On the first day of school I have my students write a Dear Dr. S letter in response to a letter that I've written them. I have them tell me about themselves as a reader, writer, learner and a human. One of my professors at the University of Florida did this as part of our first days of school and I've used this for 25 years. It allows me to get a writing sample on the first day of school. I've often thought about digitizing this assignment or letting students add images, but paper and pen always work on the first day of school. Everyone has access. For my ELLs or other struggling writers, I've offered a writing frame and sentences starters, but regardless of where my students are as writers, they always get something on the page.
I've used a book pass (Allen, 1995) during the first week of school too. I have integrated this strategy in my first week of school since 1996. The book pass allows me to see what my students are interested as readers, how they respond to books verbally and non-verbally and gives me a way to get an independent reading book in students' hands before the end of the week. It's simple too do aka not high tech- pen, paper, and a copy of different books for each kid. I review how to preview a book, teach them how to fold their paper into three columns rather than hot-dog style. Next I give students one minute to preview their book by jotting down the title, the author and comments about the book. They then pass and review another, we typically do about 10-15. I gauge the time of this activity based on their wiggliness. Afterward I ask them to star their top three and allow students to share their favorites where others can see books they might have missed and add them to the beginning of their TBR list (to-be-read). This step allows me to see student's off-the-cuff speaking skills as well as beginning to building the social culture of reading in my class.
My last and most complex task is having students write Poems for Two Voices as a way for them to publish their first piece of writing and learn about each other. Friday is our performance day. I want to go digital with this by recording this. It, however, runs best with paper and pen for drafting and the computer for finalizing the writing and accessing RhymeZone to find words for tricky rhymes. I learned this strategy at my first AVID conference in 2004 and have used this with all ages successfully. I integrate writing frames. While students are writing, I bother each one and gather data from them to write a poem for many voices to be performed with all members of the class.
All of these work as formative assessment for me. By the end of the first week, I know more about my students as readers, writers and learners than I would by just examining their test scores. In doing so, I have also build the foundation for community of readers and writers.
What do you like to do for your first days of school?