Discipline zingers: managing a classroom has never been easy, but educators say the challenge these days seems bigger than ever. Are there answers? Can you really tackle the trouble spots, stay happy, and affirm the power of kids, too? NEA members offer a roadmap.
"Bin Laden," the boy muttered under his breath as sixth-grade teacher SiriNam Khalsa passed his desk.
It was nearly one year to the day after 9/11, and Khalsa, a striking Sikh with an uncut beard and turban, had just begun to sense the climate of respect he'd worked so hard for in this class at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Now here came "Luis" with a curve ball.
How to respond? An outburst, a public rebuke, a trip to the hall or the principal's office?
Khalsa, a genial man who co-teaches the class, chose none of these. He knew a hasty decision would be unwise, knew also that every student in the class was casing his reaction. So: "That kind of talk will not happen in this classroom," he said calmly, firmly. "We are going to talk about it later."
Alone with Luis the next day, Khalsa asked: "What would cause you to say something so disrespectful and derogatory?"
"Well, you embarrassed me because you had called on me and I didn't know the answer," the boy replied.
Khalsa gently, methodically, asked more questions. He patiently listened for clues. He made Luis know he was being heard. And by the time they were done, they had agreed to this pact: Whenever Khalsa planned to ask Luis a question, he'd first ask the entire class to think about it. "Then I'd walk by his desk and pause," Khalsa explains. "If he didn't know the answer, we agreed he could say, 'I need some time to think about it, Mr. Khalsa.'"
Dignity preserved. Respect modeled. A lesson for Luis and a whole class of adolescents testing the boundaries of the adult world.
NEW GENERATION, NEW CHALLENGES
They don't make dunce caps anymore.
If maintaining discipline in schools was ever as simple as just posting the rules on the classroom wall and sending gum-chewers off to stand in the corner, those times are long gone. And while teachers can happily bid farewell to hick'ry sticks, they're clamoring for new tools for today's classrooms.
In reality, there's nothing new about concerns over student behavior. Since Phi Delta Kappa began conducting an annual Gallup poll of public attitudes toward schools in 1969, lack of discipline has been cited as one of the top problems every year, usually ranking first or second. In the most recent survey released last fall, 16 percent of respondents cited discipline as the biggest problem in their local schools, trailing only concerns about adequate school funding (25 percent).
NEA's own recent survey asked teachers what factors hindered them most in doing the best job they could. Nine percent blamed discipline issues or negative attitudes of students. (The top hindrance: heavy workload and extra responsibilities.)
Teachers and support professionals interviewed by NEA Today said kids today have the same needs as always--to be accepted, competent, respected--but seem needier than ever. That neediness, they speculate, explains much of students' acting out and disruptiveness.
"The teachers I talk to consistently say that today's students are less respectful of authority and harder to discipline," says Khalsa, a 24-year veteran who conducts workshops on classroom management and is a National Board Certified Teacher. Many believe changes in family structure provide a big clue. "Many of our students come from one-parent families, some are in foster care, and it's not unusual to teach kids who have never met their fathers or whose fathers are incarcerated," says Khalsa.
"It's not that students' behavior is more difficult to manage," adds Marianne Pavie, a recess aide at Holland Elementary School in Holland, Pennsylvania. "The issue is the increased number of students displaying unacceptable behavior."
"Many working parents are far too busy these days to provide structure during their children's free time," she explains. "So kids wake up and return to empty, unsupervised homes. These kids are learning how to deal with life's struggle on their own ... and many times due to their immaturity or lack of guidance, they form habits that they bring to school."
Others blame kids' saturation with the trappings of media and popular culture, overcrowded and impersonal school environments, irrelevant curriculums, or the effects of peer pressure.
Whatever the causes of student misbehavior, there's no denying that being able to skillfully handle it is a prerequisite for getting kids engaged in worthwhile content or moving peacefully from class to class. However, it's the rare educator who doesn't experience bumps in the road.
For many beginning teachers, the problem is often their Achilles heel. "Preservice teachers simply don't get enough classroom management training before they go into the classroom," says Linda James, a staffer in NEA's Teacher Quality Department who coordinates a popular NEA skill-building program called "I Can Do It" that has reached thousands of novice teachers in 22 states (see "Managing Student Behavior," page 53). Even those who have completed a student teaching assignment (and many emergency hires or alternative teacher candidates have not) find that it's a whole new world when your name is on the classroom door. Lacking skills, comfort, or confidence in classroom management, many pack it in: About one-third of teachers quit in their first five years, according to one estimate.
But classroom management issues bedevil veteran educators as well. From garden-variety nuisances like off-task chattiness to more troubling put-downs, bizarre disruptions, and power struggles, a steady grind of student misbehavior has a way of making the teaching mission--helping kids learn important stuff--seem very far away indeed. "Teachers are going home exhausted," says Fred Jones, a classroom management trainer and author of Tools for Teaching. "They feel that they're giving everything they have to the job, but they haven't turned the corner. They have not found a way to make it fun."
If it seems sometimes that teaching the curriculum is taking a back seat, it's not your imagination. The time spent dealing with student behavior problems and other disruptions is stealing away whatever classroom time isn't given over to preparing the kids for state achievement tests. A synthesis of research on classroom management published by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory found that only about half of all classroom time is used for instruction--discipline problems occupy most of the other half.
That's a huge waste. And it's one that hasn't gone unnoticed. Other research studies underscore the critical role classroom management plays in student learning. One 1993 analysis of five decades of research on the topic reviewed some 228 variables influencing student achievement. And nothing, it found, affected student achievement more than skillful classroom management.
So NEA Today sought out teachers known for their expertise in managing behavior in today's classrooms. Their advice:
1. LAY THE GROUNDWORK WITH EFFECTIVE RULES AND PROCEDURES.
Managing student behavior starts with establishing and maintaining effective rules and procedures--beginning the first days of school, our experts say.
At the beginning of the year, educators are laying the groundwork by teaching rules, procedures, and organizational strategies to kids, says Kit Moran, who teaches at-risk ninth and tenth graders at Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti, Michigan. "You have to give up class time to teach these--which for most of us is like pulling teeth--but once the kids understand them, your instruction will be much more effective."
Procedures--the way you and your students handle getting to work when class starts, taking attendance, handing out papers, lining up, and so on--need to be taught and rehearsed until they become routine. Once they become second nature to students, the teacher is freed up to work on other things.
Josephine Bernard, an instructional resource specialist at Belmont Street School in Brockton, Massachusetts, who models lessons and classroom management strategies, believes it's important to involve students in crafting classroom rules. Kids are more invested in the rules they helped to make, she says.
Mark Bensinger, a fifth-grade teacher at Willow Ridge Elementary School in Grand Ledge, Michigan, agrees, and spent at least eight hours the first week of school helping his student do just that.
"We started by talking about what a safe and productive class environment looks like, sounds like, feels like," says Bensinger. Students broke into small groups to draft mission statements and rules, and then the whole class spent time massaging their work until they reached consensus. He and his students later signed contracts agreeing to abide by the mission and rules, and they turned the exercise into a writing assignment, getting pieces published in the school newsletter.
"You have to create that buy-in," Bensinger says. "If kids have ownership in the rules, they're a lot more likely to abide by them." A side-benefit: Bensinger troubleshoots students' behavior by asking, "Is what I'm seeing in line with our mission?"
Whether or not you involve students in rule-setting, NEA's "I Can Do It" training module suggests some guidelines for rules:
--State the rules in a positive fashion--Use age-appropriate, kid-friendly language--Limit the number of rules--Post them prominently in the classroom --Have students discuss the rules, rehearse them, and demonstrate they understand them.
Even at mid-year, it's not too late to regroup and try to establish rules and procedures to make your classroom flow more smoothly. "You can always start again," says Bernard. "If things aren't going well, say, 'Let's talk about what we need to do to be productive together.'"
2. CREATE A SUPPORTIVE CLASSROOM CLIMATE.
"If students don't feel that they're safe, respected, or wanted, they're never going to get to the point where real learning occurs," says Bensinger. In other words, you've got to establish climate, that hard-to-define vibe that communicates to students that the classroom is a safe place to be, both emotionally and physically.
How do you set about building a positive climate? For many teachers, it starts with the class rules. NEA's Discipline Checklist, for example, says teachers can ensure that class rules foster positive values (e.g., "Treat each other with respect," or "Respect everyone's right to learn.") Other strategies include teaching stories or decorating the room with art or slogans that promote these values, as well as recognizing students when they go the extra mile to make classmates feel welcome.
Some teachers use formal programs or strategies such as class meetings to foster group relations and build a healthy climate for learning.
Khalsa and his colleagues at John F. Kennedy Middle School, for example, begin most days with a class meeting that they call "CPR," for Circle of Power and Respect. It's a way to get kids relating to one another respectfully, and it also brings issues to the surface that teachers need to know about. Students and the co-teachers form their chairs in a circle, and the teacher may begin with a minute or two of sharing. Students then talk about something that happened the previous night, or whatever else, ending with, "Are there any questions or comments?"
"Initially, they don't know how to have an appropriate conversation," says Khalsa. But, gradually, when they see respectful conversation modeled, and begin practicing themselves, confrontational talk and put-downs diminish, and students begin to see that there are more positive ways to relate. Even after CPR is over, Khalsa says, he and his teaching partners refer to it later. "If we hear a put-down, or if someone says 'Shut up,' we remind them: "We are still practicing CPR.'"
"Building community is something that has to be taught, just like academics," Khalsa emphasizes. Students have to practice, and they have to get feedback." After a time, CPR becomes "ingrained in the fiber of the classroom community."
3. WORK ON RELATIONSHIPS--WITH KIDS AND WITH PARENTS.
The cornerstone of successfully managing student behavior is relationships. "Behavior comes down to relationships," says Tracy Hartmann, who teaches sixth grade at Clearwater Middle School in Waconia, Minnesota. "Students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
The importance of positive relationships is underscored by a new book from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) that reviews the building blocks of successful classroom management. The Key Elements of Classroom Management suggests these strategies for strengthening relationships with students:
COMMUNICATE HIGH EXPECTATIONS. Effective classroom managers find ways to convey high expectations to students, and they build on students' strengths.
Hartmann, for example, sets the tone early in the year by telling students she's confident of their ability to do the work--and is there to make sure they achieve. "I let them know that they'll be successful," says Hartmann. "Lots of kids act out because they're trying to cover up the fact that they are not strong in the subject matter.... I tell kids right away that even if they hate math, that's O.K., because I'm a good explainer and can help them 'get it.'"
MAKE A CONNECTION. Take the time to notice things about your students that show your interest in them. Use classroom activities to get students talking about their hobbies or interests, or pick up clues by talking with parents or former teachers.
One way Khalsa builds rapport is by bringing in pictures of his family. That sparks a conversation--and helps to humanize him in the eyes of students. Hartmann uses humor. "I'm not afraid to make fun of myself, or to point out when I've made a mistake," she says. That sends the message that school is a place where everyone is making mistakes and learning from them.
CATCH THEM BEING GOOD. It's easy to fall into the trap of correcting negative behavior--again and again. Effective classroom managers accentuate the positive.
"Find the good and build on it," Bensinger advises. "When kids do something fantastic, I let them know about it."
For example, one of Bensinger's students this year decided on his own to write a story about a football player--an effort that turned into a 55-page hook. Bensinger made sure to encourage the boy and to have him read excerpts to the whole class. He's also getting it typed and hopes to have an excerpt published in a community newspaper. "I showed my appreciation for his hard work," concludes Bensinger, and as a result, "I bet I get two or three other kids starting to write stories on their own."
SHARE CONTROL AND PROVIDE APPROPRIATE CHOICES. It's natural for students to want some say in what they do in school. But many times kids see their options only as complying by doing exactly what the teacher demands or seizing control by misbehaving. Providing students with choices, the ASCD book suggests, helps put the lid on power struggles. Some examples: A teacher gives a student the option to work at his desk or at a back table, or finish an assignment at lunch or during class time.
"If you set yourself up as the gatekeeper, as the person who ultimately determines right and wrong, you find yourself in the middle of constant power struggles," notes Bensinger. "I let students know that with every behavior they choose, they also choose a consequence, positive or negative. This greatly minimizes the shifting of responsibility and defuses the 'blame game.'"
"I'm not going to be the sergeant-teacher who's going to intimidate students into doing things," adds Khalsa. "I'm in control when I feel that students are cooperating, when they're dealing with problems in a responsible way." That's when students are internalizing the message and beginning to monitor their own behavior. "It really works. We either give children control on our terms, or they're going to take it on their terms."
Khalsa and his teaching team also look for opportunities to give students appropriate academic choices. During a recent science unit on the cell, for example, they offered options for demonstrating what they had learned. So some students made posters, others a board game, still others took a test. "If you increase participation and engagement, you decrease discipline problems," Khalsa believes. "This helps students find their special voice, and it increases their motivation."
Helping spur motivation also means calling on parents--ideally, before behavior problems crop up, NEA experts say.
Georgia teacher Michelle Bailey, a trainer for "I Can Do It," recommends making "as many contacts as possible" with parents early in the school year, and getting in the habit of relaying positive news to parents throughout the year. "For every bad call I make, I make five good calls. Believe me, it cheers me up," Bailey says.
Khalsa and his teaching partners send a parent survey home at the beginning of the school year asking three questions: What do you think are your child's strengths, what areas do you think your child needs to work on, and in what ways would you be willing to participate in the class this year? More than half of the parents returned the survey, he says, and just as important as the data educators glean is the message the survey sends: "We respect that you are the most important part of your child's life, and you know your child better than anyone."
4. "WORK THE ROOM," HANDLING DISRUPTIONS AS QUIETLY AS POSSIBLE.
No matter how great your climate is, or how well-structured your classroom, kids are, well, kids. The chief principle for dealing with minor rule infractions or disruptions is responding to them early and at the lowest level possible, which keeps them from escalating.
"Discipline quietly, privately," advises Ellen Pariser, an alternative education teacher in Hampden, Maine. "Don't hit a fly with a hammer."
Prevention begins with awareness. One of the pre-eminent researchers on classroom management, Jacob Kourin, coined the term "withitness" way back in the 1970s to describe the way that teachers seem to have eyes in the back of their heads. Good classroom managers are able to monitor several areas of the classroom at once, even when working with an individual student or small group, and nip potential problems in the bud.
"When you were in school and you wanted to talk to the kid next to you, you checked to see where the teacher was first, right?" asks Fred Jones, who conducts workshops on classroom management. "That's basic reconnaissance." Jones encourages teachers to arrange students' desks and chairs with open pathways, so it's easier to move to the proximity of a potential problem when students get off-task or start talking.
When "John" starts goofing off during your mini-lecture on Romantic poets, one of the quickest ways to respond is to continue talking and move close to John. Another option: dropping John's name into your presentation ("The British Romantics, John, were particularly known for...") Appealing to the class rules may also help (e.g., "Let's remember our guidelines for working in small groups.").
Sometimes, a student becomes too disruptive, and a confrontation with the teacher seems imminent. What then?
"I ask the student nicely to step outside die room," says Bailey. "My goal is to handle it quietly. Most times, the student only wants attention, and if you get them out of the room, the attention is gone." She also waits a few minutes before going out to talk with the student, especially if the student was very confrontational. "That gives us both some time to cool down."
When Kit Moran, the Ypsilanti, Michigan, teacher, is forced to send one of his kids out of class, he first tries to find out what's really going on. Usually, he says, "it's not about you--there's something going on with the student," perhaps an issue at home or an incident that happened on the way to school or in another class.
Moran listens and tries to get the student refocused on the class mission. "I say: 'Remember what we talked about on the very first day? We're working toward the same goal. You can't be in here and have that behavior.'" If the conversation goes well, it's appropriate to let the student back in class. If not, the student may need to spend the rest of the class in the hallway. When that happens, "the next day, I'm sure to greet him at the door and say, 'How's it going today?'" That reinforces to the student that yesterday's behavior was unacceptable--but that today's a fresh start.
5. BE FLEXIBLE.
Let's face it, sometimes the whole class is bonkers--often for understandable reasons. It's right before a holiday, the first inch of a predicted snowstorm just started, or a fight between classes has everyone talking. Strong classroom managers monitor the school barometer and know when to shift gears.
On a recent Friday morning, Bensinger found the kids were having an unusually tough time transitioning from one activity to the next. So he called a class meeting to talk about it. "I said, 'We have a lot of things we need to accomplish, and it doesn't seem like we're headed in that direction. What is it you feel is going on? Boom, boom, boom--hands started going up." Report cards, parent conferences, and after-school events were coming up, and students were a little on edge.
The outcome? "We negotiated," Bensinger says. He decided to drop a couple of activities he had planned for that day, and instead made a reading presentation he had planned for the following Monday. The gesture conveyed to students that Bensinger was listening to the pulse of the class, and it ultimately led to a more successful lesson, Bensinger believes.
"It's not about letting the kids do what they want," Bensinger says. "It's negotiating how you're going to get there. My way may not be the best way for everyone, so if I can find a way that's better for the group and accomplishes the same goal, great."
Too Much Talk
SUGGEST alternate times students can chit-chat without interfering with learning, such as recess or lunch, and urge the biggest talkers to exchange phone numbers.
PROVIDE time for socializing (perhaps the last five minutes of a class) as a reward for good behavior.
REPRIMAND students when necessary--use eye contact first, then move the chief offender's chair away from other students.
ESTABLISH procedures and urge students to practice them.
USE "sponge" activities--tasks students can do as the class is getting settled in or when they finish early.
POST brain teasers on a white board and reserve time each week to go over students' answers. "Kids go nuts over some of these puzzles," reports Tracy Hartmann, a sixth-grade teacher at Clearwater Middle School in Waconia, Minnesota, who swears by them.
Hostility from Parents
BE proactive and positive with parents. Listen and try to be empathetic.
IGNORE an attack and redirect the meeting to focus on solutions. If your teaching is being criticized, try to steer the focus to constructive ideas you and the parent can both support, particularly those with the potential for improving the student's behavior.
END the conference if a parent becomes particularly hostile or verbally abusive. Suggest trying again later with the principal or school psychologist present.
What's Your Style?
Teachers who were asked to "profile" colleagues with the fewest disciplinary problems and those with the most came up with the following lists. Do you see yourself?
MOST CAPABLE DISCIPLINARIANS
Non-combative Consistent Has clear expectations Fair Authorization Patient Well-organized Tolerant of frustration Creative
AND THOSE WHO STRUGGLE
Easily intimidated or defensive Scared of faculty, principals, and parents Lacking creative problem-solving skills Makes threats but doesn't follow through Tendency to let problems slide "Plays games" with children's behavior.
SOURCE: NEA'S "I CAN DO IT" CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT TRAINING MODULE.
IMPLEMENT class rules that specifically address put-downs, perhaps through saying such things as "no put-downs" or "hugs, not slugs."
URGE students to practice giving positive feedback and support to one another, both verbally and in writing.
CHECK yOur school rules on bullying or harassment. "Consequences must be clear to the offending students," says Ellen Pariser, an alternative education teacher in Hampden, Maine, who has successfully used class rules and slogans.
DECORATE a small box with "bugs," emblazoned with the words "It Bugs Me." When a student tattles, ask the child to write a quick note on a piece of paper and put it into the box.
SKIM the notes quickly to ensure none are of immediate importance.
ASK the class at the end of the day if anyone who put in an "It Bugs Me" note is still bothered. "The overwhelming majority of the time, it's no longer a problem," says Deb Isett, who teaches at Washington Elementary School in Barto, Pennsylvania, and who loves the box. By the second half of the school year, she says, she's hardly using it at all.
RESIST the temptation to chastise the clown. Avoid a public reprimand by moving toward the offender to see if just being close stops the behavior.
WARN the offender privately that he or she will be moved.
SCHEDULE a private meeting during recess or lunch.
DEVELOP a contract for behavior that includes incentives and consequences.
ENLIST the class' help: Ask students not to let the clown steal your time together.
What's the Lesson?
A new best-seller on discipline raises questions about control and compliance in the classroom.
When Pat Green talks about Ron Clark's runaway bestseller on classroom rules, she's so animated you'd think it had given her a new lease on life.
Well, it did. The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child (Hyperion, 2003) was the ticket, she says, to a fresh way of thinking about her work.
"I read it in one day (last) summer and got really fired up," says the seventh-grade social studies teacher at Emily Gray Junior High School in Tucson, Arizona. "He made me feel like being 'only' a teacher is a pretty special thing. Any time you turn kids on to life and learning, that's a special gift. It really made me aware of the need to go the extra mile for kids."
Okay, that's one view.
Irene Hughes, who teaches fifth grade at Sutton Elementary School in Sutton, Massachusetts, saw things, er, differently.
"Most of the ideas in this book would bring us back to the dark ages," she says emphatically. "This book advocates punitive and harsh techniques. I do like a few of the ideas, but I believe in treating my students as human beings, not mindless robots."
SO WHAT'S THIS ALL ABOUT, ANYWAY?
It was hard not to catch Clark's act last summer. The award-winning teacher was the unexpected darling of the publishing world, landing a spot on Oprah and getting face time with Katie Couric on the Today show as part of a lengthy book tour. By fall, his publisher had printed 1 million copies of the book, and teachers were either snapping up copies for themselves and their colleagues, or hearing it quoted at back-to-school staff meetings.
Clark, who is not teaching this year (opting to give speeches, visit schools, and write his next book), has enjoyed a phenomenal ride. He got into teaching in a tiny town in North Carolina at the behest of his mother and soon discovered he loved it. Watching a television documentary one day about an impoverished school in Harlem where students were underachieving, Clark made a snap decision to move to New York City to teach. He took over a class of fifth graders in a Harlem elementary school and visited the homes of every one of his students before school began. Clark and the kids clicked, and by the end of the year, all but 2 of his 30 students had passed state tests in reading and math. His work got noticed quickly, and Clark was honored as Disney's 2001 Teacher of the Year.
Essential 55 summarizes the lessons Clark learned, and it rests on the premise that kids need very explicit instruction in how to behave in a mannerly, respectful fashion. Clark's book is a godsend for those who believe today's kids need lots of structure and detailed guidance, as his rules cover everything from how long--to the second--to applaud a classmate, to how to behave in a movie theater. Clark peppers his narrative with lots of anecdotes about how his students responded to his style--which combines rewards and consequences with a theatrical and passionate delivery.
Many members contacted by NEA Today through the Works4Me listserv gave the book a thumbs-up.
Cathy Etzler, a seventh-grade language arts teacher in Fort Recovery, Ohio, bought the book after seeing Clark on Opreh. She brought it to her summer in-service session and shared it with her school's principal, who then bought copies for the entire staff. She and other teachers are introducing some of Clark's rules to students this year as part of a schoolwide focus on "appreciation." Some kids may already have good habits and manners, she says, but other kids need more specific instructions. "It never hurts to be reminded," she says. "We may be the only people who ever expose students to this."
Jamie Isaac, a second-year teacher at Merrill Middle School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, likes that Essential 55 makes the rules very explicit. "We're always talking about having high expectations for kids' behavior," she says. "But do your students really know what those expectations are? I can't expect it of them if I don't tell them."
Pat Green, who is introducing one of Clark's rules to her class each week to open up discussion of social skills, says she was inspired by Clark's sense of mission as a teacher and his determination to bring out the best in children in tough situations.
And Eva Dietz, a 10-year elementary teacher in Buckley, Washington, says the book lit "a fire in my heart." Now, she says, she's ready "to work harder at the relationships I have with my students so they can feel my passion and in turn develop their own passion for learning."
CARING OR CONTROLLING?
But other NEA members say the Essential 55 is anything but a model. Despite the progressive approach Clark shows in teaching his curriculum, these educators and other critics contend the book drips with coercion, control, and humiliation.
The rule on gift-giving, for example, states that if a student doesn't say thank you within three seconds, Clark takes the gift back. In one passage, he writes that when one of his fifth graders didn't thank him quickly enough for a lollipop Clark had given him, Clark took it back, put it in his own mouth with a grin, and went back to teaching.
In another passage that rankled some readers, Clark says that if any student moans about homework, he doubles the assignment for the whole class.
"I like order and discipline, but this book crosses the line," says Hughes, who also is president of the Sutton Teachers Association. "I'm worried that the media is picking this up as a solution to education's woes."
One scene in the book particularly bothered Hughes. Describing how he dealt with a student who was disorganized, Clark writes, "I would pick up his desk and turn it upside down, watching all his cluttered items fall to the floor. He would then be told to find his homework and instructed not to place anything back on his desk that wasn't a necessity."
"You just don't do that to people any more," says Hughes, who says she rewards her students who keep a clean desk by playing "desk fairy" and giving them small gifts. She also says she keeps the number of classroom rules small--and uses methods that reinforce students' positive behavior and help them internalize the message. "When will they learn to be responsible if they can't move without someone's permission?"
In an interview with NEA Today, Clark said the methods he advocates may not work for everyone, but they fit the world his students live in. "We live in a society now where most homes have either a single parent or both parents working," he says. "We've gotten away from taking time to respect others, or to do kind acts for other people, or to have good manners in general. A lot of people miss that."
"I felt that students were coming to me with a lack of manners and respect, and it was my duty to address that weakness," he adds. He left North Carolina with 30 rules and was teaching 55 by the time he quit teaching in Harlem. In both places he eschewed the trendy practice of having students participate in making the class rules, saying he got students plenty involved in modeling, rehearsing, and role-playing the rules until they were second nature.
He says other teachers may well need fewer rules, but he believed he needed to spell out expectations for students more explicitly. "I think I covered all the bases," he adds without a touch of irony.
Clark says he now regrets including the story of tipping over the student's desk, acknowledging "it seems really harsh" and that he'd "hate for another teacher to think it was a great thing to do."
"I have one year to make an impact, and sometimes you have to be a bit firm and over-the-top to get your point across," Clark says. "The thing is, the kids know I love them, end that everything I do is to help them."
When responding to any adult, you must answer by saying, "Yes ma'am" or "No sir." Just nodding your head or saying any other form of yes or no is not acceptable.
If someone in the class wins a game or does something well, we will congratulate that person. Claps should be at least three seconds in length with the full part of both hands meeting in a manner that will give the appropriate clap volume.
Always say thank you when I give you something. If you do not say it within three seconds after receiving the item, I will take it back. There is no excuse for not showing appreciation.
When we are in transition from one subject to the other, the change will be swift, quiet, and orderly.... The opportune amount of time to spend in transition should be less than 10 seconds, and we will work toward a goal of seven seconds.
When I assign homework, there is to be no moaning or complaining. This will result in a double assignment [for the whole class].
Stand up for what you believe in. You shouldn't take no for an answer if your heart and mind are leading you in a direction that you feel strongly about.
Be the best person you can be.
TALK BACK! What do you think of Clark's 55 rules? And what are the "essential" rules in your classroom? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Then look for your responses on the NEA Today area of www.OWL.org and in future issues of NEA Today.
What turns kids on to learning? Here's how the research stacks up.
When students get rowed up about their lessons, teaching is a joy. The kids energetically chime in to classroom discussions, happily crunch numbers, role-play the capture of the Alamo, or lose themselves in a book.
But when students aren't motivated to learn the content, look out. Kids goof off, get into squabbles, and annoy their teachers with the time-honored skeptical challenge: Why do we have to learn this stuff, anyway?
So what does it take to get kids charged up about school?
Hundreds of research studies have addressed that question. Michigan State University professor Jere Brophy, author of Motivating Students to Learn, summed up the high points for NEA Today:
CLIMATE IS KEY
Students--especially those who don't have a great track record of school success--are more motivated and perform better when they believe the classroom is safe and supportive. A kid who feels intimidated or fears being picked on for "not knowing" is less likely to get engaged in the classwork.
"Probably the most important single thing a teacher can do is establish a collegial, supportive environment," says Brophy. "It's vital that the teacher model for students the idea that the classroom is a learning community. That we're collaborating, not competing, and we're going to learn together. That mistakes are expected, and if you need help, there's no shame in asking for it."
YA GOTTA THINK YOU CAN
Researchers use the term "efficacy"--the idea that most people who undertake a task have some reasonable expectation they'll succeed.
But here you are with the kid in your math class who's flunked math twice before--and whose palms sweat if you even mention polynomials. His motivation is likely in the tank.
"The student has to believe that he can succeed at an acceptable level if he invests reasonable effort," says Brophy. "For many students, that's not a reasonable expectation because they're so far behind."
For teachers, that means finding ways to get them extra help, reassuring them that if they put in steady effort, they can learn it. "You have to build the kid's trust and confidence," says Brophy. "The teachers who tend to be particularly successful with struggling students convey that they're willing to work with them if the student meets them halfway. They communicate to these students, 'I know some things about how to help students like you.'"
What about grades? "If you want grades to be motivating, you need to hold out hope and opportunity," Brophy says. "If a student knows she can't get better than a D three quarters of the way through the term, she's not going to be motivated by anything at that point." Teachers should think about offering extra safety nets for students who are struggling--such as extra assignments for extra credit-and resist grading on the curve, which dooms a certain number of students to failure.
Learners--adults as well as kids--need to see the usefulness of what they're being asked to learn. Teachers whose students exhibit more motivation tend to go to greater lengths to explain the connection between academic content and the "real world." They build on students' interests, and they are careful to plan activities that help students see connections between "big ideas."
That's tough to accomplish with the test-mania gripping many schools, Brophy admits. Teachers are pushed to cover innumerable isolated facts and skills in preparation for tests, and ambitious units designed to foster students' conceptual understanding take a back seat.
"There are good reasons for learning algebra or studying Shakespeare," Brophy says. "You need to monitor those reasons and convey them to students."
WHEN TO PRAISE OR REWARD?
It's one of the most controversial aspects of motivating students--one that has divided researchers and practitioners alike. Critics of the overuse of praise and rewards argue that it undermines a student's own intrinsic motivation to perform in school. In other words, giving students free pizza or tokens for getting good grades or reading a certain number of books makes kids focused on the reward--and less likely to do these things when a reward isn't attached.
"Praise and rewards are helpful and supportive ... but they are often used to control behavior, and that's not motivating," Brophy says.
Successful teachers praise kids individually and privately, focusing on their progress, giving feedback. "Those sorts of comments are rewarding, but rewarding in ways that are motivating. Those support greater efficacy. That's much more powerful than: 'You got a 97 so you get a candy bar.'"
Brophy cautions against giving rewards in ultra-competitive classroom situations. "That makes a few kids temporarily happy. For the other 20, it's just more depressing news about school." His advice: focus on the class as a whole. Congratulate the whole class for doing well on the test. Have an unannounced surprise treat for everyone. Save individual things for private comments. And don't publicly praise or criticize students or compare them.
HIGH-STAKES TESTS DON'T MOTIVATE
It's widely assumed by policy makers pushing high-stakes testing that, when the consequences are big enough, students will put forth extra effort to do well on them. Research shows the idea doesn't hold water. "Despite all the talk about how we can make better tests, the fact is that they are very costly, and so the tests we tend to end up with measure disconnected knowledge," Brophy says.
The result? Teachers spend more time drilling kids on things that might be on the test, and the curriculum narrows even more. The most creative--and potentially more motivating--lessons go right out the window.
Moreover, the bottom half of students "already know that they're going to do poorly on these highly stressful tests," says Brophy. "So the tests end up doing more harm than good." Better options, he believes, would be to require students to attend summer school or provide them regular tutoring after school. "Holding them back," Brophy contends, "is not the answer."
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|Title Annotation:||Classroom Management|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2004|
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