Daily Schedule and Making Time for Writing Journals

Hello Friends! 

Summer is definitely winding down—ahhh! And that has left me doing some serious thinking about how I plan to change, adapt, and/or adjust things in my room this year in terms of our schedule. Our school's master schedule was released a couple of weeks ago, and the biggest change for the second grade is that we no longer have the first special and first lunch, which means MORE LEARNING IN THE MORNING! Can I get a w00t w00t?!

Another change for the whole building will be 11 more minutes at the end of the school day. Last year, we also had our students arrive by walking straight to the classrooms (instead of lining up outside), which is wonderful in that line duty was terrible, but creates an arrival scenario with students filtering in gradually.

Now that you've got a little background, here's what I came up with:

Fabulous fonts from Cara Carroll at The First Grade Parade!

Some things about this schedule are totally a departure from past practice for me, so let me fill you in on what those are.

Morning Work

I have always, always, always done morning work. It's just one of those assumed best practices; I've seen teachers blog about it, post products for it on Teachers Pay Teachers, and watched it happen in all the classrooms I've ever been in. But I found myself wondering, "Why do I do this?" more and more, and had that asked of me at I Teach Second! this summer. I don't have a real answer; I suppose it eases kids into the day. But is that what's best? I grumped and whined last year about having the first special and lunch and very little morning learning time, but somehow it didn't occur to me to scrap morning work.

Now, I mentioned above that my students filter in from 8:20–8:30. When I revisited the idea of morning work this summer, I wasn't sure what I wanted students to do who arrive right at 8:20, nor did I want to have some kids start something but others not have time to finish it. I HATE half-finished work, and I don't want to waste paper on worksheets where I don't have to! I'm going to tell you what my solution for this time was, but want to share a couple of other dilemmas first.

Morning Meeting

I've also always done a Morning Meeting, and my students love it. When contemplating how to make the most of my time, though, I wanted to find a way to keep Morning Meeting, trim it down, and put it in a place OTHER than precious morning learning time. I decided I wanted to scrap these parts of Morning Meeting:
  • Calendar (students have had this in K and first grade)
  • Weather (they know it!)
  • Schedule (they know where it's posted and how to read the words or pictures)
On the other hand, I loved these parts:
  • Greeting (practicing eye contact and handshakes makes me happy!)
  • Morning Message (shared reading *swoon* and authentic content!)
  • Activity (being silly together builds community)
  • Sharing (practicing presenter voices and speaking in complete sentences!)
  • Good News/Bad News (students have the chance to share about their world in that moment) 
  • Self-Reflection (my class was SO reflective last year, and they were honest and accurate)
So, I decided to turn Morning Meeting into Class Meeting, and put it right after lunch. Here's why:
  1. I always like to have a transition time after lunch/recess. Especially when school first starts, the weather is hot and the kids need some time to cool off and catch their breath. Sometimes, they also need a few minutes to move past whatever recess drama might have happened...
  2. This is the WORST time for learning. The way the brain works, the time right after lunch is a slump time. Peak time is obviously in the morning, with another lower peak later in the afternoon.
  3. I've used this time for Ketchup & Pickle in the past, but haven't loved how the time gets used later in the year. Kids tend not to use this time for what it's intended: to take a few minutes to themselves to catch up on any work, rest their brains, and decompress. Instead it becomes social time (despite my best efforts to nip that in the bud!). Why not make it an acceptable social time instead?
I'm not sure exactly how this will turn out; I'll likely do some teaching around greeting each other at the beginning of the year, and coach students that they will all greet me and each student they encounter as they enter the room in the morning. I may also project a Morning Message while students are coming in that they can read as they take their seats, and that we'll discuss/read together before starting the day. That would leave Sharing, Good News/Bad News, Activity, and Self Reflection for the afternoon meeting. I may test the waters to see if we can fit all of that in within 10 minutes for the first couple of weeks of the year; if not, I will alternate days with Good News/Bad News and Activities. That worked really well last year, and kept activities feeling fresh all year long!

 Writer's Workshop

There are a million things I could share about my scheduling choices, but this will be the last one for now. I have had a tenuous relationship with Writer's Workshop throughout my teaching career; this is ironic because writing is without a doubt my favorite subject. I've never fallen in love with any way that I've structured my writing time, and there are a couple of reasons:
  1. My Writer's Workshop has always been too short, but I've struggled to find time to make it longer due to a packed schedule that devoted too much time elsewhere.
  2. Daily 5 is awesome, but I've had a hard time melding Work on Writing and Writer's Workshop and making the two work together seamlessly.
  3. I have always felt that students should have more choice in what they write about, but haven't found a way to offer that freedom while still sticking to my district's writing curriculum map.
So, I give you my solutions to all of these problems, plus my morning work dilemma: Clearing the extras out of my schedule and Writing Journals! 

First, clearing out my schedule. You can probably see that it looks pretty streamlined; I set out to not waste a second. I moved Morning Meeting to after lunch and eliminated Ketchup & Pickle, eliminated Morning Work and replaced it with journaling time, and made snack a working snack as we transition to Science/Social Studies. I also backed Science/Social Studies up to Literacy on purpose; since I hope to integrate these this year, I am thinking that this transition should be both smooth and quick. Finally, we lucked out with a later lunch and special this year, which sets aside a nice time for Math, and a huge chunk of time for Writer's Workshop. Yay!

Second, Writing Journals!

These are solving multiple problems for me. First off, I plan to have students pull out their journals first thing in the morning for whatever time they have between arrival and the start of instruction. I figure this will be between 10–15 minutes total; however, I did want them to be able to devote more time to their entries. That's where I answered my Daily 5 problem. Now, during Work on Writing, students will pull out their journals again and pick up where they left off, rather than trying to continue working on something from Writer's Workshop. Finally, students will have:
  • choice (there are 7 entry options for each week),
  • guidance (reference guides for each writing style are coded on each prompt and the guides themselves are glued into the front and back of the journal to offer reminders about what each style should incorporate and eliminate questions or "I'm done!" conversations...), and
  • low paper consumption + accessibility (no copying monthly journals or students needing to get out of their seats to reference writing prompts or task cards!).
With the Reference Guides for each style on the inside of the covers, students will always have accessible reminders about what the expectations are for that style of writing and/or what they can add.

Each page has 7 options for the week, giving students choice, plus a range of styles that they can choose from!

One thing I wanted to ensure was that the prompts offered some guidance, but were still open-ended. A system I landed on for this was to offer 4 prompts each week (the top 4) that varied according to the season/month, and covered the 4 major genres (yes, I consider creative writing a major genre!). Then, the last 3 prompts rotate among 18 that appear each month, so students could see some of those several times across the course of the year. They are not themed in any way, but do rotate among all 5 genres (adding in poetry), and are VERY open-ended, in a true journaling style.

The back-to-school and growing bundle of writing journals are both on sale in my store through tomorrow! You can snatch up the back-to-school one for just $2.40 (normally $3.00), and the growing bundle for $12.00 (the price for this one will go up as months are added, but after the sale it will be $15.00).

I hope this resource is helpful in your classroom—please share how you would use it in the comments!

Happy Journaling!


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