Thursday, June 28, 2012

Comingling Playfulness and Behavior Management

I had a great moment today. Alright so, I was going over synonyms today. I gave the students "look" as an example of a word which has a lot of synonyms. One of the words that a student gave me was "peer." Another student hadn't heard the word "peer" before. So, he wanted to know what it meant. I had to think for about 30 seconds. I gave him an example of a pirate taking out his telescopic monocular to look out for other ships.

I was losing some students attention. Usually, what I'll do is I'll show five fingers. Each finger means something. If I extend my thumb outward, but pointed towards my chest, it means that I want students to look at me. And, once students do so, I thank them for looking at me. I changed my vocabulary a bit. I looked around and asked if someone could peer at me, so then, I get a bunch of students who make a motion as if they have a telescopic monocular in my direction. We were just playing around, but at the same time, that act of pretending made students more enthusiastic to focus on me. Enthused with my own improvement, I decided to apply the same idea of getting my students' attention in one more playful way.

When I extend my thumb, index, and middle finger, it means that I want students to be still and quiet. Normally, I'll thank students for being still and quiet. Instead of saying that, I tried to scout out a student who was looking at me and appeared to be focused and then I said, "Sophie looks awesome right now because she is as still and quiet as a statue." Once I said that, other students were competing to see who could be more still, quiet, and facing my direction. Success!

Anyway, it seems to be a good principle to merge playfulness and behavior management, so I'll do my best to continue doing that until I discover its limitations.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Calling Yourself Out

You might be aware that I've been having difficulty managing my students. There's a lot of chatter going on. I try to recognize the good behavior of students as much as I can, using signals to get students to give me their attention and quiet down, giving students warnings, keeping students in for some of their break time, and sending students out. Despite all of that though, it still gets kind of loud in the classroom. I feel especially pressured to get the class to remain quiet because right next to my little room is another classroom. So, if the students talk loud, the other class can hear it.

Yesterday, I yelled for the class to quiet down. So, the class falls silent. About 30 minutes later, it gets loud again, but this time, another student yells out for everyone to be quiet. After that, in my head, I was kind of kicking myself in the butt because that student was following my example.

It was bothering me that he was following my example of yelling to get the class to quiet down. So, I decided that first thing this morning, I would do my best to set the record straight on how to get the class to quiet down. First, I said that I made a mistake in how I behaved. I told them that me yelling to get the class to quiet down was bad for two reasons: #1 To yell, you have to be loud. But, getting louder does not make the class noise get quieter. It adds to the class noise. #2 By my yelling, I implicitly tell my students that yelling is a good way to get students to quiet down. I told them that that is not true. So, no one should do that because I was setting a bad example. Personally, I never want to yell again.

After I explained why yelling was not a helpful way to quiet the class down, I tried to tell the class which students were good role models. I told them that three of the students were good role models because they turned to me quietly as soon as I use my signal and two other students were good role models for the class because they remind me to use my signs to get the class to quiet down. I tried to encourage them to show their signs to everyone else as well.

After I mentioned that, the students who had been reminding me to use my signs were continuing to do so. That's good. And, the students who I emphasized were giving me their attention when I ask for it were doing so a little more than normally. Now, if only I could the other students to follow their lead.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Follow Up Activity Rejected

So, I noticed that my students don't really use adjectives or adverbs. For that reason, there isn't a whole lot of detail in their sentences. So, I had the class practice writing sentences containing adjectives and adverbs. I even expanded the meaning of an adverb for them. Because an adverb is commonly understood to refer to the way in which a verb occurs. However, an adverb also refers to when and where it occurs. As such, I gave them adjective and adverb word searches that they could work on in their free time. I hoped that if they became aware of other adjectives and adverbs as well as an expanded meaning of adverbs, they would use them more. That wasn't the case. They still equally didn't use them.

So, I came up with another idea. I had students form a list of all of the nouns in one of their previous paragraphs and then add an adjective to each noun and an adverb to each verb. A lot of students were averse to that idea. One of my students expressed her aversion as soon as I said "make a list." So, I don't know whether it was just the mundane nature of making a list that made her averse. I guess if that was a problem, I would've settled for allowing them to simply insert their adjectives into their sentences.

I ended up not pursuing my idea because my students weren't all that excited about it. To me, it would've been a great activity. It would have given my students practice in expanding on their sentences. I would love to see more detail in their sentences. Oh well.... At least they seem to be getting down how to write a main idea for a paragraph.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Behold the Dry Erase Marker

As you know, I've been learning how to manage my new class. I've learned a lot in my first three weeks. Whenever I catch students talking in the middle of a lesson, I tell them that they can sit quietly and focus on the lesson or they can practice being quiet during their break. Of course, they say that they would rather be quiet and focused during the lesson, but whether they will actually do it is another question. I also tell them that the next time they disrupt my lesson, I need to keep them in during break. But, that doesn't really deter students all that much.

At first, I was too lazy to record names on the whiteboard. I was hoping that my memory would be faithful enough to just remember who is making noise in the classroom. I was getting sick of students calling out, so I busted out my green marker and wrote a name down so that I could keep track. That quieted down students really fast. I was surprised by that. I can only speculate about why me writing down students' names contributed to quieting the class down.

#1 The students see that I am keeping track. So, they know that as long as I have the names on the whiteboard, I will not forget about them.

#2 Other students see names on the whiteboard and they don't want to suffer the same fate as their peers.

Something else happened today that was particularly effective. So, here's the thing. I give my students one chance. On my students' second disruption, I put a check by their name. That means that they must stay in for five minutes. Today was movie day. I know that everyone in the classroom loves movie day. So, I told them that every disruption that occurs after the first check next to their name will take an additional minute from their movie time. That was also quite successful in quieting students down. Why is that? I'll give you my best explanation.

#1 I was taking away their movie time and they love that alot.

#2 They saw that their consequences didn't stop at 5 minutes. After they saw that I kept adding on more minutes each time that they disrupted, they eventually decided (perhaps in their head) "Ok... I should probably shut up now." On the other hand, on a different day, when I just gave them 5 minutes and moved them out of the room on the third disruption, they would still continue to disrupt the class after they came in. So, that tells me that it is important to have consequences that can be augmented. If you have consequences that can continuously be augmented, then you can keep increasing the magnitude of the consequence. As long as the consequence is attached to something that they value (e.g. break, movie), they'll continue to try to restrain themselves little by little. Or at least, that's been my experience so far.

Good personal lessons in behavior management.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Offer to Any Neighboring University

It's unfortunate that behavior management was barely even a peripheral subject in my credential program, but I'm getting better with my behavior management skills. I'll talk about that another time though. That isn't quite the focus of this particular blog post. Although I'm improving with respect to my behavior management skills, I want the improvement to occur at a faster pace and greater magnitude. Why? Well, I'm working at a tutoring center right now. Working at this tutoring center serves as a microcosm for me. It is a microcosm compared to when I will take on a full fledged classroom. If I can't last in my microcosm, then I definitely won't last in a full classroom of 20 or so students.

When I studied Philosophy at UC Berkeley, I did something that very few of my peers had considered. I went to the graduate student lounge, I asked multiple graduate students whether they would consider tutoring me in order for me to improve my ability to write philosophical papers. In return, I paid them an hourly rate. That was the best academic move I ever made. Why? Well, it was good in two ways: #1 The philosophy grad students graded our papers. The philosophy professors did not. Who better to tutor you in writing your papers than the philosophy graduate students? Of course, I met with a philosophy graduate student who was not a graduate student instructor (i.e. teaching assistant) for one of my philosophy courses. #2 At least in my case, either most or all of the philosophy grad students were more experienced and astute in terms of thinking and talking about philosophical issues. So, there was literally no one who was more relevant in helping me improve my ability to help me think about and write philosophical papers.

Now, let's go back to my idea to make drastic improvements in behavior management. I've been reading books in behavior management, but as I said, I'm not making improvements as fast as I'd like. So, I'm going to make that same proposal that I made for philosophy, but for graduate students in education. I've already done it actually. A couple days ago, I sent an email to Loretta Sevaaetasi:

"Hi Loretta,

My name is Autif Kamal. Currently, I teach writing to a class of thirteen 3rd and 4th graders on Powell & Broadway in San Francisco. I'm in my last term of CalState Teach. I'm contacting you to make an offer. If you see no problems with my offer, I would greatly appreciate you fulfilling my request of forwarding my offer to graduate students in Education at SFSU.

Currently, I'm dissatisfied with my ability to manage the behavior of a classroom. I'm reading books on behavior management in my free time, but I want more immediate results. The best way that I can conceive of achieving such results is to have someone significantly more experienced than myself observe my attempt to manage the behavior of my students, share their observations with me, and propose solutions. So, my offer is to pay a graduate student from SFSU in the Education department an hourly rate to do those kinds of things for me.

If my offer doesn't sound objectionable, I would greatly appreciate you forwarding it to graduate students in SFSU's Education department. If my offer does sound objectionable, please tell me what is objectionable so that I can modify my offer accordingly.

Feel free to let me know whether you have any concerns with my offer. Thank you for considering my offer and request."

I will also send my offer and request to the graduate operations director at UC Berkeley. If I don't hear a response from either of them by next week, I will probably go to both campuses in person. If there are graduate students on site, I will make my offer in person. I'll let you know how that works out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tracking Down Incomplete Homework

In my Homework Incentive Planning post, I ended by asking what you should do about students who still don't complete all of their homework. This is what I did.

As I said before, I made a list of all the homework that I assigned for the week and I used a letter to denote each particular homework assignment. Let's say that I have a homework assignment for each a) through f). I will use letters a) through f) to make note of who completed what assignment. If a student didn't complete a particular homework assignment, I would leave a line with a blank where the letter corresponding to that assignment is supposed to go. I count how many students had not completed each homework assignment. If any of those homework assignments were worksheets, I make sure that I have enough copies of that worksheet. That way, students can't make the excuse “I don't have it,” “I lost it,” “Its at home,” and etc.

My boss gives the students a break on Fridays. He gets a movie for them to watch. I intervene a little on that. I tell them that if they want to watch their movie on Friday, they will need to complete their their homework. Before they watch their movie, we have an hour of instructional time. I use that hour for students to catch up. If there are students who need to catch up with their homework, they will do nothing but finish up any missing homework in that hour. As such, before the class day starts, you want to make sure that you have every students homework packet paper clipped/bundled and ready to hand out. That will save you the time of sorting out your papers while class is in session and thus, giving your students more time on completing the homework which they should have finished in the first place.

What about the students who don't need to catch up? For those students, I have fun worksheets ready for them on irregular past tense, adjectives, and adverbs, because those are all things that majority of my students need additional practice on. They like to do word searches and crossword puzzles, so I'm building my collection of such worksheets.

I think it's a fair question to ask whether an hour a week should be put towards getting students to catch up on their homework. Why do I do that? Well, at least in my case, the purpose of giving my students homework is to reinforce what they learn in class. So, if they don't do their homework, then they are not reinforcing that learning. And, if future lessons will be based on their understanding of previous lessons, then they will fall short due to not completing the homework. That is how I justify spending that hour of time to get students to catch up on homework.

Any alternative or additional thoughts are welcome. 

  Ignore the unhappy faces and asterisks. Blanks mean that that homework assignment was not finished. Letter on a blank means that it was at one point unfinished, but later finished in class. Letter without a blank means it was finished prior to the day of catching up on homework.

Home that each of the letters denote. Sorry if some of my writing isn't very legible.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Homework Incentive Planning

For my new job, I set up a little incentive program for homework. It's really simple. For each week that a student finishes all of their homework, I give them a treat (e.g. sour worms, jolly ranchers, or laffy taffy). That means you need to keep track of who has been finishing their homework. So, on Thursday night, you will want to have already made a record of who has completed what homework.

To make a record of who has completed what homework, there are three things you will want to make sure that you do: #1 Organize all completed homework by name and in alphabetical order. #2 Make sure that the homework for each student is arranged by date so that each file contains completed homework in the same sequence. #3 For each week, while recording who has completed what homework, assign a letter to each piece of homework (e.g. a = First draft, b = Final draft, c = word pyramid, d = dialogue worksheet, and so on). After doing so, you can list each name and write the letters corresponding to the homework which they have completed. For those students who have completed all their homework up until Friday, you can put a star on their name so you can remember to give those students their deserved treat.

You still might have students who don't complete all of their homework. What do you do about them? I'll save that for my next post.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Praise for Attention

So... I'll be honest... I haven't completely mastered the skill of behavior management. Often, in my class, there's a lot of noise. There are a lot of kids talking, water bottles being crushed, pencil tapping, and students not facing where the lesson is taking place. I give out warnings and 5 minutes out of their 10 minute break.

Interestingly enough, simply looking for students who are paying attention, making eye contact, and saying "Thank you so-and-so for quietly facing this way" is what locks their attention on me. Right after that happens, other students start following suit... and then, other students follow suit, and so on until mostly everyone does it. It doesn't have a lasting effect, but it is generally an easy way to redirect the attention of students as they get distracted.

I'm trying to incorporate praise more often into my instruction to get students to, for example, raise their hand and be called on before they blurt out. Recently, I tried to praise students who did that and students who worked quietly while working independently.  But, it wasn't as effective as when I praised students for putting their attention on to the lesson at hand. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is University for Everyone?

I have a particular reason for asking whether university is for everyone. I'm asking because of a charter school organization called Aspire Public Schools which has about 34 campuses throughout California. They introduce the idea of college at kindergarten. Each room is themed after a different university, they learn college sports songs, the projected year of their university graduation, and the corresponding university flag hangs outside of the classroom door. Some particular campuses such as Lionel Wilson posts general education requirements on the floors of hall ways. I believe they also visit colleges for field trips and talk to different professionals to hear how they are using their university education.

Personally, I don't outright condemn the introduction of university to kindergarteners. I think some aspects of it are fruitful. For example, I think going on field trips to hear about how professionals use their university education for their field is fruitful in terms of introducing students to what kinds of jobs that people perform.

However, there's just one problem with indoctrinating every child into the idea of going to university. Not every student needs to get a college education to be successful. Some people need a university education and some people don't. Students who cannot perform the functions of their job without a university education need that university education. But, those students who can perform their functions well with or without a university education should not be indoctrinated into getting a university education. For some students its productive, but for others it is counterproductive.

If a student just wants to become a paralegal and they only need to go to community college for that, it's that much a waste to push them to go to a university. But, it is not quite a waste for the student who will become a lawyer. The problem though is that you cannot figure out what any given student will want to do when they are five years old. They need to be allowed to determine their own interests. Or, at the very least, assisted in determining what their interests are rather than giving them tunnel vision by only giving them the university route.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Generating Class Pressure for the Maverick

At my new job, on Fridays, the boss of the tutoring center gives the students a break from writing by letting them watch a movie. The boss couldn't bring a movie because he had to go to a meeting. So, I brought a TV series. I brought a TV series called Gargoyles. It's a classic cartoon that I used to watch back when I was little. I loved the story when I was in elementary school and I still love it now.

The students took a vote between Real Steel, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Gargoyles. They chose Gargoyles, which is partly due to my impassioned description of the story. Ahead of time, I told the students that if they hadn't finished writing their paragraph, they could not watch the TV series with the rest of the class.

So, its time to watch the TV series. We moved the tables, I set up the projector and the DVD, and the student who had not finished his paragraph wasn't budging. So, I decided that I wouldn't play the DVD. That's when the whole class tells him to get out and finish his paragraph. So, he leaves the classroom and finishes it.

I was proud of this event for two reasons: #1 I got the students hooked on a TV series that I used to watch when I was close to their age. #2 I got a student who is normally pretty damn stubborn to comply. There's a lesson to be learned here, but it seems much easier to express than it is to implement. You find out what the class wants, only give it to those students who have completed the necessary academic requirements (which you must have decided in advance), and pause the distribution of the reward for the entire class if a student refuses to cooperate. Why pause it for the whole class? Well, because they'll pressure a maverick student into complying with the terms of the reward.

In a regular classroom of 20ish students, is it feasible to give a reward at the end of each week for completing certain academic requirements? Possibly, but at this point, I'm not sure what possible rewards their are and how exactly the conditions should be set. Depends on the situation at hand I guess. Do you have the time for it? Is it a kind of reward that the class would look forward to each week? Can you only attach it to a single assignment or could you attach it to multiple assignments? Which assignments? Those are some questions that would help you figure out whether such a reward system is feasible.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Simplifying Explanations

One of the skills I've been working on as a teacher is providing simple explanations for how to do something. I've been getting better. I'll share a couple good examples with you.

A few days back, I was trying to teach a couple students how to do what another student referred to as a street style hockey face off. Unfortunately, I can't find a video, so I'll have to explain it to you. Regularly, in a face off, one player from each team will be in the center to attempt to take the puck (or in our case, ball). The ref drops the ball and the hockey players in the face off swipe for it.

In a "street style" hockey face off, the ball is not dropped into the center circle of the hockey area. It is simply sitting in the circle. Simultaneously, their sticks his the ground, each others' sticks three times, and then swipe for the ball.

A part of giving a simple explanation involves using as few words as possible. One way to do that is to do an action and simply associate a single name with it. When I demonstrate the action of my stick hitting the ground, I merely call that "ground." When I demonstrate the action of my stick colliding with the other player's stick, I merely call that "air." So, I say, "ground, air, ground, air, ground, air, swipe." That was pretty effective for the student I was teaching.

Another example pertains to a lesson I was teaching in my new job. I was teaching my students how to write a paragraph. Specifically, I was teaching them how to identify the main idea and supporting details of a paragraph. For now, they assume that the main idea will tend to be the first sentence of a paragraph. Let's say the main idea is "The best thing about my mom is that she is caring." Then, when you go to each sentence, you simply ask this question: "Is this sentence about my mom being caring?" If "yes," then it is a supporting detail. If "no," then it is irrelevant to the paragraph. That's a simple way to get students to identify the supporting detail of a given paragraph because it only requires students to answer a simple yes or no question. The great thing about that question is that it doesn't take much to remember it. It is the main idea of the paragraph incorporated into a question.

The simpler the words and the necessary background knowledge, the easier it will be for your students to use what you teach them. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Calling Parents for Good Behavior

For those of you who don't know, I started a new teaching job. I'm teaching 13 3rd and 4th graders how to write paragraphs. I've been having trouble getting a couple of the students remain well behaved.

There is really just one student who attracts a lot of attention. He'll flip his sweater backwards, put his hood over his face, and pretend he's a zombie. He'll play in the bathroom. He'll make noises on the desk. There are probably other things as well. Those are the most recent examples.

So, at first, I said that if students work quietly for 5 days in a row, I'll give them a treat. That's been effective. I don't like that technique, but I'm desperate to get all of the kids to focus. That gets majority of the students to quiet down while working on an assignment. But, that one student still wants to draw attention to himself.

I've sent him out several times to chill outside, but he seems to become even less cooperative when I do that. I had the boss of the tutoring center that I work at to talk to him. The tone was not pleasant. It was very forceful. If anything, that probably upset this student even more which I think does not lend to the cause of having that student cooperate with me.

I gave my supervisor from my credential program a call. He gave me a couple ideas that make sense to me, but I'll just tell you the one I'm most fixed on right now. He suggested that I call parents in general, but not for bad behavior. Call them and tell them about their children's good behavior. The parents will become happy with the children. The children will be pleased with their parents' approval and they will come to school happy (as opposed to coming to school sad and upset because their parents got pissed off about their behavior). They're coming to school happy because of the compliments of their behavior that I would have given them. And so, they would be more cooperative.

Now, I was curious about this strategy. I still have a second job. I'm a teacher for an after school program called Adventure Time at Chabot Elementary. The first thing I do is go with one of my co-teachers to pick up the kindergartners. They were all lined up and waiting to leave while my co-teacher was collecting the remaining kindergartners. I figured that I have some interviewees captive, so I wanted to ask them how often their teachers called their parents to say good things about them. I asked this to students in 2nd, 3rd, and 5th grade. Literally, no student said that teachers call to say good things about them. I asked all of the students that I interviewed whether they would like it if their teacher called to say good things about them. I asked 20 students. Three of them said they wouldn't want their teachers to call and say good things about them, but the remainder said they would like it.

For me, that solidifies my conviction to collect phone numbers, write down my observations of my students, and start making positive phone calls. If it seems to be effective in terms of my students' attitudes in class, I would like to make such phone calls a weekly thing. We'll see how it works out.

I only have one problem.... I can't speak Chinese. Every single one of my students' parents only speak Chinese. Oh well... I hope my boss will have time to translate for me. If not.... I guess I'll have to learn a little Chinese.

Monday, June 4, 2012

State Credentialing Standards for Behavior Management

So far, I haven't been required to complete any tasks for getting certified in terms of behavior management. But, I wonder whether such credentialing is necessary. I wonder if such credentialing should be required because you can't teach a class if you can't manage the behavior of the students, right? You can have the best lesson in the world, but if your behavior management sucks, then your lesson means squat.

Just like there is not just one good way to teach, there is not also probably not just one good way to manage the behavior of a class. But, when I went through CalState Teach, they at least gave us some models from which to learn how to teach. To me, it focused more on the direct instruction teaching model. But, it also went into differentiated instruction and the process behind forming a Student Support Team (SST). There being not just one good way to teach didn't stop CalState Teach from offering ways to teach one's lessons.

In the same way, methods of behavior management which have been researched to have been effective should be taught and assessed for prospective teachers. I know for my own program and for Teach Tomorrow in Oakland (TTO), behavior management is not even a peripheral focus. I have a friend who is getting his credential for TTO. That's how I know. That sounds absurd to me since good behavior management is necessary for students to be focused on a teacher's lesson. I don't know what other states are like, but if their requirements are anything like CalState Teach's and TTO's, then they also do not require that teachers learn and are assessed for their behavior management skills.

CalState Teach and TTO programs must satisfy the same credentialing requirements. So, my guess is that all credentialing programs in California do not require that prospective teachers learn and are assessed for their behavior management skills. Am I missing something or does my credentialing suggestion make sense?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Students Respect Calm Teachers

Last week, on Tuesday, May 22nd, I was called to substitute teach at East Oakland Leadership Academy. Ms. Dickey is currently the principal. She was helpful in terms of having all the lesson plans ready for me and having all the books open to the right pages for me. I taught between two classes. I taught for a 7th grade and 8th grade class.

For the 8th grade class, I use the term "taught" very loosely. I use that term loosely because I had very minimal control over the classroom. The students were not running all over the place. Everyone was staying in their seat and most students were working on the work that they needed to. There was a lot of chatter, but I told myself that I wouldn't let that bother me. I decided to not let my lack of control over the classroom bother me because there's no point in me getting annoyed about it. It literally accomplishes nothing. Also, its somewhat understandable that I don't have entire control over the classroom. I had nothing to do with planning how the classroom is arranged in terms of discipline, rules, and routines.

The 7th grade class was much easier to manage. But, I still couldn't get total attention from them. So, as soon as I started losing their attention, I just let them know what their assignment was. Again, there was still a lot of chatter. My purpose for being in both classrooms was basically as a supervisor. I just walked around, made sure that all students were working on their assignments, weren't distracting others, I would move students around if necessary, and help students if they were confused with any questions.

I received a lot of compliments from my students for that day. I had three or four different 8th grade students that expressed their hope for me to come back. It was because I never lost my cool (for example, while students were chatting, switching seats without asking, moving around the room and so on). How do I know that? Well, first off, several of the students were claiming that they have a different substitute teacher everyday. One of the students wrote down all of their substitute teacher's names. They've had a little more than ten different substitute teachers throughout the school year. They specifically gave me their anecdotes of two of them. One was said to be a middle aged man who said that they were all worthless. The other was said to be a very elderly woman who became upset with students for who had dropped their pencils.

The 7th grade class wanted me back too. One student called me "sophisticated." Not sure what she meant by that. Oh well... I'll take a compliment from whoever gives it to me. A few students from that class wanted me to come back. Again, I assume its because I never lost my cool.

To think about it another way... which student would enjoy having an angry teacher? I would guess very few. Why? Because getting angry at people either makes them angry as well or just fearful. It certainly doesn't win you any support from your students (or people in general) to show your anger.

Anyway, despite having little control over my students, I was pretty happy that they want me to come back. A student even offered me a cupcake for her birthday. Another student was happy that our birthday is on the same day. A bunch of the students from both classes were asking questions about me. They were curious about me. I don't think they would do those things to a teacher they didn't respect.