Saturday, January 26, 2013

Classroom Management in a Post-Civil Society Part 2

Several weeks ago I posted a blog about classroom management in a Post-Civil Society (my term). I felt like I needed to cover a few other things that are the tenets of my classroom management philosophy here, and reflect on what it feels like and looks like to put some of these ideas into practice.  I talked a lot in the previous post about building community. Some of the ways that we build community in my room are allowing the students to help me set the classroom rules (we call them norms), seating students at tables in groups of 5, small writing groups (the aforementioned groups of 5) to share writing, small group conferences with me about reading and writing, and lots of formal and informal student surveys allowing them a voice in what happens in the classroom. This creating a community of learners works better in some classes than in others. This year has been wonderful, but definitely had it's pitfalls as well. I am currently dealing with two different problems on separate ends of the spectrum.

One class is severely apathetic. They are passionless. They don't talk to each other. They don't try very hard on assignments, and about half of them check out completely during class time. 4 or 5 of the 20 are very smart, but they are not natural leaders or talkers. To an outside observer a walkthrough during this hour would look I run a tight ship as a classroom manager. The observer would see students with their heads down busily typing or reading, but they would hear not much at all. If I ask questions, I am met with blank stares, if I ask them to discuss in their groups, I hear nothing. They don't even talk about off topic things. I may be exaggerating a bit here, but not completely.  I keep telling myself that they are just a weird group and that chemistry of the class is bad (that's not my fault--the counselors or the computer put this group together). But, I feel like I am failing them. I can't stir them up. I can't get them to interact with each other during group assignments. I don't know what to do with them. They refuse to gel. Not only do they refuse to gel, but I don't see much improvement in the formative assessments I'm doing. I reteach to them, but then I get comments about how we already did this.

Then I have one class that erupted into a perfect example of the post-civil society. Again, it is educational apathy at the root of the problem, but the personal lives of  three students in this particular class fomented into an explosion of passionate emotion moving them beyond all manners or code of normal conduct. What do I do with students who completely forget their manners? I understand having life whirling out of control all around you, but the maturity is being able to act normally. Individual conferences about behavior and "killing them with kindness" are the two major tenets of my plan to deal with disruptions that cause fights.

Have you ever heard the saying, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Well, someone also said that you can even jam his head underwater and he still won't drink. I feel like I am leading to water and stuffing heads under, but the engagement in my classroom isn't picking up (maybe that's a bit dramatic--I am having breakthroughs with some students, but you know, sometimes teachers operate on feelings too). I'm reading all the reform literature. I am trying new ways of doing things. I'm working hard to make everything I do in my classroom relevant and preparatory for the real world of new jobs that don't even exist yet. But....I have to fight against the "old" way of doing things in other classrooms in my school. Don't get me wrong my school is as cutting edge as it can be right now. Our superintendent and other administrators are extremely forward thinking and we are trying, but it's hard to change course now. And there are lots of "old" ways still happening....

The world of education is much like a steam engine. It's slow to get started, but once it builds a head of steam it's almost impossible to stop and changing course--just forget it! This reform thing is painful. Even for a teacher who is relatively new to the profession and who is as "Pollyanna" about change as one can be. I have to battle the power of the old in my struggle to bring in the new.

Several teachers in our English department, and in other departments too, are struggling against the odds to reform the way our classes work, but it's hard. Classroom management that uses dignity, forgiveness, and mutual respect is hard to implement, especially when many teachers still send students to the office in droves. It's hard to make that kind of classroom management look like a classroom with straight rows and tiny desks that imprison and separate students (the common idea of good classroom management). It's hard to make disengaged robot kids kick the habit of going through the motions of school for one period a day. In order to make reform work the whole school must participate.

Coming to get all stakeholders on board with change. . . . offer them a cookie?

Resources I am currently reading

6 Things to say to Difficult Students
Stop sending kids to the Office
8 Things teachers do to make students bored
Dealing with Difficult Students
12 Classroom Management Myths
The Holy Trinity of Classroom Management

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First week of 2nd Semester Plan

Focus: Goal setting for the semester and motivation to start strong
2nd half of the week: Begin Transcendentalism.

Read aloud To a Bright Kid with Trouble(s) . Have printed copies available for students to follow along with. Provide the link on Edmodo because there are resources listed at the end of the post.

  • Ask students to freewrite for 5 minutes about any thoughts they had while I read associated with the blog. Students share at their tables and then allow anyone who would like to whole class share to share. 
  • Tell students that the ante is being upped for Freewriting this semester. Ask them to count their words and place the count at the bottom of the freewrite. Also ask them to date the freewrite.
This activity is based on this blog post
  • Hand out the Words of Intention Word Bank, 3x5 notecards, and art boxes. 
  • Ask students to think about the concept of New Year's Resolutions. Look at the word bank with that in mind and choose a word that best fits what you want to be in 2013. 
  • Write the word on one side of the card and illustrate it. Then on the back, write 2 or 3 sentences about how you plan to accomplish this goal. 
  • Put your name on the card either on the back or the front. 

Design the perfect English Class
What kinds of activities would you do with students if you were asked to teach an English class. 
We're going to focus on reading the first half of this semester, what would you do to make yourself a better reader?

Transcendentalism Anticipation Guide
Intro the transcendentalist ideals

Walt Whitman poem: Annotation of poetry
Introduce and model Cornel Note taking while viewing the film
Begin viewing Dead Poet's Society

Excerpt from Walden 
Viewing of Dead Poet's Society

**Having looked at this again, with my plan book in front of me, I know I have too much crammed in to this first week. So, I'll be spreading it out and update later with how I manage that. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reader's Workshop for The Great Gatsby

It's Lesson Planning time....

The essential skills:
What are the best aspects of literature to teach with Gatsby?

  • Setting
    • History
    • Description
  • Narrative Voice
    • Why would Fitzgerald choose this voice?
    • The role of the narrator? What's he for?
  • Theme
    • The American Dream
    • Gluttony of Wealth
    • The appeal of social climbing
    • American Caste system?

Bare bones structure of how the Workshop will work (Hah! I laugh at the redundancy of that).
We read The Great Gatsby as a mentor text practicing all of the essential skills, then students read their own novel of choosing. Something from the time period or about the time period (I want to make a list for students to choose from).

My ideas for how this workshop will work are very much based on Cris Tovani's work and helped by Kelly Galagher. The mini-lessons will primarily follow the Big Read (linked below) only condensed.

I intend to give a pre-assessment and and a post-assessment so that I can see where I'm landing as far as teaching. I feel like I need to have the data to back-up my teaching. I also need to pull the Common Core Standards to align with this plan.

The Great Gatsby Movie Trailer
SCC English Gatsby ShowMe
Dumbing Down Gatsby
American Dream in Gatsby
The Great Gatsby Big Read

I had to add this video! I just found this and it's AWESOME!
Crash Course Literature The Great Gatsby 1
Crash Course Literature The Great Gatsby 2

Friday, December 14, 2012

Classroom Management in a Post-Civil Society

Piles of books have been written on classroom management. Student teachers across the US have been gifted with Harry Wong's First Days of School and if they've begun teaching in the last 5 years, they've quickly realized that there is much more to classroom management than the good Dr. Wong ever talked about. He makes wonderful points, and I use many of his strategies. However, the face of society is changing and that means classroom management is changing.

The days of "sit down and shut up" while the all-knowledgeable teacher talks are quickly disappearing and many teachers are losing their handle on their classrooms much more often than they ever did in the past. Just ask them. Any teacher in my building will quickly tell you that students today are much harder to control than they were just 5 years ago. Tried and true methods like proximity don't work anymore. Threatening a student with a trip to the office to meet with the principal doesn't matter. ISS and OSS just mean more free-time for at-risk students to run enterprising small business, rabble rouse, wreak havoc in their family homes and otherwise educate themselves in the ways of the world. THere really isn't anything scary about authority to these students. They don't even consider the adult vision of authority to be authority, so why would they care if a well meaning teacher moves them to a desk next to their own or sends them to the office. Why are students so hard to handle these days?

The American culture  of civility is disintegrating. This is evidenced by the loss of manners in public, the idea that life is a joke and must be lived for the thrill, and an education that is not considered valuable. More importantly the structure of the family is falling apart, and therefore kids have no concept of authority. School should teach them the value of authority, but really school just creates a united front for the family unit to rebel against, especially for students in poverty.

Proximity as a tool for management no longer works. Test it and see. The adage is "move into the proximity of a student misbehaving and the majority will stop what they're doing." But, try it. Move into their sphere and many won't notice your presence (adults are not authority figures unless respect has been earned), many  misbehaving students will attempt to engage the teacher in what they are doing that is distracting the class, and a few will become belligerent, further distracting the class.

Students to whom ISS is given as punishment see it as a mere 7 hour study hall. There is no threat in that. OSS is even less scary. Granted for a good kid who has never been in trouble, OSS may seem like a big deal and will probably bring that student into line very quickly, but for a repeat offender, at-risk student there is no real punishment in being sent home for several days.

So, how can a teacher continue to teach without having a veritable zoo in his or her classroom? There are two major ways a teacher can create an atmosphere where his or her authority is accepted. Those two ways are fairly simple create relationship and build community.

Creating relationship--
How does a teacher create relationship? In my classroom, I greet students at the door. I learn their names as quickly as possible. My syllabus clearly states that I will treat them with respect. I teach mostly upperclassmen, so I state that I expect adult-like behavior for adult-like treatment. I am careful to let them know that I care about them. I give them feedback on their work in the form of handwritten notes and reactions to their writing. I take the time to listen to them when they need to talk. I tell jokes. I  introduce them to my life and who I am. I attend sporting events with all three children and husband in tow. I go to the school play. I do whatever I can to let the students know that I care about their real life and that I have a real life as well.

Building Community--
Building community begins with a teacher who creates relationship and moves beyond that into the actual pedagogy of the classroom. The content of an English classroom does not lend itself as well as some to a lot of collaboration, but I practice it at every possible moment. Students freewrite at the beginning of class three times a week. After they freewrite they share a line or two from their freewrites and listen to each other share. That 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of class alone creates a community of thinkers and creators. Another community builder is getting rid of individual desks. I know not every school is able to do that, but having tables where students sit together in groups daily creates an atmosphere of collaboration and community immediately.

I'm sure I've missed things in this short post. I'm still thinking about this concept. It's worth researching and digging into at length. It could even make a wonderful doctoral thesis not that I ever thought I wanted to get a doctorate.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Think like a student!

Can we please stop thinking like adults and experience the digital world from our student's perspectives? They know nothing of a telephone with a cord. They have not lived without the internet or access to a computer. They don't hand-write first and then type. They know only a world of digital technology.

Yes, we need to access our "organic" (my term for things non-tech) resources, and yes, it is important to see technology as a tool not the be all-end all. BUT teachers have to quite thinking about how they were taught or how they think and expecting students to think that way. They don't! They are a new breed of thinkers. Lecture doesn't cut it! For the most part worksheets do nothing. But just because you're using Google Docs to collect papers doesn't mean you're using the best technological practices. And, your projector is for more than the occasional movie day.

We were born and raised in the factory system we call school. You want to fix disengagement? Quite thinking like an adult. Seriously! Are we in the classroom to please ourselves, or are we in the classroom to raise the future generations of world changers? If our purpose for being teachers is student-centered then our thinking must be student-centered.

My mentor teachers often comment that I am more tech savvy and used to technology than they, so all this is easy for me. But even I who graduated from high school 11 years ago have to work to forget the way I learned and teach to my students they way they learn. Thinking like a student is the only way we'll begin to figure out how to teach them. We shouldn't be dragging them back to the way we were taught. We should be leaping them forward.

Big news! Migration and disclaimer.

So, it was time for a move. I needed to separate this blog from my school account because I need a place to talk about school reform and not appear to be speaking for my place of employment. I know that anyone reading this can figure out where I teach. I don't hide it, but I'm not speaking for my school when I'm sounding off about reforms.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

After School Routine Checklist

Something I'm sporatic at at best is being routine about what I do when I leave my room. I found this great list and hope that I can pull it together a little better this year.

Middle School Math Rules!: After School Routine Checklist: I think it is really important to keep yourself and your classroom organized.  I was not a born organized person, but had to work hard to d...