But the problem is that we hear conflicting messages about what the first day of school should look like. Veteran teachers used to tell newbies that it’s best not to smile until Christmas – that way the kids know you mean business. I don’t think anyone really believes that advice anymore, but we should we go to the other extreme? Should we seat kids in teams right away, or should they be in straight rows for the first few weeks of school? Should the first day of school be fun, or should it be a time to learn the rules and classroom procedures?
Personally, I think we can do both on the first day of school. In fact, if we want to establish a caring classroom climate, I think we must do both on the first day of school. We need to let kids know that our classroom will be a fun place to learn, but it’s also a classroom with clear rules and procedures.
One of the big considerations for the first day of school is how to seat students. Should they be seated in rows or teams? If they are in teams, should they pick their teammates?
My view is that the best way to teach kids how to work in cooperative learning teams is to start teaching them that way on the first day of school. If you put them in rows on the first day, then later when you put them in teams, your students may think it’s play time.
My kids are placed in teams from the very first day of school. When my students arrive in my classroom, they will find a nametag on an assigned seat for the first day of school. That seat will be a part of a team of four students, and we’ll begin learning appropriate ways to interact in teams. Throughout the day, we’ll do several fun team-building and class-building activities, and each time I’ll share specific procedures for movement and conversation. For the next two or three days, I will mix them up in different teams so they can get to know their classmates. Then on the third or fourth day I’ll create more permanent, mixed-ability teams. At no time do I let them pick their own teams. Sometimes they may choose a partner for an activity, but their teams are always assigned by me.
For more information on how to create mixed-ability teams, visit the Team Formation page on Teaching Resources. You can also find information and diagrams about how to arrange seating to foster cooperative learning activities.
What’s your experience with team formation? Do you like to put kids in teams on the first day of school or wait until you teach other classroom procedures? My way is just one way . . . and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.