Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Setting the Tone Recap

Before school started, I was a little apprehensive about how to set the tone for the year.

After writing that post, I thought Marzano (2003) might have something in Classroom Management that Works.  Turns out there's a whole chapter on "getting off to a good start."

While there hasn't been enough research on setting the tone for Marzano to do a meta analysis, the chapter did confirm the direction I was already leaning towards: thaw slowly.  Hit them hard at the beginning of class and lighten up towards the end as warranted.

Turns out that's totally the way to go, at least compared to what I've done in the past1.  Overall, I've had the best week of my career, including classroom management.  I think it's partially this slowly thawing attitude I've adopted and partially the techniques I've taken from my summer reading of Teach Like a Champion2.

The rules I outlined in my previous post are posted prominently, but the procedures are posted in this PBIS matrix suggested at an in-service last spring.

Calendars are still a big part of classroom management, building report, and utilizing exit slips.  My students are now getting 10 points a day and it's 50% of their grade.

I've been most surprised by the willingness students have to adopt some more prescriptive, acronymic, draconian, measures3.  I have a poster that shows students how their desk should look (Lemov, 2010, p 159).  I frequently use SLAT, which stands for sit up straight, listen, ask and answer questions, and track the speaker (Lemov, 2010, p 158).  I'm am surprised by how quickly 7th graders are willing to sit up straight when I ask them to; I was expecting a lot more push back.  My 8th graders make fun of it, but do it all the same.  My students seem more alert and, with tracking the speaker, more attentive of each other.  If I call on a student to answer a question, they can't refuse to try, because the expectation is established that they ask and answer questions.

I more energetic and more dedicated to selling my content (Lemov, 2010, p 51), and it rubs off on the students.  My calendars have a daily rating for whether students felt they learned something new and if they were bored.  I haven't put the data together in a spreadsheet4, but by eyeballing it students feel they're learning more and are less bored than last year.  This is partially my energy and confidence, but I think also the amount of content we hit on in a day.  To paraphrase Lemov, just like it seems you're moving faster when flying in a plane close to the ground, in class there are numerous reference points students see in a day and it creates the illusion that we are moving faster (Lemov, 2010, p 226).

Works Cited

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Marzano. (2003). Classroom Management that Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

1. Oooh, big surprise. Go back
2. Great New York Times magazine article on this book.  Some might complain that it boils teaching down to 49 techniques, but I do think great teachers are made not born.  There is some value here. Go back
3. I'm not sure what word describes SLAT and the desk poster.  It feels weird to me. Go back
4. I tried this for one week last year.  It takes long enough to grade the calendars each day alone - when am I going to analyze data?  If I ever figure it out, it's a post in it's own with some awesome citations of K. Anders Ericsson. Go back

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Revisiting the Pirate Lesson

So the majority of voters in the poll went for doing this lesson on Talk Like a Pirate Day.  I was not planning on going in that direction.  I was going to hit it when I teach character.

I would love to hear some explanations in the comments.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Setting the Tone

The first day of school is tomorrow here in the Pacific Northwest.  This will be my third year of teaching, albeit half-time.  I'm excited to get the year started.

By the end of last year, I feel like I really had a reliable method for classroom management.  Teachers implemented PBIS school-wide, I had immediately tangible consequences for good and bad behavior, and clear rules and procedures posted in the classroom.  My administrator described the difference as night and day.  More importantly, my students were more attentive, more productive and learning more.

To start with these tools all in place at the beginning of the year is a nice change.  Every year before, I've negotiated rules and expectations with students a week or two into the year.  While this hands ownership to the students, I currently lack either the presence or the experience to maintain decorum for those first weeks.  Consequently, students aren't mindful of what their rules should make the classroom look like.  Maybe in a few years I can move back in that direction.

I have four rules this year.  Directly from my syllabus:

  1. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Enough said.
  2. Do your best. It is impossible to succeed without trying.
  3. Accept that you will not be treated the same as everyone else1. The teacher cannot watch everyone at the same time, and sometimes will catch one person breaking the rules and not another person. When a student is given a consequence, “so and so did it too” is not an acceptable response. Likewise, students are at all different levels and therefore some students will need harder or easier work. Students should come to class ready to learn more for themselves, not in comparison to their peers.
  4. Bring and use the right tool for the right job. Students can't complete class work without the proper materials. Likewise, using certain materials at the wrong time (like listening to an iPod during a discussion) impedes learning. There may be a time when students can use cell phones and iPods in class, but they should be turned off and out of sight until the teacher asks for them.
In addition, I have five sets of procedures.  Again, from the syllabus:

When reading:
  1. Reading is thinking. It is easier to think when it is silent and there are few distractions. Do not talk when reading.
  2. When you do need to talk to the teacher or a partner, whisper.
  3. Fully focus on reading during silent reading time.
When writing:
  1. Writing is thinking. It is easier to think when it is silent and there are few distractions. Do not talk when writing.
  2. When you do need to talk to the teacher or a partner, whisper.
  3. Use the entire writing time working on writing.
When entering the classroom:
  1. Get your materials from the filing cabinet in the room.
  2. Be seated in your desk before the bell rings.
  3. When the bell rings, immediately begin the warm-up exercise.
When leaving the classroom:
  1. Mr. B will dismiss you, not the bell.
  2. Leave your workspace cleaner than you found it and return all materials to the right place.
  3. When your workspace is clean, sit in your chair and wait to be dismissed.
  4. When dismissed, push your chair in.
  5. Turn in calendars and any other assignments on your way out the door.
During class:
  1. Follow SLATSit up straight, Listen, Ask and answer questions, and Track the speaker.
  2. If you need to use the bathroom, quietly get out one of your bathroom passes and hold it up. I will either sign it or ask you to wait until a better time.
  3. If you need to sharpen a pencil, hold your pencil up in the air and I will trade you for a fresh one.
Rather than have students sit listening to me drone on about all the expectations, I've taken a page from Dan's post on his first day of class and give students this:

Throw in some role play, some enthusiasm, and the first day jitters and I hope to have their attention for the period.  The first week at least will be consumed by setting up and practicing these and other classroom processes.

All this still leaves me with one nagging question.  Do I have enough faith in my already established [overly-bureaucratic?] classroom management that it alone can get me through the first day of school?

On the first day, apparently I've always presented myself as too nice, because every year thus far I end up backpedaling, coming down harder on students the next day or the next week because I didn't get a good enough handle on them in the first hour we met.

I know teachers who intentionally throw a student out of class on the first day just to show they mean business.  That doesn't seem like the answer to me, especially since even with a beard I'm not intimidating to anyone over the age of 10.  I don't want students to fear me; I want them to fear my justice.  I don't want them walking into class on tiptoe, but I do want my expectations clear, my consequences just, quick, and utterly devastating.

Tomorrow, how do I set the tone?

1. All credit for this rule goes to Tom Fuller, who should probably be blogging.  Go back

Friday, September 3, 2010

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Note to readers: this post involves me thinking aloud.  This has been proven in the state of California to cause dizziness and fainting.  Consider yourselves warned.

So I have this great idea.  On International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I'm going to dress up like a pirate and do a lesson on how dialogue can give us information about characters; we can make inferences about the character by the way they speak.  Splendid idea, yes?

Problem is, my first unit isn't on character.  No sir.  It's on fix-up strategies.  Inferences are fix-up strategies.  But they are very complex fix-up strategies that should probably be taught after a student has mastered questioning, clarifying (of which inferences are a pseudo-subset), and predicting.  And teaching a random lesson that has nothing to do with your unit assessment is poor backwards planning (you know, when you plan the assessment first, then the lessons - whatever that's called).

So I am left with the following options:

  1. Dress up like a pirate on the day I teach dialogue as a way to analyze a character.
  2. Dress up like a pirate on the day I teach inferences.
  3. Dress up like a pirate on International Talk Like a Pirate Day and do it anyway; this is going to be one memorable lesson and I can refer back to it when we touch on inferences and character.
  4. Give a boring lecture on character/inferences.
Please vote using the poll at the top right hand corner of the blog1.  If you're reading this on Facebook, you'll have to go to the blog: http://pedagogypractice.blogspot.com.  The poll closes in one week.

1. Yeah, I probably already know the answer.  Humor me. Go back