Entering your 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade classroom the day after having a substitute is always a nerve wracking experience. Chances are, you've had some of these questions run through your head before you open your classroom door.
Did the sub leave a terrible note? Did the sub leave any note?
Will my classroom be a mess? Is anything broken?
Did the sub follow my lesson plans, or get a little creative? Did I leave enough work for the entire day?
The hardest part of having a sub is wondering what happened all day when you weren't there to supervise - wondering if there were behavior problems or other issues that you should know about, but that the sub either didn't notice or didn't tell you about.
A Disastrous Experience with a Substitute
One time while teaching 3rd grade, I came back the day after a sub to chaos. As soon as the first students walked in through the door that morning, they had stories to tell. I had an angry parent show up halfway through the day wanting to know what had happened to her son. My classroom was a mess. And there was no note, and no easy way for me to contact the sub.
To sort all of this chaos out, I had each of my students write a note to me, telling me what had happened while I was gone. This turned out to be very helpful. It helped me sort the truth from the lies.
More importantly, it helped me determine that the angry parent had a right to be angry. I had a huge behavior issue that needed to be addressed.
The Day After a Sub
These notes turned out to be so helpful that I began having my students write them to me every time I had a sub. Over time, this process got refined and adapted. Eventually, I began using it not only as a way to find out what happened while I was out, but also as a writing lesson.
By providing students with a paragraph frame for them to fill out, I could have my students practice specific writing skills while also figuring out if there were any problems while I was out that needed to be addressed.
Almost all of my students enjoyed this activity. They were writing with a real life purpose, and they had important stuff to tell me!
I usually changed up my paragraph frames based on what writing or grammar skills I wanted students to practice, but an example is below!
Yesterday was a _________ day because ___________________________. While the sub was here yesterday, I ______________________ and ______________________. I think you should know that _________________________________. Next time we have a sub, I will _____________________________________________________________.
These paragraph frames are so easy to adapt. If I wanted my students to practice writing out dates, then I would include that in the paragraph frame. If I wanted them to practice indenting, then I would make sure to point out the indentation before they began writing. If I wanted them to practice writing out dialogue, then I would be sure to include that in the paragraph frame.
I usually had my students keep their notes anonymous so that they could write out what they wanted without being worried about tattling on a friend. This meant that I didn't take a grade or even get useful data on particular students, but it did give students a chance to write with a real purpose.
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