One of my favorite quotes from my friend and colleague Heidi Smith is, “I’m not going to do anything for my students they can do for themselves. I want to spend my time on instruction.” This practice and belief system is one of the foundational pieces to creating independent learners and is evident each start of the school year in Heidi’s classroom.
Many teachers spend copious amounts of time before students arrive, labeling, writing, tagging, or decorating items for each new student. Since this goes against Heidi’s belief system of doing things for students they are able to do themselves, she instead spends that time doing what she knows will truly make the biggest difference in learning: studying student end-of-year assessments, thinking through books she will use as focus lessons and mentor texts to clearly illustrate necessary strategies, or planning for math instruction for the variety of student needs in her class. So how do all those student items get marked and labeled?
Enter a fabulous first-day activity that has students do the heavy lifting of labeling items, and so much more.
In the center of each table or work location Heidi places a stack of small papers (like the ones shown in the photo). These slips of paper are for the individual items that students need to label with their names. Gathering her students on the floor, she models the procedure of choosing one of each label, writing her name in the correct spot, and decorating it so the name will still show. If students are unable to read the labels on each paper, the correct slips can be put into a bag and handed out to students.
When children return to their workspace, they write their names and their labels, placing each of the slips of paper in a plastic bag when finished. Since students finish at different times, it is easy to either provide wide tape for them to adhere their tags to the item, or for the teacher and volunteers to adhere them.
This simple activity accomplishes much more than having students do the labeling. Here are a few other outcomes of this activity:
- At a glance, it provides a hint about who is able to follow multiple-step directions or who may need additional support with these kinds of assignments.
- For younger students, it becomes clear who can write their names and who will need focused instruction on this skill.
- It gives students the much-anticipated opportunity to use new crayons, colored pencils, or markers.
- Rather than the labels blending in with all the others created by the teacher, students are able to recognize their items more easily at a glance.
- There is a greater sense of ownership when labels are created and decorated the way students choose.
Working with Heidi for many years and being in her classroom always provides examples of excellent teaching, stellar student independence, and instruction that guides students to achieve versions of their greatest selves. Thank you for this wonderful idea, Heidi!