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Starting the Year Off Right: 6 Tips to connect with both your students and parents for a productive year of learning.

By Jeanne Lazzarini, RAFT Math Activity Developer & Mentor, and the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, NCTM
  1. Create a classroom that engages you and your kids.
Make your room a place that you like be in.  Some suggestions include:
    • Fill your classroom with examples of the real world.
    • Dedicate a bulletin board to certain topics.
    • Include a “Problem of the Week.”
    • Create a center including puzzles, thinking games, and manipulatives that could be explored by students.
  • Develop a plan to connect with parents.
Provide parents with a welcome letter followed by monthly newsletters that include a brief overview of topics their children will be learning about in the coming month. For the younger grades, a take-home “manipulative of the month” made out of sheets of craft foam or other inexpensive material could also be shared. Suggest activities for parents to do at home to reinforce the concepts and activities that the students are investigating in the classroom.
  1. Know and believe in all your students.
Before school starts, find out who your students are. Do any of them have special needs and/or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that you should be aware of? What level of English development are the English Learners in the class? Do you have students that are identified as gifted and talented? Having more information about your students will help you better plan for their needs. On the other hand, make sure to give each student a clean slate if you hear about past performance or discipline problems. If you begin to have issues, focus on giving the student positive attention by assigning more responsibilities instead of negative attention by punishing him or her.
  1. Create problem solvers.
Start each class with a set of questions and riddles that promote logical thinking. Allow students to work in small groups, and emphasize that they should discuss solution strategies and how they got their answers. This activity shows students that your classroom is a place where communication and collaboration are encouraged.
  1. Set up classroom norms so that everyone knows their role in the classroom. 
Maybe have students learn to use a hand signal to indicate one of three types of replies:  “I have a question,” “I have an answer,” and “I have a comment.” The teacher’s role includes orchestrating discourse by:
    • Posing questions to challenge student thinking.
    • Listening carefully and monitoring understanding.
    • Encouraging each student to participate, even if it means asking, “Who can repeat what Andrew said?” or “Who can explain in another way what Bailey did?”
The student’s role includes:
    • Listening and responding to the teacher and one another.
    • Using a variety of tools to reason, make connections, and solve problems.
    • Communicating and making convincing arguments of particular representations, procedures, and solutions.
  1. Ask questions that assess the students’ learning. Try Think-Pair-Share.  Call on students by name to invite them to contribute. These questions are not “Do we all get it?” or “Does anyone have any questions?” Rather, these questions must give the learners an opportunity to communicate their reasoning process—why they chose a particular method and how their choices made sense. Transform some of your closed questions, those that can be answered with one word, to open questions, those that require explanation.

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