One of the most frustrating parts of my morning used to be the first ten minutes after the bell. My school, like many others, uses an online attendance tracking system which requires us to log in and complete attendance within the first fifteen minutes of the day. It takes time to check whether all of my students are present as they put away their backpacks and outdoor gear. It also takes time to start up the computer, load the attendance app, and complete the attendance (twice, because we do both morning and afternoon attendance at the same time, don’t ask).
Without direction, my students take advantage of the time to get off-task and chatty right from the beginning of the day. Bell work isn’t ideal either, as it quickly becomes a chore to plan and even more things to mark. It’s difficult to plan meaningful, engaging tasks that my students can do with limited instruction or supervision.
This year, I tried something new: a question of the day written on the whiteboard before they come in, with markers in a variety of colours available for them to use to add their response to the board. The questions vary from simple questions about student preferences to deeper questions about overcoming personal challenges. Sometimes students are asked to write a message to a peer – something to brighten their day, or motivate them, or give them a confidence boost.
At first, only a few students came up to the board and added their responses. It didn’t take more than a day or two for more to start taking part, however, and now the board is usually so full that the last few students have trouble finding space to write their thoughts down. The first week or two, they were determined to find a way to work Fortnite into every answer as a joke, but now they’re more interested in meaningful answers with reflection and real thought.
Sometimes, the morning question has led to a longer discussion about current events, or a frank discussion about challenging topics like mental health, or a silly debate over whether chocolate or candy is better. As an FSL teacher, it’s also a great opportunity to challenge my students to speak spontaneously in French. It’s informal, relaxed, and about personal topics, so I’ve found that even my more reluctant speakers will take part. Overall, it’s been a highly rewarding routine to put in place.
If you’re looking for question ideas to do something like this in your class, check out the hashtag #miss5thswhiteboard on Instagram. She has many wonderful ideas!