If your roster is ready, then you know you can jump right into your course content. Most everyone who is in your class is already on your list– and probably even in attendance the first day or so of school.
Not gonna lie– I do envy that! Being in an alternative school or in other places with a high amount of at-risk students and a transient population, my roster was never complete the first day, or week of school. In fact, I could expect a good deal of variation through the first month of school, sometimes even up to count day before things settled down. That doesn’t even address the attendance issues in this same population.
So, I had to get flexible. Late arriving students felt punished if I made them do the work from the first week(s)– before they were registered. Or at another school. Or in another classroom until teacher conflict or review of grades/ credit. Or whatever the reason was. But at the same time, it would send the wrong message to the students in attendance if we just did fluff or busy work– things that they might construe as merely filler.
I had to get creative to strike a balance in making the work useful but also easily dropped from the grading and expectations for those coming in late to the class. Here are my best strategies for a flexible start of the year:
- Use short texts. Can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry. We would delve in and study the texts same as any in the year. But they were generally stand-alone texts. A late arrival to my classroom could be easily exempted from the whole set of activities surrounding a poem like Casey at the Bat or a short story like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Similarly, if they were present for any part of that, the texts are short and I could choose which assignments to require and which to exempt. While they were catching up on reading, I could exempt one project and require another once they finished reading.
- Most subjects have informational texts as well that can be used in a similar fashion. Introductory study, but easily dropped from the grade book. A recent article or finding. A fascinating discovery. A humorous essay.
2. Review important concepts. This can have added value for the at-risk population. Because of the issues with attendance and transience in these populations, a good solid review can be help start the class. Late comers can generally miss the review with minimal impact overall. They could also be assigned a shortened version of a review activity. Classmates can help support their late arriving peers, especially if the class relies on group work and teams (also good strategies I’ve found for working with students who are at-risk or have attendance issues.)
- In order to get the semester off on a positive note with review, the review should be fun and engaging. Not “you don’t know this so we need to review” but a let’s refresh your memory on these important concepts. For example, literary terms or poetic devices are a solid ELA choice for review. Have students jigsaw the terms, complete or create a crossword puzzle.
- For poetic devices, the Scrambled Poetic Devices Poetry Writing is a fun review.
- Review games tend to work great. Break concepts into related groups for different review games.
3. Have students teach each other the important concepts of the course with projects they have created. Students can create posters (such as Word Walls), videos, rap/rhymes to share, and more. Students learn from the process of creating the resource. Plus, late-comers can benefit from the student-created resources with minimal loss from not being present for the creation. (Bonus: use these projects for review materials and differentiated learning).
- Have students create the review materials (see above) for important concepts to the course or area of study.
- Have students create materials to introduce new, important concepts. They do the research to learn the information, then share with classmates.
- Have students create resources to teach or reinforce the rules of the class.
4. Work on stand-alone real-world projects. Projects engage students. A real-world project can also emphasize the relevance of the class while still being fairly easily dropped from the grade book or course requirements.
- Have students plan a trip, create a company, or write a complaint letter. Other fun projects are to design a school or research a job they’re interested in.
It’s important to work with the students I have, even if my roster keeps changing and my students are absent. What helps me have a smooth start of the year can also help my students to be successful in my class.