Monday, August 22, 2011

My morning meeting conundrum

As I'm getting to start the school year with my non-categorical special education class I'm finding myself completely stuck about what to do about morning meeting.
I LOVE morning meeting. I love morning meeting so much that when Michelle Rhee was quoted in Time as saying that teachers needed to stop wasting time with cute things like morning meeting I immediately lost all respect for her. To me, she clearly was far removed from education if she didn't understand the significance of the "cute" morning meeting.

 If you are unfamiliar with this teaching method I'd recommend checking out Responsive Classroom's Morning Meeting book. The idea behind morning meeting is to start each day by building a community in your classroom. It gives the beginning of your day structure, allows you time to teach social skills, helps children feel safe in your classroom and gets your students ready to start the day. There is always a clear daily structure.  My partner-in-crime holds some of the best morning meetings I have ever seen. Her class is practically perfectly behaved during the entire meeting because her structure is so clear. Her games are creative and fun, and her calming voice during morning meeting seems to completely set the tone for the entire day.

We start each morning meeting by sitting in a circle and greeting one another- on most days each child takes a turn to greet the child on each side of him/her (there are tons of fun greetings you can switch in once the children are comfortable with traditional greeting).

For my children with special needs this beginning of morning meeting is essential. They need to know how to shake hands, look someone in the eyes, and speak the 3 word phrase "good morning ______".  It helps them remember each other's names and sets the expectation that we talk with one another during the day.

After the greeting portion of morning meeting we read the morning message together. Again, for my children with special needs this is critical. I keep the same structure to the message everyday so they can all "read" along- they all know exactly what it is going to say minus some routine changes like the day of the week and who is line leader. It gives them a common text they feel they can read, as well as helps reinforce known words.

Inside morning meeting most of us at the Think-Tank embed our calendar routine, which is again the same simple routine everyday, giving the children repetitive math practice outside of math time. Then there is time for share and an activity- usually a silly song and dance that gets everyone up and moving and on their toes so they are ready to start the day.

Did I mention I LOVE morning meeting. It's when you get to see who is having a rough day and who is overly excited about something special happening at home. It's where the classroom community is built. It's where I see my children with special needs find their comfort in the classroom.

So, back to my problem. My children will all have home-room classes they'll start and end their days with. Some will only come to me for 3 hours a day, while others will be with me for almost the entire day minus music, art, and PE. I am torn on where I want my children to attend morning meeting. I see three huge benefits from morning meeting- the community building, the social skills training and the academic repetition.

 I want my children to be comfortable in their home-room classes. I want them to have friends there so when they go into the classroom for specials, lunch, and recess that they wont be looked at as "those weird kids who aren't with us all day". Being a part of their classroom's morning meeting will be essential in making them a part of their classroom community. They will feel more comfortable in their home-rooms and their peers will see them as a part of the class.

Of course, on the other hand, the amount of social skills and academics I can get done during my own morning meeting with my children is huge. In just the two weeks of jump start I saw a huge improvement in their social skills, confidence, and even in their counting. We counted the calendar numbers everyday, and by the end they were all counting loudly and (almost) correctly. In my own room I can slow down the academics to meet their needs, give longer wait-time for them to answer the question, and ask questions they will know the answers to in order to build their confidence (without the other children wildly waving their hands with the answer to the most simple question). The small environment allows them to come out of their shells when practicing social skills, and gives us more time to encourage participation. When you have 20 other children starting at one child who refuses to use eye contact it's much easier to move on than to simply wait and repeat the eye-contact expectation.

So I am completely and utterly torn. I want them to be a part of their home-room classes, but I also do not want to miss out on opportunities to build language, academic, and social skills. Morning meeting is essential in so many ways- any choice I make is taking away one benefit of morning meeting.  Perhaps it will need to be done on a child-by-child basis, but even so, when I think of the individual children there are some I am stuck on. I have another two weeks to figure it out, so any advice you have I welcome with open arms.


Mary said...

I see both your points. I don't know how much variation in a routine young kids with special needs can accept (it likely varies a lot with each kid) but can you do it on an every other day schedule? I know specials vary by days.

Decide whether it is more important to you to have them with you for the meeting or in their other rooms and then set it up -- I personally think the kids will get more out of the meetings in the traditional classroom if they spend more time in yours at least the first quarter so

Monday -- meeting in your room
Tuesday -- meeting in other room
Wednesday -- meeeting in your room
THursday -- meeting in other room
Friday -- meeting in your room

If that doesn't work, I guess I would opt for meeting in your room for the first nine weeks -- I understand your point about having the kids feel comfortable in the traditional rooms and having the other kids feel comfortable with them, but if some of your kids don't know how to conduct themselves during morning meeting and either disruptive or ignored, I don't think that fosters the inclusivness for which you are aiming.

blossomteacher said...

Let them have their home room MM, but then still do your own! If it isn't in the morning, call it something else...daily check-in, get together, etc. As you said, they will get different things out of each meeting. Even if you are doing the exact same things, they will pick up on different things. And I doubt you are doing it the exact same as their teachers, since your kids need different things!

Jenny said...

I completely agree with blossomteacher. Do both! If you can find a good time in your day when you will have all of your kids, do a meeting then, regardless of what time it is. I would guess the morning meeting in their other class is really helpful for them with those kids but I think what they will get from your morning meeting, in a variety of ways, is also critical. It's well worth the time for them to do both (no matter what Michelle Rhee would say).