Monday, July 30, 2012

Improved Homework Tracking

So, in the past, I've been keeping track of homework in an inefficient way. At the end of each week, I would record who had completed their homework in my notebook. At the end of the week, I would give a prize to whoever I had down as completing all of their homework. An incentive is no longer necessary.

Again, I got this idea from the teacher I reached out to and hired for a few weeks. To be fair, my mentor, Mr. Agajan, a third grade teacher, also does something similar. Instead of waiting until the last day of the week, I start keeping track of my students homework as soon as each school day begins. As soon as each school day begins, I collect the homework from all of the students. One by one, I count them off. Recently, I've been giving a student the job of reading off the names for me.

As each student who has turned in their homework is read off, I write each name on the whiteboard. Each of those students whose names are on the whiteboard will get to go out to break/recess. Everyone else will have to stay in for break to complete their homework. Once every students' name is written on the whiteboard, I can erase all of the names from the whiteboard.

When the day began today, I only had five students who had completed their homework. By the end of the first of the two breaks, all twelve students had completed their homework. That saved me a lot of trouble because then I didn't need to keep track of whether students did their homework. Everyone finished it. Also, because I require everyone to finish their homework, they don't receive an incentive for finishing their homework. I'm unsure whether that is something that I should maintain or not.

In any case, that's how you can save yourself a lot of running around at the end of each week. Just verify and require that homework for each is finished on every one of those days.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wielding the Desire for Attention

Like in any classroom, I have students that have a particularly high threshold for attention that they want to be satisfied. Some of them will do whatever is necessary to satisfy that craving. They'll make noise, they'll wiggle their body, slam the table, or wave their arms around all just to get attention. It annoys me because it is definitely a distraction to my lessons in that such gestures get my students to focus on those students who crave attention rather than the lesson content.

To prevent distractions which have their origin in the craving for attention, their craving needs to be satisfied through other more productive outlets. That's something that I learned recently. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I try to grab the interest of my students for vocabulary by making it competitive.

Normally, when I initiate the competition, I'll do something like read the definition, count to 3 and then, pick a student with their hand up to state which word the definition refers to. One day, instead of doing that, I called on another student to do this job for me.

This gives them that attention that they wanted, but now instead of distracting students in the class, they're helping move it along. It gives them the attention that they want because it puts them in front and center of the classroom and they are required to be listened to in order, by the students, for them to participate. I've done this with multiple students who are especially persistent attention seekers. They're definitely less distracting while they're taking over a component of my lesson.

Having said that, I need to think of more ways to include my students to take over parts of my lessons. Consider it an integrated behavior management technique.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Responding to Students Doing Homework in Class

Originally, when my students didn't do there homework at home, I would take their break time (i.e. recess). On top of that, if they had free time (i.e. after completing the mandatory in class assignment(s)), I would have them work on their homework during that time. That was a mistake. Don't allow students to do their homework during their free time if they didn't complete it at home.

Originally, my only thought was that I would allow my students to make up their homework during their free time because I just wanted my students to complete all of their homework. But then, I conveyed an implicit message. The implicit message that I conveyed to my students was that if they don't complete their homework, its cool because they can just work on it at school during their free time. And, if they can work on it during their free time, that is a motivator to not do their homework at home. Some students would love that because that means they have more time to play with their friends, watch TV, play videogames, or whatever else it is that my students enjoy doing.

Homework isn't just given for the hell of it. Its supposed to be extra and to an extent, independent practice. If students are allowed to make up homework in class during their free time, #1 they will be doing their homework in a distracting environment (I say that in ignorance of what their home environment is like). It's distracting because they're surrounded by friends, students that annoy them, my announcements, point systems, and probably other factors that I'm ignoring. Also, their time to make up the homework is very limited. They would literally have at best, about 20 minutes to make up their homework, which doesn't include all of the distractions.

On the assumption that their parents are caring and attentive enough, students will have more time and a more focused environment to work on their homework at home. And, for that reason, my speculation is that the quality of the homework would also be better at home than at school.

Since they aren't allowed to finish their homework during their free time, they must complete it during their break and only during their break. They should only make it up during their break because every student likes to have a break. They don't want to lose their break. So, if they want to keep their breaks, they need to make sure that they do the work. That's motivating enough for them to complete their homework. Just don't give in to letting them complete their homework during their free time.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mass Tutor Marketing Strategy

So, I'll be starting my next school year pretty soon. I had a problem with CalState Teach which prevented me from getting my credential. I didn't pass my 4th and last TPA after three tries. So, they're making me repeat the last term. That's a whole other issue that I want to complain about, but don't have the space for in this blog post.

In any case, for that reason, I wasn't able to look up full time teaching jobs because generally speaking, I won't be considered if I don't have a teaching credential. So, I'm stuck with 4 hours at my new job and 26 hours at my new job. If all I was worried about was living expenses, those hours would be pretty good for me. But, that's not all I'm worried about.

A lot of people have told me not to worry about my loans because the interest rate is so minimal (i.e. 6.8%). Some how, that doesn't appease me. That doesn't appease me because the point is, as the years go by, I will owe more and more money. That means, it will take me longer and longer to pay them off. So, I want to pay those loans off ASAP. One of my supervisors for my old job gave me an idea.

So, a few months before school started, I decided that I would try to offer my services as a tutor. At first, what I was going to do was just put up fliers around campus about my tutoring services. The idea my supervisor gave me was to ask the principal whether I could make an announcement on the intercom. When I heard that teachers had done that in the past, my first thought was, "That's genius!" I'll reach every single student with my ad in a single instant.

I'll offer my services at $20 per hour. That's a pretty reasonable rate. If I can get at least 10 hours a week, I'll get around an additional $800 a month. I'll add another $200 to that. And, there you have it. I'll pay off my loans $1000 a month. The best part is that at least one third of the students at the school that I was an after school teacher at knows who I am and I'm on pretty good terms with them. It sounds like a good idea. We'll see how that goes when the time comes. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Competition as Motivation

Here's one more idea that I picked up from Cassandra. It's making classroom activities into a competition. I teach my students some new vocabulary every week. I introduce twelve new words each week. However, some of the words are sometimes known. I'll spend the first day just introducing the first six words. I'll write the first syllable of each word on the whiteboard. I'll give all of the students access to the vocabulary list. Now, here's an example of how I make learning new vocabulary competitive.

I will point out which word I'm looking for them to spell and then, I'll count to three. After I count to three, hands will shoot up. But, the reason why hands are shooting up is because they get points for answering correctly. After a student has achieved ten points, they get a prize. I'll give them a piece of candy.

At least one problem with this is that later on in the week, when I mention definitions and ask students to state the word that the definition corresponds to, some students just shoot up their hands without having an idea of what they want to say. So, ahead of time, I mention that any students who shoot up their hands, but have nothing to say, or just constantly raise their hands and shoot random guesses will be excluded from the current and next round.

As students state the correct answer, I write their name on the whiteboard, and put a tally next to their name. After the competition is done for the day, I take a picture of the points on my phone, but if you have time, you could just as easily write them down.

I didn't explain in entirety what I do to teach new vocabulary to my students. I only wanted to explain how I make it competitive. So, there you have it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Systematizing Your Classroom

So, I've put up a bunch of signs in my room. When I'm inside the classroom, I act like since I'm the teacher, the signs are up to remind my students how they need to act at different parts of the school day. To be honest, the signs are also up to remind me. I didn't realize that until I started using them.

The purpose of the sign above is to limit distractions and disruptions both on the floor and on the table. As soon as they enter, we review the homework. So, all they should have out is the homework. I point to each number to make sure that they only do those things.

As for number 2, sometimes students will have water bottles and pencil boxes, I don't even accept that. I don't accept that simply because they find a way to play with those items. I've seen some students treat their water bottle like a toy rocket and a squishy toy. So, I made a signal for them to use when they want to ask me to drink from their water bottle. Otherwise, they keep their water bottle in their bag. As for their pencil box, some students build catapults and buildings out of their pencils and erasers. So, I don't allow their pencil boxes out. Anyway, those are examples of why the only things they should have out at the beginning of the day is one pencil, one eraser, and their homework.

 The purpose of the chart just above is to give them reminders for what the class can do to get points and what they can do to lose points. I use this chart to implement ACT. If students are meeting all of the "YES" requirements, I let them know that I see them doing those things, and then I give the whole class a point. If one student does any item from the "NO" section, then the whole class loses a point. This is both a reminder to myself and the students. Also, the chart lays out the consequences in pretty simply terms. I use that chart during my lessons, but mostly during in class assignments. 

I use the sign directly above at the end of the school day. The purpose of it is to make sure that the tables are clear and that they know what homework they need to do at home. And, I make it known that if those three things are not done, no one is going home. It definitely minimizes clutter in the classroom. Again, the reminders are meant for them, but I find myself referring back to them once in a while.

Anyway, those are some examples of how to give yourself personal reminders as well as the class on what they need to do at the beginning, during class time, and at the end of the day. For those who use them, they will maintain the structures associated with those signs in the classroom. Hence, classroom activity will be that much more predictable.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

ACT Reaction

Yesterday, Cassandra wanted to set aside time to model how she uses Academic Challenge Time (ACT). I've got a pretty good idea on how she uses it.

She prompts the students with what she wants them to do and she'll give them a time limit to do it. If the students perform the task within the given time limit, they'll get a point. If they do not perform the expected task within the given time limit, they neither gain nor lose a point. If they are noisy, distracting, or have more out than what they need, the class loses a point. She used ACT prompts a lot while I was watching her, but she told me that she gave them a lot of prompts because the system is new to them, so she wants them to get familiar with which tasks they will need to perform to get points. My speculation is that eventually, I want to just stop giving them prompts and eventually, they will just be mechanized to act as needed when they are needed to. But, that means I just need to be consistent about when I want them to work quickly.

Here's an example of how I used ACT today. "Your backpack needs to be under your chair, your homework needs to be out, you should only have a pencil and eraser out. Do all of that by the time I count down to zero, and I'll give all of you a point." Once I start counting down, they move with haste. The only problem I'm having which is something that I need to prompt my students about tomorrow is that if someone is not moving fast enough, don't rush them. Some students are not used to moving fast, so it will take a little practice for them.

Today, they reached ten points. So, we immediately stopped what we were doing. Majority of the students wanted to play 7 up, so that's what we did. It was only five minutes. After we finished the one game that we were able to play, students were complaining that they had such little time to play. But, shortly after, they were focused on trying to get points again.

So far, the system is working well. The students want to work for the points and encourage each other to act accordingly in order to get those points. There's only one thing that I'm worried about. I'm worried about over time, students becoming numb to five minutes away from academic work. I'm worried about the joy of that five minutes of free time losing value for them. Oh well... I'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Easy Fix: Table Arrangement

Last week, Cassandra made a really easy fix for me. I teach in a really small room. My room has three long tables. Two of the tables are the same length and the other is about a third shorter than the other two. This is a visual of what the setup looked like:
|  |
|  |

The two horizontal lines represent one table and two vertical lines represent one table. For the vertical tables, you had chairs on both sides. It was a hassle for a number of reasons. Students in the middle had a tough time getting out because it was such a narrow space. So, they always had to ask students to move out of the way to get out of the middle if, for example, they wanted to go to the bathroom.

When any students wanted to go to the bathroom, they had to go behind the right vertical table. But, they had difficulty getting through because students' chairs would block some of the way. So again, students would have to say excuse me before going to the bathroom. That sounds really simple, but there are two general difficulties with that. Some students often don't say excuse me. And, the students who are asked to move often do not. So, those are some causes for some unnecessary drama.

Basically, the suggestion that Cassandra made for the two vertical tables was to close the gap between them so that there wasn't this narrow space between them. Instead, students would sit on the outer edges of the tables rather than on both sides of the tables. So, instead of sitting like this:

x|x  x|x
x|x  x|x

They're sitting like this:

Unfortunately, my diagrams are not particularly graphic, so I'll have to upload a pic tomorrow to give you a better idea.

As a result of closing the gap in the middle, there is a lot more space behind the tables. No one has to say excuse me to go to the bathroom. Students can more often walk right behind others. So, simply putting tables together has squelched a lot of argument, which means that I have more time to teach.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Academic Challenge Time

This is another technique that I learned from Cassandra, the teacher I'm paying to observe and guide me. Academic Challenge Time (ACT) is really easy to set up. All you need is a piece of 8.5 X 11 paper, a pen, and a paper clip. On the left hand side starting from the bottom, start with number 1, write 2 above that, 3 above that, and so on until you reach 10. The paper clip is clipped so that it horizontally overlaps with 1.

Before you begin with this system, you should have three general rules in mind that the class must comply with to earn these points. Let's say that the general rules are "Be Ready," "Stay Focused," and "Be Respectful." "Be Ready" could mean have only a pencil and eraser out. "Stay Focused" could mean that every student only works on the in class assignment. "Be Respectful" could mean that students work quietly and keep their bodies and objects to themselves. Whatever rules you choose, make sure you model them so the students know how to comply with the set rules.

When you observe that the whole class is following all of those rules, then you move up the paper clip from 1 to 2. You should limit yourself to giving 3 or 4 points per day. After about 3 days, if your students have complied with the rules satisfactorily, then as soon as the class reaches 10, everyone immediately stops what they're doing. For 5 minutes, the class gets to do some fun non-academic task. That could include tasks like drawing, playing a class game, or whatever else you can think of.

Something important to keep in mind is that if you don't have the entire class following the rules that you set to earn a point, then you don't give the point. The purpose of ACT is to have complete class cooperation.The advantage of that is that students will pressure others to follow all the set and explained rules. Also, if you have about a third of the class not complying with the rules after two reminders, then take away a point.

I've been finding ACT useful, but I haven't reached its maximum effectiveness just because I need to practice with it. Cassandra is a pro with it though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Student and Teacher Contract

It's the start of my second month at my new job. I feared that I might get a student like the one that caused me trouble last month. Actually, I got that same exact student. In preparation for that possibility, I immediately started reading another book on behavior management. It's called "How to Reach and Teach Children with Challenging Behavior." It reminded me of the idea of making a contract with my students.

I say it reminded me because actually, Mr. Agajan, my mentor while I was a student teacher for his 3rd grade class also made contracts with his students. At the beginning of yesterday morning, I told one of my especially challenging students that if he raises his hand before he talks and is quiet while he is in class, I will give him a gummy worm. He will get three chances in each section of the day. There are three sections each day (9:30 am to 10:30 am, 10:40 am to 11:30 am, 11:40 am to 12:30 pm). Each time he doesn't do that, he loses a chance to demonstrate that behavior and get his gummy worm. Each time he loses a chance, I let him know. If he loses all his chances in one section, he can't get his gummy for the day. And, even if he earned his gummies, I wouldn't give them to him until the end of the week. He agreed to that arrangement. He was excited about getting the gummy worms. He did well in the first section, but not so hot in the remaining sections.

I tried it again the next morning. He didn't want to play along anymore after he lost all of his chances. He was getting angry. He was tearing up paper on his table. He was dropping some of his homework assignments on the floor and hiding is head in his hoodie.

Today, I started paying a teacher from LeConte Elementary (i.e. one of my previous schools where I had a student teaching assignment) to give me ideas on how to control my classroom. She made me aware that the way that I was using the contract was framed negatively. She suggested that whenever I notice him demonstrating the behavior that I was looking for, I give him a star and make it known to him. Because, when I was taking his chances away, it was still more like a punishment. But now, every time he gets five stars, he gets a gummy. That is a reinforcement rather than a punishment. On top of that, my mentor suggested that instead of waiting until the end of the week, make the reinforcement more immediate and give it to him at the end of the day. After I started giving him stars, he was actually finishing his in class work quietly. I was just happy because he was finishing his in class work. Previously, he would often just leave it blank. But today, he even wanted to help students near him. So, I was pretty pleased with that.

Anyway, there you have it. Those are both the bad and good ways to execute a contractual relationship between a teacher and a student. Keep in mind that the frequency at which a student is reinforced will depend on the specific student. Some will need more immediate reinforcement and others not so much. It depends on how... defiant or distracting the student's behavior is.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Student VS Teacher Provided Supplies

So, I was prepping for my next month of teaching. I was picking up supplies like homework folders, folders for them to keep their vocabulary work in, and lined paper. After I bought all of the supplies, I was thinking... "Why aren't my students buying all of this stuff?"

As far as the cost is concerned, I can get deductions from my tax return or at least that's what my mom tells me. I haven't tried to get the deductions myself, so I'm not sure how accurate her statement is. She's done it before, so perhaps that gives her some credibility. Ideally, what do I want? I want the students to get the necessary supplies on their own. I'm not going to be using the supplies. They will. So, they should get it. Otherwise, it shows that I'll do the work for them and they can just sit back.

On the other hand, just based on how my students were last month with turning in homework, I don't have a lot of confidence in my students' ability to go out to the store and pick up the necessary supplies. I want them to use this supplies to keep themselves organized. If I get it for them, I know that they'll have it. But, undeniably, I shouldn't be getting the supplies for them. If I was good at keeping my students responsible, I would require them to get the supplies. But yea... I'm not good at that unfortunately. I just don't know how to pressure them hard enough. That's why I'm getting the supplies for them.

It's an unfortunate state that my current quality of teaching leaves me in. Oh well... hopefully, that's an aspect that I can change soon.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Offer Accepted

So, about two and a half weeks ago, I told you how I was on the look out for an experienced teacher to observe me while I teach at my new job. I wasn't able to find anyone in a neighboring university, but I got in touch with my friend who is a special resources teacher at LeConte and he referred me to a teacher whose behavior management skills he thought well of. That got me excited. As soon as he said that, I asked whether he could give me her email address, and so, he did. This is the email I had first sent her:

"Hi Cassandra,

My name is Autif Kamal. Juan Zuniga, the special resources teacher at LeConte Elementary referred me to you. I know him because I did a year of student teaching their under Luis Argueta, Dana Blanchard, and Sasha Tyshler. Juan spoke well of your behavior management skills. Recently, I've started teaching writing to a class of sixteen 3rd and 4th graders in a tutoring center in SF Chinatown. I've been reading books in behavior management, but my skills aren't improving quite as quickly as I'd like.

I'm looking for someone to observe me while I teach, share their observations with me, and then suggest how I can modify my behavior management. I would be willing to pay $50 an hour for two hours a week for a service like that. Would you consider this offer? Please let me know. Thanks.


So, that's the email that I sent out. You might be wondering why I started straight out with an hourly wage rather than letter her make an offer. Because if I did let her make an offer, she might have pitched an offer lower than $50 per hour. Well... to be honest, I'm just desperate. I want to improve as quickly and effectively as possible, so I just wanted to make sure that I made the offer as enticing as I was able to. Anyway, this is how she responded:

"Hi Autif
I would love to help!  That is so nice of Juan to recommend me.  I have been an advisor for Mills College student teachers for 4 years and love working with teachers in this capacity.  When were you thinking? 



So yea, she said yes! After that, we talked over the phone to give her an idea of what I'm having difficulty with. Afterward, I sent her an email to explain what the purpose of the class is just so she has some background on what I'm trying to achieve in the class. Because if she doesn't then she won't have an idea of what students are supposed to be doing in the class. I also told her some demographic information for the classroom as well as the time schedule. I'm not sure whether I should be telling her anything else about the classroom.

Anyway, I'll keep you updated on how this arrangement goes. I'm excited to make some dramatic improvements in my teaching.