(Continued from Part II)
In this post teacher palisadesk continues to describe some of the postive reinforcement techniques she's used to successfully manage her classrooms under a variety of conditions.
Not all classroom activities involve so much teacher-student interaction, however. I'm often in the position of teaching classes in their (not my) room, and don't have a lot of "stuff" handy, nor can I manipulate the environment as much as I would like. If I can't usefully use the Teacher-Kid game, or some other interactive techniques like response cards or individual whiteboards, I usually do something that is a variant on a point system. I'll tell the students that I will perambulate the room and do random work checks every X minutes, and every time I observe (I name specific criteria), the class will get so many points. A certain total -- for the day, or possibly the week, will earn the class some time doing something fun, such as a team Jeopardy game (using information from the subject they're learning -- call me Machiavelli), a high-interest video (always related to the curricular goals), extra time in the computer lab, or whatever might be appropriate.
Points earned by students meeting expectations are never taken away, and when it is a group exercise the class will usually put peer pressure on the show-offs or layabouts to do at least the minimum needed to earn group points.
Random "jackpots" are also good motivators. When I am teaching a class where I'm not the homeroom teacher, and leave the students with an assignment to complete (which I have no power to enforce their doing), I return next time, have a student collect the completed work and shuffle the papers. I'll randomly draw 5, verify that the students completed the work (never mind if it's correct -- a different objective) and give a simple prize (erasers or pencils for elementary kids, cookies in middle school -- those kids are always hungry) along with much fanfare and praise of the student's initiative and discipline.
I also make a point of walking around while kids are working, noticing especially students who are often off-task or even actively disruptive, and making some very public positive comment about some specific aspect of their work (example, "Listen, everybody. I see that Tyler here makes particularly good use of varied opening sentences in his paragraphs. Tyler, may I read this to the class? I want everyone to hear this..".) If you practice this, you can get good at spotting something worth praising in almost every student's work. Even kids who did close to nothing all year would make some token efforts that I could comment on.
I was pleased with how well a fairly large and boisterous class of middle grade students last year did when I taught them a twice-weekly class on reading strategies. There were several kids who were really too low in skills to benefit from the curriculum and who were routinely booted out --to the hall, or the office -- by other teachers. I managed to get them on task most of the time and they actually did complete some of the work and demonstrate some learning. I was careful with those three to use NO negative strategies.
You can impose a consequence without being punitive. For example, with a kid who is talking out and bothering others, you can draw attention to his misbehavior, reprimand him and send him out of the room (I started out doing that, I would guess that is a common strategy). That gets him out from underfoot for the moment, but does not change his behavior, nor does it improve his learning outcomes.
You can (this takes practice) take a slightly different tack. You approach the disruptive student and say, " Casey, I think it's really important for you to complete this assignment. You're getting distracted here, so I want you to sit there (point to seat away from peers) until you finish." The Student will nearly always argue, but I merely stick to the topic and repeat my concern for the student and his learning and remind the group that we need X number of points to do whatever, and could we all help Casey complete his work? It's a different approach. Nothing works 100% but over time you get much more compliance and most important, much more learning and engagement, with positive methods than punitive ones.
Another habit I have incorporated into my repertoire -- and I don't know who I learned this from -- it to mark only those parts of the student's assignment that are correct. I never mark the incorrects. If something isn't checked, the kid learns it needs to be changed. When he is finished, he has a paper with all check marks and no X's. I get a much higher completion of corrected work this way, and students keep their work to show their parents instead of tossing it in the trash. If I need to indicate what kind of correction to make, I write very lightly in pencil so that it can be erased when the work is completed correctly.
Continue to part IV.