Monday, February 27, 2012

Fostering Independent Learners:

One of the biggest issues I have subbing is keeping kids on task while they work.  Students aren't necessarily playing, but they sometimes have a hard time FOCUSING just after they get an assignment.  One of my pet peeves is when students wait to ask a question before they even try to tackle an assignment. Several times, I see a swarm of hands and bodies asking me questions about 5 seconds after the papers are handed out.  I can stand helping one student and look up to see several others at their seat, staring off into space with their hand raised limply over their heads.  They won't even try unless I'm next to them "helping" (or coaxing).  I can't stand it because it wastes so much time and reinforces their laziness.

That's why I was intrigued by a classroom management technique I found in Every Teacher's Guide To Class Management .  It refers to a "sweeping" process we all know as circulating around the room while students work.  But the book's idea of "sweeping" helps students know exactly what you want to see them doing, and it helps train them to persevere while they wait for you to help them.

As the book describes, "sweeping" should go like this:  when you assign seatwork, let them know exactly what you want to see as soon as they get started.  For instance,  "I am passing out your worksheet now.  I need to see three things as I come around:  a sharpened pencil, your history book opened to page 74, and you silently reading."  For some classrooms, it may be a good idea to write the "initial sweep tasks" on the board so they can see it, or have them repeat them.

Let them know that's all you want to see.  There shouldn't be movement or noise beyond accomplishing those three things, and that including hand-raising or getting up to ask you a question.  Your initial "sweep" or rotation around the room should praise students who followed directions.  Anyone who is up asking questions or has their hand up should be ignored.

Your next sweep should check for them to have accomplished small, manageable tasks.  They've gotten started, but now you want to see them in a productive, thinking mode.  For instance,  "I now want to come around and see your worksheet with your name and the date on it, and to see that you've attempted to answer the first question."  This sweep is designed to get them on task, focused on working and not relying on you or others for help or answers.  The first few questions are usually easiest, so they can at least attempt to answer them.  You're not looking for accuracy, so just make a mental note to come back to students who appear to be having trouble.  But even a kid who has no idea what they're doing should be able to get their name on their paper.  If anyone has a question with the first problem, or any subsequent problems, your explicit instruction should be to tell them to keep going.  Skip it and come back.  Move on.  Don't stop.  (You may also want to tell them you want to see evidence that they've made an attempt themselves, depending on the assignment.  Have they written out a problem and parts of a solution for a math question?  Have they highlighted important information in a text?  Have they at least located key words or made a guess?  You may have to tell them, "I'll only help once I see ____ for this problem."  It's helpful to have prompt questions posted around the room to help students work autonomously when they run into a question, so they can learn to think through their difficulties themselves.)  Students who are sitting with their hands raised waiting for you to approach their desk are not following directions and should, again, be ignored.

After this second sweep, you can then make it known that you are coming to now respond to questions.  Make it a point to first follow-up with students you noted following directions during your initial sweeps.  The book recommends prompting the students who have questions, helping them by pointing them in the right direction, and then moving on to the next person.  No lingering with one student.  Again, the goal is to get them focused and autonomous, not dependent upon the teacher's help.

I really like this method and I will try to implement it myself.  This will keep students seated and focused on working, which will do wonders for classroom management.  More importantly, I think it will help make students true problem solvers.

image:  microsoft

Endangered Species Art Contest!

If your kiddos love to draw and you want to give them an interesting challenge, suggest the 2012 Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest.  

From the website:

Artwork should highlight one or more land- and/or ocean-dwelling endangered species—mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, plant, and/or invertebrate (e.g., insect, spider, snail, coral, crustacean or clam)—found in the United States. Entrants are encouraged to depict species found in their region, ideally in the species’ usual habitat. Entrants may wish to choose from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Spotlight Species. (See: for a list of all endangered species.)

Winners will be chosen from 4 age categories.  Prizes include a trophy and a round-trip flight to a reception in Washington, D.C. and art supplies.  Visit the website for more details and requirements.

Entries must be postmarked by March 15!

image:  microsoft

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mystery Motivators for Classroom Management

Ever heard of "mystery motivators"?  They are advocated in The Tough Kid Toolbox as a way to assist in classroom management.  Basically, a mystery motivator requires a list of things your class would enjoy as a reward (simple, inexpensive things will do:  10 minutes extra recess, drawing time, computer time, listening to music while working, etc).  As they perform the tasks and behaviors you'd like to reinforce, a random reward is chosen from the list (making them a "mystery" for which one will be picked).  

The book gives several ideas for the "random-picking" aspect of the technique, and one is a "yes/no" box.  I think this would be particularly effective for younger students (PreK-2nd).  You can use a shoebox, bowl or anything else.  When the class (not just individual students) performs a behavior you want, write "yes" on a slip or paper or notecard.  When they do something you don't want, write "no".  Put the slips in the box and keep them there until it's time for the drawing.  I would also consider using smiley faces and sad faces in lieu of "yes/no" for the very young ones, since they will probably find them familiar.

At intervals, pick a a slip from the box without looking.  If you pick "yes," they get a mystery reward.  If "no" then they don't.  They should come to realize that the more they are given "yes" slips, the more chances they have for a reward.  Conversely, each "no" slip helps ruin their chances.

I like classroom/team motivators because they help students work together towards a goal.  What I like about the book is that it recommends being SPECIFIC with students about what types of behaviors we want to see.  A "good job" is ambiguous.  We want students to know exactly what they're doing right so they can connect that behavior to the reward; likewise, they need to know exactly what they're doing wrong.  The book suggests using the rules and expectations you actually have posted in your classroom as a guide.  That way, there won't be any confusion about what they're supposed to be doing.  For instance, if the class gets a "no" slip for talking while you are, make sure that rule is specifically posted somewhere for students to see, and that you've gone over it with them.  Pinpointing a few, specific behaviors for the "yes/no" box will help fine-tune the classroom's focus.  If getting out of their seats is your class' biggest issue, make that the one thing that earns "yes/no" slips.  If they have a real problem turning in homework, focus on that.

I would suggest being liberal with the "yes" slips when first implementing the technique, and doing drawings on a daily basis.  That way, kids will have a chance to see how it works and experience the reward once or twice.  Then, I'd adjust the amount of slips and decrease the drawings to once a week.

image: microsoft

Great Deals on Classroom Reading Materials

Don't break the bank trying to find reading material for your classroom library.  Many public libraries sell old material, especially magazines, for dirt cheap prices.  If they carry children's magazines, you can probably stock up on several issues for just a few dollars.  One of my local libraries sold me several Highlights magazines for about $.25 each.  Many libraries also place gently used books up for sale for a low cost.  These would both be great, inexpensive resources for teachers to use in their classroom.

image: microsoft

Picture Book Writing Activity: Top-Secret Files for Students

It was a delightful coincidence to read a unique picture book a few weeks ago, and later stumble upon a great writing activity to tie-in with the book.  Mrs. Rojas posted this activity for students to stretch their imagination, which won't be hard at all once inspired by this engaging book:  The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups by David Wisniewski.

The book presents "top-secret" information about the hidden, previously undisclosed reasoning behind the rules adults enforce on kids.  The book provides some truly fun, outlandish explanations for many of our rules (apparently, we tell kids to eat their vegetables not because they're healthy, but because vegetables will go on a rampage if we don't keep the upper-hand).  The book is silly, and it kept students laughing. 

Mrs. Rojas' activity includes a printable writing activity (I also found a similar one at writingfix) that asks students to imagine their own explanation for their parents' rules.  You could adapt it to explanations for school rules.  I imagine kids could come up with a ton of great reasons why we ask them to walk in quiet lines down hallways, or raise their hand to get permission to speak, or why they have homework.  You could even have them illustrate pictures to go with their writing assignment.

Writingfix posted some nice examples of students' ideas.  What ideas can your class create?