October 9, 2007

How to Effectively Manage a Classroom III

(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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please don't see this as criticism, palisadesk, because I think you correctly identified our differences in the previous post. This description of consequences caught my eye:

" You approach the disruptive student and say....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? "

You bring in the other students, I'm assuming, to "help" Casey decide to move? If I have that wrong, why would you bring in the other students?

I commonly move students if they're talking. I guess you're saying most teachers don't do this as a matter of course? Or is it not encouraged in some way?

In any case, your description seems to me to be a really bad way to move a student, for many reasons.

I spend about .2 seconds on most moves, taking longer to describe than to do. It goes like this:

I look at a student and he's talking. If this has happened more than once, I just catch the student's eye, smile, and point to a different seat, usually in the front of the class.

In the vast majority of cases, the student grins shamefacedly and moves (thus, .2 seconds). No words exchanged on either side. In a few cases, the student protests "I wasn't talking, I was just answering a question!"

"Hey, chill. It's not friggin Siberia. It's nothing to get fussed about. Just move."

"But it really wasn't me!"

Depending on how egregious the misbehavior was, my response is either "It's okay, move anyway" and that ends it. If I'm feeling generous and it was a close call, I'll narrow my eyes and look skeptical, then say "Then hush." In most cases, that ends any talking.

In a few cases, I'll catch it again, and at that point I'm laughing and saying "Move, toots!". Sometimes I move the other student instead, just to vary the routine. In either case, everyone's chuckling, including the talking students, because man, they're so busted.

I can't imagine engaging the class in the decision. It's not the class's job to help Casey with his work, and I really find it a bit offensive to use moral suasion, putting the other kids in the position of judging Casey--or worse, validating *my* judgment.

I can't conceive of having to *justify* the decision to the kid, as you describe, by saying look, I'm doing this to help you and your learning objectives.

I think kids see that as incredibly phony. While I never say so in so many words, students all know why I'm moving a kid.

Mostly, I'm moving the kid because I want everyone to at least pretend to pay attention, and a talking kid suggests that students don't have to do what I want. Banish that thought from your brain, puppies. I'm the boss.

A talking kid also causes noise, and noise makes it tough for other people to learn and, more importantly, tougher for them to hear ME. I'm the star, thanks so much. You are interfering with my performance. Hush.

If in getting you to shut up I also make it more likely that you'll learn, cool. That's certainly what I'm hoping for. But I'm moving you, kid, because I'm the boss and you're not doing what I want you to do. Thus, I'm going to make it impossible for you to do what you want to do and more likely you'll do what I want you to do.

It's not even a punishment per se. Don't take it personally. I certainly don't. I certainly can't imagine a student arguing about it, as opposed to the occasional righteous protest (described above). Every so often a student is actually upset at the move, and I'll laugh (not mockingly), and tell him or her to relax. I'll then make it clear in a very short time that nothing has changed, by treating the student the same as always.

I've also moved students for other reasons that have nothing to do with talking. They weren't misbehaving, but for whatever reason I deemed it better that certain students sit apart. Sometimes they protest, seeing it as punishment, and I reassure them that it's not. I'm far more likely to give a reason for the move in these cases; however, I am even less open to debate in these moves than I am in a "disruption" move, where I might give the student a second chance.

Incidentally, no one would ever mistake me for a rigid disciplinarian. My students understand that I will work to attract their interest legitimately, and agree that for the most part, I succeed. They see me as fair and lackadaisacal, but capable of appropriate brutality should they stray too far outside broadly defined markers.