I am very distractible. Students know this; I know this. For this and multiple other reasons (including insipid tardiness on the part of my students) the first few minutes of class is often filled with retrieving forgotten textbooks, quieting down the pockets of flirtation, and acknowledging the students who show up two minutes late with a coffee.
Numerous factors have led me to the institution of class starters for grade 9s. I will do my best to summarize them here and introduce my framework, theory, and pedagogy behind them.
Why Starters? (The multiple influences)
- Success with my Enriched 9 class last semester
- I used starters to establish a culture of curiosity and conjecturing with my set of “gifted” grade 9 students last year. The tone was beautiful. It taught me valuable lessons about how I need to approach and ameliorate the process into the class time, as well as important logistical tweaks that need to be made.
- Colleague suggestion
- A teacher at my school uses quick start-up questions to encourage punctuality. His are graded, and essentially consist of textbook problems from the previous day. While his motives for using the system are different, the hope of greater efficiency does appeal to me.
- Graduate studies
- My interest in classrooms as complex systems (see Davis & Simmt, 2003 for a good summary) is growing as my studies continue. I believe that teachers need to base their practice in theory–a deep personalization of theory. This doesn’t mean a citation justifies my actions, but my daily enactment of the theory with my students does. It takes a being open to reflection and reflexivity.
- I have found that providing students with a stage to enter into a topic best facilitates the climate of complexity. This means my starter questions are often roundabout ways at deriving the curricular content. They roughly align with the chapters in the textbook, but provide multiple avenues for interpretation and pockets of organization.
- In this way, starters are not meant to assess the students on whether they did their homework, but provide the spark for organized chaos. Some repeat to provide a chance for deeper analysis, and others lend themselves nicely to a “one-and-done” philosophy. It is important for me to root my classroom practice in theory; it enables me to make justifiable decisions on the fly.