Beginnings and Endings

   Whether you teach on a 45-minute bell schedule or, like me, an 85-minute block schedule, there never seems to be enough time to squeeze in all that we think we need to put in front of our students. That’s why I believe it is important to teach from ‘bell to bell’, and a way to do this is through beginnings and endings.

   Bell Ringers, warm-ups, or daily problems, whatever you call it, the goal is the same: get the students on task as soon as possible to maximize class time and eliminate behavior issues. This could be one to five problems on the board in math that students need to solve on a warm-up sheet, a few vocabulary words that need to be matched to their definitions or have sentences written including them, an open-ended question from the previous night’s homework, or something totally new that leads into that day’s lesson.

   In yoga, we usually start in an easy seat, relax the body, connect with the breath, and close the eyes in an effort to quiet the mind, let go of worrisome thoughts (at least for the duration of the class), and be in a space that is more conducive to what yoga offers us. Having a beginning activity or learning experience that the students know they are expected to work on within the first few minutes of class, does the same thing. It sets the tone for the class period, it gets the socializing out of the way, and helps to redirect scattered attention from recess, lunch, PE, or Biology class. At the end of a yoga session, students rest in Savasana (Corpse Pose), which gives the body an opportunity to relax after other asana poses, for the student to receive the benefits of breaking through energetic blocks, and sends them out of class with a quiet, settled feeling that they ‘got what they came for’. Endings in the classroom offer much the same thing.

   At the end of the hour, there are also options to ‘wrap up’ class instead of students leaving with no chance to summarize what they’ve learned, or at the very least, what you’ve presented. I’ve used a  ‘ticket out the door’, where students write one question that confuses them on a sticky note or index card and hand it to me as they walk out the door to their next class (I’ve also done this with teachers during a training, and the feedback is invaluable). In years past, I’ve had a poster in the front of my room that starts off: Today in Math Class, and then lists several ways that they could continue that thought. “I learned”, “I was confused on”, “I helped someone with”, “I answered a question about”, “I need help on”, and other such sentence starters give the students an opportunity to summarize what they got out of class that day, or that hour. It is then your responsibility as the teacher to read those each afternoon and perhaps adjust your teaching the next day to answer questions or clarify meanings. I’ve done this as a whole class if many students were confused on the same concept, or individually if a student was absent or just didn’t understand the lesson. I’ve also skipped the written part and called on a handful of students to ask them to name one thing we did in class that day. I don’t allow them to say, “I don’t know”, but if they get stuck, I lead them with, “On the homework we reviewed . . . ” and then they have something to contribute.

   By ‘bookending’ your class with beginnings and endings, you’re also helping your students with routines and showing them that they did indeed do something in class that day. It gives you a chance to meet with students individually if needed during the ‘beginnings’, and it also offers you feedback on how the lesson was received by requiring students to complete some sort of ‘ending’. I have more tips about teaching on my web site Leave a comment if there is a ‘beginning’ or ‘ending’ that you’ve had success with.