Friday, October 19, 2012

A Challenging Classroom

I just got hired to be a science teacher for one period a day. I have taken on classes mid-year in the past so I was confident that I would be fine. Well, everything is fine, but this class is going to be a lot more work than I thought.

The school district I am in uses the workshop model and they have for quite some time. I assumed that the kids would be "trained" to use the workshop format. My first lesson for them involved a lot of working in groups to discuss and figure things out. (They are learning about diffusion and active transport.)

As I walked around the classroom I found that they did a great job staying on task if I was standing next to them, but as soon as I walked away they would start talking about plans for the weekend, their friends etc... As if they were getting a well deserved break if I wasn't there!

It wasn't like this was one or two groups - it was every group.

After realizing that nothing was getting done I broke up their groups and said we were going to work through the activity as a class and that they all needed to write down their answers.

This worked much better, but they were still one of the most out of control classes I have seen. They weren't bad they just didn't have a lot of impulse control. If one kid has a thought he would blurt it out. If another kid wanted to touch something that didn't belong to him, he touched it!

By the end of the class I had narrowed the ring leaders down to about six kids. I held them after class and explained that their behavior had been unacceptable and that if it happened again they were going straight to the Principal's office.

As much as I was frustrated by the behavior of the kids, I was also frustrated that I haven't been given any solid information about the school's procedure for dealing with this. I was told that I would get it, but two days into the class and I am still in the dark. This is partly my fault because I didn't go down before class and demand something on disciplinary procedures in writing.

All last night I worked on a plan to get my class under control. I don't want to use extrinsic motivation - it is hard to get middle school kids to continuously work for a prize (the kids you are trying to motivate tend to give up if they don't think they will get the prize in my experience). I was also warned against it by another teacher, she said that she has used it in the past and she spent most of her time dealing with students arguing about why they should get a prize, not lose points, etc...

So, what I came up with is a system where students are rewarded for monitoring themselves. Every day when they come to class a half-sheet of paper will be sitting on their desk. It will have our learning target and other pertinent information for the day on it. It will also have a place for students to give themselves a "grade" for the day. They will explain their reasoning as well. If I agree I will just check them off (and record their grade). They have to take these home and get parent comments/signatures. When they bring the sheets back to school they are entered into a drawing for a fabulous prize.

What I like about this system is that it encourages to students to monitor their own behavior. It also requires daily communication with parents. Finally, I like that students are still eligible for a prize even if they have a hard day. Obviously, a student will have other consequences for poor choices, but at least in this case they can still be invested in the program.

I am a little nervous about the management aspect of this program - how much time will it take out of the day, will parents be annoyed, etc... I am going to tell the class we will try it for two weeks (four prize drawings) and then see what we think as a class.

Here is my first draft of what it will look like.

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