Friday, February 21, 2014

"You are going to be in big trouble if you do that again!"

(Graphics this week are photos of wall posters or hand out sheets given to students to encourage an effective learning environment - some are effective - some not)

All of you know high school classrooms well - it is said that everyone in America is an expert in "high school teaching" because we all were in high school classrooms for at least four years for our own education.
Most of us remember teachers that we thought were challenging and interesting , and perhaps some that we thought were vindictive and/or played favorites.

First if we are going to be teachers, its  important to examine how we see students. They are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge.  Each student comes with some understanding oF the subject, some misperceptions, some doubts about their own abilities. On any given day a student’s ability to learn will be affected by their home life, their peer group, fears or anxieties hanging over them at the moment.  When you are 17 years old it is not possible to just set these feelings aside and be fully ready to learn.  Some of the inner city kids I see probably encounter more of the real world in their lives before the start of period one, on their way to school,  than a comfortable middle class kid encounters in a week.

After being "in school" for several years each student develops strategies for dealing with authority - ranging from active cooperation to open aggression.  There are many shades of grey between - some learn to appear like they are paying attentive while your thoughts are far away - Passive aggressive students have learned secretive ways of expressing angry feelings. They may procrastinate or sabotage their workplace.  Their goal is to get revenge against authority without confronting or communicating it directly. 

These are the kids that walk in our door.  So, its the first day with a new class - and in walk 32 brand new students each with his or her own mix of attitudes about being there. Most are eager to learn and some will test the teacher to see what they can get away with.  
We used to call it  "keeping order" or "discipline" and now we call it "class management" - but we are talking about how to create and maintain a classroom culture where students can engage and learn. 
The traditional way to teach was to instill fear in your students.  Fear that if they speak at the wrong time, act out in any way the teacher (who has eyes in the back of his or hear head) will know and there will be consequences. 

After a classroom "incident" the student can be sent to the room "next door" to complete this form - Then the teacher plans one on one time with the kid to discuss answers.

I know of  a teacher who proudly told of walking into class the first day of the term and he would kick the trash-can across the room and wear a scowl on his face to set the 'right tone'.  I remember having to write 100 times - "I will not talk in class".  Coming after school to serve detention is an old favorite.  I heard this week about a teacher that requires kids to clean the classroom, to bring fresh drinking water to the teacher, and to perform other routine tasks.  My education occurred after the era of corporal punishment with giant paddles and swats with a yardstick. The problem with all of these methods is that they instill a distance between the teacher and the student.  The student is left with a desire to get even or get back at the teacher by finding opportunities for more 'sneaky' misbehaviors.  Just because the kids are made to be quiet doesn’t mean that they are with you.  All of these can be termed negative reinforcement strategies .

What would positive reinforcements look like? Here are some ideas - not all of them will work in every situation but I have observed all of them to produce effective class management.

1.  The first couple of weeks with a new class take time each day to discuss and reinforce consistently your expectations for the class. Plan to invite and include good ideas from the students to build "ownership" of the plan. 

2.  A teacher needs a collection of management strategies involving seating arrangements, lesson-time usage, number of activities each day, responses to off track kids... At the beginning, the toughest thing is to be consistent ands respond fairly to each occurrence of less than ideal behavior.  For example, if kids are not used to paying attention in class it would not be effective to start with tables of 4 where half the class will be looking away from the teacher.

3.  The single most important class management tool is the lesson plan for the day.  Start with an attainable concept-learning goal for the day.  Plan class time with enough variety in activities that kids don’t 'tune out".  Avoid like the plague long, unstructured, redundant activities.  You hated those lessons when you were a kid and kids still hate them today! Start each day with a student-based concept-learning goal for the day - and plan around that.

At the start of an activity the teacher announces what level of talking is appropriate for that activity

4. Visualize all of your management ideas falling on a continuum.  When you are establishing a new class a certain subset of the strategies are required.  As kids grow in their ability to practice self-control other management skills click in.  As the kids become mature learners in your class you will need other strategies to maximize the learning climate.

5.   I see teachers who call the class to attention with a gentle voice - One of my teachers this year is particularly good at saying: "Roberto and Alice have their lab sheets out ready to work",   "Matt has his coat and pack stashed under his desk", "Alicia is quiet and ready to learn..." This might sound simple ... but it works.  I see another teacher who says "Its time we got started - would everyone please put your pencil or pen down and look at me here."  "Joe I need your attention now."   "Barbara and Jose please stop your talking and show your eyes to me."

How do you know if students "got it" - if they understood the concept learning goal of the day? - 5 minutes are provided for an open ended response to an item such as this... 

6. Plan so that there is no front or back to the room - Many teachers today use PowerPoint projectors with class notes, video clips, and instructions.  It is practical to use a "pocket clicker:" to advance slides and the teacher can move around the room as the class progresses.  A moving teacher can see who is on track and who not.  A moving teacher can watch carefully for off track body language and move to that location.  Nothing stops student talking faster than the teacher standing at your elbow.

7.  Plan lessons that make cheating or plagiarism difficult.  Encourage use of the Internet - but design questions that cannot be directly "cut and pasted" from the web. Compare - Contrast questions are good.  Choose questions that require processing and analyzing the information.

8. A good teacher plans many forms of measurable assessment.  Identify late work, low-grade problems early and respond promptly.   Once a kid is seriously behind it is easy to feel defeated - Catch problems early and give the kid the support he or she needs.