Friday, August 29, 2008

Ramblings on Classroom Behavior

FrumTeacher posted a blog after having a rough day, she was looking for advice on dealing with miscreants in the classroom. I blathered on for several hundred words and decided to repost here.

I heard Carol Tomlinson Univ of Va say in a workshop--"with a perfect match between curriculum and ability you would have no discipline problems in your classroom." Whether or not it is true it really made me think, “what if?”

As a veteran teacher I'll give you some of my ideas, maybe it'll give you something to think about and who knows something might work!

Start with the givens:
You aren't going to win in a power struggle.
They need to master the material (but remember teaching the material and making sure they know it are two different things).
They are going to be disruptive unless you can figure out how to change their behavior. They not going to enter class someday and say to themselves “Today I’ve decided to act like a civilized kid and respect my teacher, contribute in class, and do my best.”
They are acting the way they are for a reason; could be attention getting but most likely it's because the work is either too hard, too easy, too disconnected from what they are interested in, a misfit of teaching style to learning style, or habit (they've acted bad for so long they don't even think about it)
They have to stay in your class.
Parents may or may not be able to effect change, so you are on your own. (Plus I guess the parents have heard that song and dance for years now and haven’t been able to affect change.)

Things to think about:
What is their currency? What can you trade them for a modicum of appropriate behavior?
What do they know? What do they not know?
How do they want to get and make sense of the material?
What do they want to do with the material once they get it?
What is reasonable behavior?

Things to Do:
Get to know them WELL, why the heck are they acting that way? Force them to talk to you about how they feel about school and your class; find out if they act badly in everyone’s class or just yours.

Find out what would make school (or your class) better. Examples:
--Don't want to read the material outloud, let him read it silently.
--Don't want to read a novel; let him listen to it on an mp3.
--Doesn't want step by step instruction in math? Let him work independently without instruction.
--Work too hard, help after school.

Back to the currency---make a trade (contract) "you do what I need you to do with appropriate behavior and you'll get to do this (currency)". Examples: Work hard 4 days, I'll give you the fifth day to choose own activity, book, writing, draw, computer, etc. (better than acting out all 5 days) Screw up deals off for the week.

I'll just tell you this, nothing will chance if you don't address the problem. Here's a Dr Phil for you---"spend 5% of your time thinking about the problem and 95% of the time thinking about the solution".

Don't give up on them---and don't fall into the trap that many teachers fall into--and that's giving up and counting the days til the kid is out of your class. Take the high road.

How's that for pontificating!! Let me know if you try anything that works.

OK, I'm on a roll and have thought of several other things--

Give them respect and give them important classroom respondsibilities. Treat them like you would expect to be treated, don't belittle them and "call them out". Always praise the smallest of good things. Acknowledge them as people.

Is the content too much of a disconnect for them? work hard to make the content relevant to their lives and interests. Find out how they produce their best work--could they create a graphic novel or video of "The Fall of Rome." Have them make trading cards of all the famous people you want them to learn about. I don't think this is pandering, I think it's just good teaching.

Think Michael Phelps--his teachers said "He can't sit still, he will never be able to focus." I think he proved us wrong with laser focus in the swimming pool. His mom said he used to sit perfectly still for 4 hours waiting to swim his 5 minute race. She said he knows all the statistics of every race he was ever competed in and held all that info in his head. We are all different so try to spot those differences and have them work in your favor.

Remember, you might be the person who changes a kid's life. Who knows?

TeacherMom then responded with:

I thought your suggestions were innovative and really interesting. While I don't necessarily agree that parents don't factor in, I see your point that dealing directly with the student using "their currency" can be extremely effective. I guess it depends on how much a particular student is concerned about parental reaction. Anyway, I have a question about this approach. How do you know when to draw the line; ie when is it pandering vs differentiating instruction? Have you ever experienced bitterness or comment from other students when these special accommodations are made or are the students generally relieved that the disruption went away?

So I took a breath and blathered on.....

n a perfect world the teacher would set up a differentiated classroom where "what's fair for one, is not fair for another." Many teachers teach a "one size fits all" model and they are generally missing at least 50% of the kids either by discounting ability, discounting student interest or discounting a students' learning preferences.

By focusing in on what is "fair" for each child, rather than teaching the same stuff, at the same speed, with the same frequency, in the same way to each kiddo--classroom behavior would have to improve.

It is important to look at everything you do in the classroom through the eyes of the kid. How can he learn this? Does he already know this? Why is he acting that way? What happened at home to set the tone of his day?

Now that I think of it maybe we'd be better of if we pandered to our students everyday. How would the classroom be different if the teacher asked the student(s) "How would you like to learn this material?" "How would you like to show me what you know?" "If the classroom seems too loud for you, do you think earplugs would help?" "Did you eat breakfast? Here's a granola bar".

Every student has the right to learn--but what if they learn differently? faster? slower? with no repetition? by reading it? by watching it? Each student, IMHO, would relish the option to be in a class where each child is treated as an individual and not as part of a herd. Moooooo!

Kids in the classroom should be able to speak up, and say "Hey this isn't working for me" or "M. FrumTeacher, can I do my project this way?"

All in all teachers have to give up some (percieved) power and replace that with learning. Teachers have to stop setting a tone of fear and humiliation in the classroom and replace it with trust and a philosophy (from B. Obama) that ALL children have the right to a good education.

Whoever said a teacher has to teach a curriculum? Isn't the point to make sure they know the curriculum? Does it really matter how they make the journey?

More stuff to think about! Whew--she's finally finished.


atxteacher said...

I know it doesn't start a conversation for me to simply reply with "You go, girl!" But I can't help it. Your post made me want my classroom back. It's amazing how different students' behaviors are when they are in a classroom that adapts to their needs.

Anonymous said...

ideally, meeting every student's every need would be nice...
got any practical suggestions for kids who have no respect for authority and place no value on the type of learning school has to offer?

nbosch said...

thumbscrews? the Rack? fire ants?