbage anyway, but I realized that our morning work was almost exclusively worksheets. How did I not recognize that?

The next morning I changed. I took the work away that had been handed out a few days before and put it in the recycling bin. I don't think the kids noticed too much, it was still early in the year and the routine of our mornings weren't yet automatic. Heck, even if they did notice, I don't think they would have complained about the lack of work. Sixth graders ya know.

What do we do now? How do we spend our time? The kids now come in and take care of their stuff and most sit down and talk. They talk to me. They talk to their peers at their learning clusters. Some use the classroom laptops to blog, some read. Some of the kids use the time to do homework from other classes. Sometimes, we launch right into the day, usually science,  and use that previously cast away time to get right into the day's investigation. That 'extra time', is time we now reclaim from a crowded day. More time spent on collaborating and exploring.

What do I do? I don't spend my time making sure that everyone is working and on task. I don't have to explain an  assignment that has limited learning value. I relax. I 'work' the room and take the 'temperature' of the class to get an idea of where everyone is 'at'. I gauge how ready they are to learn. I also learn more about my kids. I get insights on what their weekend or evening was like. I understand who is or more importantly, who is not in a mood to learn. We learn a lot.

Time well spent.

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14 comments:

  1. Worksheets = learning garbage. I agree, but use them. I like your new routine. I usually have some type of "launch" on my board or screen like a journal prompt or reflection over the previous days' writing or reading.

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    1. Thanks. I'm looking at my words for worksheets and I am thinking that learning garbage may be a little harsh, but most seem designed for busy work. I'm not interested in keeping my kids busy. I strive to keep them engaged. They do work for some kids. We have a board of writing topics that the kids can add to as suggestions for blogging prompts.

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  2. As a music teacher, the time is a bit more rushed, but I still have an entrance assignment. However, I gear that assignment towards getting to know the students better. I call them NCQ's (Note Card Questions). I put a question up on the SmartBoard and my 5-8th grade band students know that they are to come in, grab a notecard, and answer the question on the board in their most creative (and with their best grammar) way. The questions have ranged from "What do you think of the music playing now?" to "What do you want to be when you grow up?". It also allows them an opportunity to write me a quick message if they are having trouble with something. Perhaps there is a happy medium between having an assignment that is worthless and not having an assignment at all!

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  3. You make a very good point. I think it is good idea and great teaching to engage the students when they enter their learning space. I'm sure that my current practice will change over time, but I am really enjoying the new normal for Room 216. I think the kids are as well.

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  5. I love this post! I am currently in school studying Early Childhood Education, but will be certified to teach anything from infants-5th grade after graduating. My mother is a sixth grade teacher and I have grown up living in a household that heard all about the education system. Studying learning from a more child-centered/developmental perspective in my classes now gives me a different perspective on teaching. I hope to incorporate my time in the mornings getting to know my students and their attitudes for the day, as you suggested. I love the idea of having classroom blogging available. I understand that assignments are helpful, but think you make an excellent point!

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    1. Thanks! The time spent talking to the kids has really been great. I've found , now that we're just past the first marking period, that the kids are much more relaxed and at ease in sharing about themselves and what's going on. The insights into what their lives are like when they leave have proven invaluable. We still will grab time out of the first part of the day when we need to, but a good conversation, listening, and a few laughs continues to get Room 216 on a good start to the learning day.

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  7. I know this was from 2013 but just read it. I recently wrote a post about morning work too.
    http://aneducationalphoenix.edublogs.org/2015/02/26/doubting-myself/

    I just think there are better ways to say "good morning-" than a worksheet.

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    1. Agree... And just reading it in 2016...

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  8. I'm feeling the same way. Busy work. Not important. 4th grade. What do I do? You're a middle school teacher. What do you want my kids to know when they get to you?

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  9. I'm feeling the same way. Busy work. Not important. 4th grade. What do I do? You're a middle school teacher. What do you want my kids to know when they get to you?

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  10. Oh, yes, I remember this nightmare when I was writing my dissertation, it was just awful. I even had to ask for help from these 99papers.com guys, because I could not keep in the necessary terms. How I was glad when it ended.

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