Friday, March 26, 2010

One Trick Pony

One of the better lessons I've taught was the first in my middle school practicum.

It was a summer course, and so we were assigned to the district's summer school program.  It was a group of about 30 students repeating 8th grade.  Another student and I were assigned to the two teachers who co-taught the class.  Although some of the students were going into 8th grade and wanted a head-start, the majority were not interested in listening to me teach grammar, or anything else.  Nonetheless, I was asked to teach my first lesson on sentence fragments and run-ons.

It was the summer.  I had some free-time, and I was eager to please.  So I spent a lot of time planning.  I made a pretty decent graphic organizer.  I asked my fellow undergrad if she could play a small part in the lesson.  I prepared a formal assessment.  For my first lesson, I was doing alright.  Then I created a superhero alter ego to keep the students' attention.

The day for my lesson came around and we listened to Skee-Lo's version of "The Tale of Mr. Morton" before I presented a few sentences and we identified their subjects and predicates.  It was then that my colleague, AKA the Preposition Punk, wearing a clever construction paper mask (she was in drama, if I remember right) snuck up to the board and added "When" to the beginning of a sentence: 
When Mr. Morton walked to the store.
I read the complete sentence now transformed into a dependent clause to the class and proclaimed, "this looks like a job for CAPTAIN COMMA!" while simultaneously ripping open my button-up shirt (which was no longer button-up; I'd replaced the buttons with velcro) to reveal a t-shirt emblazoned with this shield:
The students were dumbfounded, but I definitely had their attention.  I heroically slammed a comma after the dependent clause and added an indepent clause to complete the sentence and save the day. 
When Mr. Morton walked to the store., he bought a gallon of milk.
I handed out the graphic organizer and had them take a crack at it.

Fast-forward 5 years.  I still teach that lesson maybe once a year.  But it's the only lesson I teach that has that injection of edutainment right to the jugular.  The only one?  What's up with that?  Not that every lesson needs to have that element of theater to it.  It needs all the pedagogy my other lessons have, including things I missed that first time like a preassessment and differentiation.  But one lesson a year that keeps students' attention like that one, that creates murmurs throughout the hallways inbetween periods, that get students anticipating my class, is no where near enough.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mantra 2

About three weeks ago, I began presenting my students with a learning goal at the beginning of each class period. "Make predictions when reading a text." "Identify and discuss settings, character, conflict and plot in selected micro fiction." "Describe the concept of 'exploding a moment.'"

I attended a workshop at the end of February and one of the sessions was Student Self-Assessment and Goal Setting. The related book, Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, has been added to my summer reading list.

The seven strategies are grouped into three overarching concepts:

Where Am I Going?
1. Clear learning targets
2. Models of strong & weak work
Where Am I Now?
3. Offer regular, descriptive feedback
4. Teach students to self-assess & set goals
How Can I Close the Gap?
5. Design lessons that focus on one learning target at a time
6. Revision is focused
7. Students track their progress and self assess (see Dan Meyer and his updated concept checklist)

It was emphasized that the last five won't work without the first two already implemented. But I could do better about telling students exactly what I want them to "get."

So, numbers one and two, check and check. This week's mantra starts on number four:
At the end of each class, revisit the goals and ask students to write on their exit slips how they feel they're doing on each one.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mantra 1 Recap

Greet students at the door as they enter class.

What Changed:
  • Had a two minute discussion with a student I rarely talk to about her weekend.
  • Had a two minute discussion with another student about how she ended up getting suspended.
  • Overheard three students whisper about how scary it was that I was greeting them at the door.
  • Start off on the right note with Super-Combative Attitude Student 9000TM
Remaining Questions:
  • When do I use the bathroom?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mantra 1

I have a list of things I want to do better.  I've found that trying to do many at once usually doesn't help make them habitual.  So instead I'm going to try to tackle them once a week, using a weekly mantra.

This week: greet students at the door as they enter class.
Desired outcomes: improved behavior and better relationships with my students.  I'll also be monitoring the hall like I'm supposed to.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Disciplinary Interventions

In January, I wrote a post on rules and procedures from my reading of Classroom Management that Works.  This week I'll summarize Marzano's third chapter on disciplinary interventions and discuss how I adapted the practices in my classroom.

Marzano acknowledges that some feel that disciplinary actions are ineffective and counterproductive.  But, he writes, "the research and theory strongly support a balanced approach that employs a variety of techniques."  I think this variety is exactly what I was lacking earlier this year.  Last school year, I would keep my last period class after school when they chose to disrupt the classroom.  For them, the peer pressure and need to get home was usually enough to quell any major uprisings.  For individuals, I gave referrals.

When I tried the same thing this year, it hardly did the job.  In some classes the "Time After" method worked for a few weeks, in others it was completely ineffective.  Just like instruction, there is no silver bullet for classroom management.

My redesigned system involves both rewards and punishments.  Students start the day coming in and are required to be in their seats with all their materials on their desk when the bell rings.  They are then either to start reading their novels or begin the writing prompt.  Before, students would lose points from their conversation calendars at the end of the day if they did not pull this off flawlessly.  But the way I would inform them if they were off task would be by adding time after class (if I informed them at all).  Students had no immediate, individual indication that their actions were below expectations or above par.

The old . . .
 . . . and the new
Now, when students either aren't in their desk or don't have all their materials when the bell rings, they lose five points, indicated by a check I mark on their calendar as I move around the room.  Those who have their books out and are reading get a Jolly Rancher or occasionally five extra points.  Once students who weren't ready at the beginning of class get on task (and stay on task) I may elect to give them back the five points.  This same rule applies to delivery of minilessons or when I'm working with small groups at the back table.  Sometimes, I might just say a student name and "deduct/add five points" if I'm not moving in their direction.  Students now have a clearer understanding of what specific behaviors they are losing points for, and it keeps me more honest.  Since they can earn points back, they have invested interest in improving their behavior, rather then blowing the rest of the day off after losing five or 10 points out of their 25 for the day.

The point system is a form of what Marzano calls tangible recognition and "involves the use of some concrete symbol of appropriate behavior."  He notes that many of these classrooms have some sort of token that's received for good behavior, which can then be traded in for prizes or activities or something like that.  I'm adding this element to my class as well, as some students with less of a sweet tooth are getting tired of Jolly Ranchers every single day.  They'll be able to trade in Jolly Ranchers for Bleck Bucks, which they can accumulate for extra bathroom passes, or reading outside/in the library, or going to the school's coffee cart, or maybe save up 50 or 100 for a McDonald's gift certificate.  Since they'll have to trade in the Jolly Ranchers to receive Bleck Bucks, I won't have to buy as many Jolly Ranchers and can put that money to other prizes with a cost.  (One 3.75 pound bag of the candies costs me about seven dollars at Walmart and lasts about 2 weeks with my 90 students.  It's a small price to pay for their improved behavior.)

A group contingency is also noted by Marzano to have a high effect size.  My time after policy was an example of this, and I sometimes still use it when many people in the class are talking at once and I don't have time to make three different hits on calendars in three different corners of the room.  Teacher reaction is also discussed; these are the basics - the look, proximity, and an auditory and visual cue.

I found tangible recognition to be the most helpful to me, though group contingency and teacher reaction also have a high effect size.  Calling home or providing a direct cost with punishment like detention or cleaning the classroom are also discussed, but have a significantly lower effect size (about .5 compared to .9).

The next post in this series will discuss teacher-student relationships.  You can also read the previous post on rules and procedures.  You can also download my conversation calendar file and try it out in class yourself in either Microsoft Word or PDF.