Saturday, January 26, 2013

Consequences: Certainty Is More Important Than Severity

Classroom management. The two words strike fear in many teachers' and subs' hearts. It seems to be one of those things that you are either naturally good at, or you constantly struggle with. I am in the "struggles with" category. This year seems to easier, but I attribute it more to my students than to me. Somehow the stars aligned, and I have no major behavior issues my class this year. The worst things I seem to deal with are incessant talking, reluctancy to work, and immaturity issues.

So, when my vice-principal came into my classroom and offered me the chance to attend a two-day classroom management workshop, I jumped at the chance. This week, I attended the first day, and it was well worth it. And it's not even that I was learning a ton of new things. Most of what the presenter said, I had heard in grad school and some of it I even already do, but it was nice to hear it again, get some validation for what I am doing, and commiserate with other teachers. It seems you very rarely get the opportunity to talk about the realities of teaching with other teachers.

Anyway, this session focused on classroom organization, educational psychology needs theories (a student cannot learn or be focused if certain needs are not being met), and useful classroom strategies. I will write more on those topics another time.

The thing I want to focus on in this post is my big a-ha moment from that workshop session. There was a quote the presenter used, and she only briefly dwelled on it. But for me, it made the choir of angels sing in the room. It struck me this way because it hit so close to home. What the presenter said was this:

"It's the certainty of the consequence and not the severity that makes the consequence effective."

Now, I will come clean and fess up to you right now. I am one of those teachers who gives waaaaaaay too many warnings. I don't like to punish kids. I don't want to punish kids. Not even my own kids. I am the teacher who says for the tenth time, "I am not going to say this again." And, in a classroom with some behavior challenges, that gets me in trouble every time.

The presenter compared this concept to driving through those neighborhoods or small towns notorious for their traffic cops. You know the ones. We all know the ones. In San Antonio, it's Castle Hills and Leon Valley. They are the places where if you even think about rolling through the stop sign or not using your blinker to turn or accidentally go 1 mile and hour over the speed limit, you instantly look around for the lights and listen for the sirens. Because you are CERTAIN that one minor infraction is going to warrant a ticket. And how do you drive through those areas? Well, of course, you drive through those areas with extra caution, paying close attention to your speed and the traffic signs around you. In short, you do you best to make sure you follow all the rules... even the ones you may not follow in other areas of town.

You need to be that notorious area of town as a teacher. Your students need to know that there will most definitely be a consequence every time they make a less-than-desireable choice.

What I really like about the statement is the severity part. I don't have to be mean, slam-down-the-hammer-of-classroom-justice teacher. I don't have to stop class and administer a consequence for every rule breaker. For many students, just "the teacher look" can be consequence enough... or a simple statement of redirection... or even just your walking close to them. I can administer the consequence based on the infraction AND the student. For example, the student who has had an issue and is in tears about it (I mean genuine tears because this is the first time they've ever been in trouble) does not deserve the same consequence as the student who had the same issue, but comes to you with arms crossed and smirk on their face. It goes back to another of my favorite quotes:

"Fair isn't everybody getting the same the thing. 
Fair is everybody getting what they need to be successful."

So, what I took away from this part of the session is that I need to have a wealth of consequence ideas of varying degrees of severity, ranging from the "teacher look" to office referral. Students need to know you will enforce those classroom and school rules at all times.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Gingerbread Man Is Not Just for Christmas

The holidays are over, and I've been back at school for a week. I wanted to take some time to share with something my class did leading up to the holidays. Although holiday-ish, it is my no means limited to holiday time. Many of you may be able to use this in your classroom. And even for substitutes in a long-term position (or even a day or two), this can be a great reading and writing activity.

When deciding what to do in the month of December, I was a little worried since over half of my students do not celebrate Christmas. I wanted to do something that brought the feeling of the month of December, however. I ended up using The Gingerbread Man.

I started the unit by reading as many different versions of The Gingerbread Man as I had. Here are a few I used, but there are so many great ones out there.

We discussed the story structure, analyzing all the parts. We even used a Story Map I found on Teachers Pay Teachers for the students to write out all the parts.

Then I gave them blank copies of that same story map to start planning out their own versions of The Gingerbread Man. The students then used that map as their plan to write their rough draft. They finished off the writing process by revising and editing and writing their final copy on clean notebook paper (fronts only) and stapling the pages together at the top.

To publish the project, I had the students create their main character. I had bought fun foam gingerbread shapes at Michael's that they could use if they chose a gingerbread character. And I just made lots of different colors of construction paper available for decorations or character creating if it wasn't a gingerbread character. Finally, it was all glued on a large sheet of red construction paper. The results were awesome!

Here are some of my favorites. Now, don't look too closely at grammar and spelling. I have mostly ESL students, so those are not their strengths.

First, meet Cheesey Cheese Man.

And this is Gingerbread Cowboy (as in Dallas Cowboys) with Eli Manning and other professional athletes such as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker making cameos in the story.

This is Gingerbread Fisherman. I really loved how this students brought her own interests into the story.

Here is Ninjabread Man. Although, this was an example I gave, so it may not win super creativity points, I thought the student's execution of both the story and the costume were excellent.

And finally, let me introduce Pizza Man. My favorite part of this story was her refrain of, "I'll run and I'll run with my pepperoni twist. You can't catch me. I am the Pizza Man." OK, it doesn't rhyme, but I sure loved that "pepperoni twist" part!

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