Classroom of the Week: First-graders in Jessica Bazinet's class set goals, use tools to get there


PITTSFIELD — When Allendale Elementary School first-grade teacher Jessica Bazinet turns to her students and asks them to tell a visitor who they are, the 13 children in her class, in unison, will say, "I am smart. I am important. I can do anything if I try. I will graduate and I will be somebody."

In this classroom, the philosophy of teaching the "whole child" is backed by numerous resources, from technology to wellness tools, to help these young students meet their goals and realize their potential.

At the beginning of the year, the children all set personal goals.

First-grader Colin Conner, for example, said he's now proud of learning to do math, while Ashleigh Timoney said, "I'm getting better at reading and understanding."

Parent Kerri Timoney said of Bazinet and room 14, "You will not be disappointed if you go visit her classroom!"

"She is full of energy and is always doing creative stuff to make learning fun," Timoney wrote, citing examples of class projects.

This includes: Mystery Skype sessions with other schools to learn geography; dancing to learn suffixes; and dressing up (with masks and stethoscopes) and acting as doctors to perform "surgery" on words while learning a grammar lesson on contractions.

"The list goes on and on," Timoney said.

Other elements that characterize this classroom include flexible seating, where students can sit on rugs for meetings, on pillows at the laptop lab, either on chairs or stability exercise balls at their desks, and at low or high-top tables when doing learning stations.

Instrumental music from groups like The Piano Guys or playlists with titles like, "Zen" can often be heard playing in the background.

Also spread out around the room are areas where kids can take "brain breaks" and stretch or practice yoga poses. Bazinet also regularly encourages her kids to take a deep breath before making a decision or transition between tasks.

"I really want them to feel comfortable in their learning environment so they'll have the opportunity to focus on their skills," the teacher said. "When they're relaxed they can really give me 100 percent of their effort. We don't have time to waste in first grade because there's a lot to learn. We call it 'learning bootcamp.'"

Bazinet in the past has earned grants and sought resources to pilot instructional practices using things like interactive whiteboard technology, videos, laptops, listening stations and tablet devices. This year, her class, along with a few other elementary and middle schools classes in the district, are piloting a new curriculum called, "GO Math!" which offers online-based approaches to learning state standards.

For the past few years, her students and families have also been introduced to a digital classroom management tool called, "Class Dojo," which offers a secure internal messaging and social media system so Bazinet can share pictures and videos of activities in the classroom with families, as well as seemingly infinite resources to help teach positive development skills like empathy, which helps foster a classroom community.

Bazinet said about 85 percent of her classroom families communicate with her through the Class Dojo messaging system and app; for the rest, she provides updates and information on paper.

Beyond her own classroom, she said she's very proud of how the three Allendale Elementary first-grade classes work together as a team to address issues such a literacy. She said she also appreciates how the school and city district allows her the latitude to try new things.

"Building relationships is the best and most important thing you can do. To learn, you have to have trust," said Bazinet.

Asked what else makes her first-graders unique, the teacher said, "They're just kind, and very motivated to learn. They know that reaching their goals this year comes with hard work."


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