3 Classroom Behavior Management Techniques that Deliver

Most kids want to engage, many have been taught there is nothing to engage with. You need to be the teacher who re-awakens that natural wonder. It’s kind of like a dare: are you up for it? I triple dog dare you ;) Okay, now that the obvious elephant in the roomhas been identified, let’s get to those three techniques

How were your classroom behavior management strategies last year? Be honest. If you are like me, the results are mixed. They were good because you kept the stuff that worked for years and applied it and got rid of the stuff that didn’t. Unfortunately they were also bad because situations you didn’t think about arose and created problems in your classroom management. Well, right here, right now is the time we should be examining all that in preparation for a new year. There are many things I have learned through the years that work for classroom management. I believe that effective classroom management techniques must start with a dynamite lesson plan.

So, before we even talk about behavior, we have to spend time in a straight-backed chair (or the equivalent thereof) completely focused on crafting the best lessons we can. The lessons should explicitly teach and solicit responses from all the kids. If we aren’t doing this, that is our glaring error we will never overcome.

If we have done this, then our kids should behave rather well. Most kids want to engage, many have been taught there is nothing to engage with. You need to be the teacher who re-awakens that natural wonder. It’s kind of like a dare: are you up for it? I triple dog dare you ;) Okay, now that the obvious elephant in the room has been identified, let’s get to those three techniques:

  1. Effective classroom rules – These are usually a “given” but I want to revisit them.  These rules can get you out of many binds.  The lack thereof can also get the entire class is a mess that’s hard to escape.  The word on these is simple: Make concise, relevant rules that number no more than 7.  I have had discussions with teachers about how they want more rules.  This defeats the purpose of rules in my opinion.  If the rules on the wall become impossible to follow, or retain for that matter, they will be ignored.  In my class, I never go above 5 rules.  My only guideline in creating these is that every possible scenario can be linked  to one of them.
  2. Classroom management intervention – You should have a system in place that protects the “good kids” who are obeying and trying to learn.  Before they happen, you should have a system that quickly diffuses the “rule breaker” and returns the focus on instruction.  There are many ways to do this and I am sure you know them.  Many times I forget this tip and there is a lot of raucous before Christmas.  The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way with some pre-planned intervention.
  3. Assertive discipline classroom management – This is Lee Canter’s method and I subscribe to it 100%.  Apart from my feelings about the lesson plan coming first, he has some amazing ideas that started in the 70’s in an authoritative style and have developed into a more democratic style.  The word I like best is “assertive.”  An assertive teacher addresses situations and works through them to her/his advantage.

Okay, so there you have it.  Those are my 3 tips for you.  We all hope we will get a perfect class every year and it’s no wonder we’re frazzled by Halloween!  You can declare power over your year and when you do you will see that we have been entrusted with one of the most valuable jobs on Earth: teaching kids.

The Impersonality of Text

We have our 6 senses involved when we have verbal dialog with parents. If we use a colloquial phrase or say something we regret, we are more likely to be understood and forgiven because of non-verbal cues. Unfortunately, we can’t have impromptu face to face conversations with our parents every day or all the time. It’s important to be aware of the limitation of text. When you write a letter to a parent or to the whole class it is always risky. So much can be misunderstood. It always helps to do something called a “love sandwich.” This is where you give a compliment and then state the purpose of the corrective letter and then close with another compliment. Ie; “I am so pleased with Johnny’s progress in reading, he is far ahead all the students on his team in AR points. I wanted to let you know he is lining up a little late however after the whistle blows. I’m sure this is just a hiccup and Johnny is performing excellently in his math and other subjects.” It’s hard to have a way with words on these things but keeping the love sandwich theme in mind goes a long way.

Parents also seem to appreciate specifics. For example: send a notehome that says “the whole class was noisy, please talk to your child” will not be received as wellas one that lists 5 tips on how to stay quiet during the teaching part of the lesson. Then the parent can review the list with their child. Teaching is not their profession and they may not be able tocome up with this totalk abouton the spot upon getting the note. The last tip I’ll give about letters home is brevity. Parents work in the day and some in the night and they may be tired and not ready to process a long letter. Notes home work the best and come back the quickest when they’re brief in scope and concept. It’s a commenly used aphorism in teaching when we say, “Rome wasn’t buiilt in a day.” This is very true witth students. You might say, “Rome wasn’t built with one note.” I hope these observations will help you have more success in your textual correspondence with the home.

Create Your Own Sport – A Small Groups Classroom Project

Getting kids to work in small groups is important to their future success as grownups. This can be done in a general ed or physical science classroom. Kids need to interact and problem solve sometimes apart from instruction and guided practice. This both assesses and develops high leveled thinking. Of course you need to be there are the “rudder” steering each small group ship toward the shore. I chose to do a small group project with my kids this week called “create your own sport.” It is mostly derived from Wikihow’s article you can find here. Below is an excerpt from that article that I recommend using for creating constructive exchange in the groups:

1
Decide what kind of sport you want. Is it racketplayed in water? On a field? Is it about accuracy or about speed? Is it an individual sport or a team sport? All these things are key when it comes to making your sport.
2
Pick a name for your sport. It shouldn’t be complicated like “Hombidilakinshire Romp,” but it shouldn’t be lame, either, like “Throwball.”
3
Make a design of the field it’ll be played in. If it doesn’t really matter where it’s played, then make sketches of the things that are needed, such as in soccer, all you need are two goals.
4
Come up with basic rules: how many players, objective, how to score/gain points, what the main methods/steps are etc. Be sure all the players have specific jobs, and that each one contributes to the game. Don’t make pointless rules, like ‘No throwing the ball at another player’s face.’ Make it more broad, such as ‘No physical violence,’ and include that under the title rule.
5
Draw the ball/racket/uniforms needed to play your sport. Sports involving balls must have a specific design for the ball. Some sports need specific uniforms. Some have a specific shape of a racket. Be creative in thinking these up!
6
Show the sport to someone else so they can proofread the rules and such, and give you advice to improve or help you with it.
7
Get your sport known: Introduce it to sporting arenas or gyms and find people who would be interested in playing.(If you attend a public school, e-mail other schools to see if they would be interested in including it in extra-curricular activities.)
8
Research. Try online teaching resources. You never know if there is a sport in another country just like the one you’re creating. Make sure its original! If you see something similar out there, add a few tweaks to your own sport to make it different. It can be similar, but don’t make it too much so.

Using these steps and questions as a backbone, I create a lesson suited to the needs and restrictions of my students. Do you have any comments regarding this lesson idea? If you’d like me to publish my detailed plans I made for my class just ask in the comments. For me, the above was more than enough to create my lesson. As with any lesson, it can be easily modified based on significant particular classroom and/or student needs. A teaching degree enables you to make fun decisions like this every teaching day.

Clarifying Questions

Of all the lesson planning strategies one of the best is to use clarifying questions.  These help the teacher see if what has been taught has truly been conveyed and received.  Teaching, of course, is a human communication system.  Therefore, the effective use of clarifying questions in marriages, friendships, and the workplace are also a good practice when teaching.  You might say it simply this way:

What works for big people works for smaller ones.

Here’s an example.  If I tell my students I would like them to discuss solutions to the bathroom problem we are having where kids are trashing it, I should ask a clarifying question before I get them working in pairs on ideas.  I could say:

Ok. Let me ask a random, non-volunteer to tell me what it is I just asked you to do … (Then call a number or pick a popsicle stick etc.)

In this case, the clarifying question is a “Check for Understanding” (CFU) question by the teacher to the students to verify they understand.  Continue reading “Clarifying Questions”

Making Do With Less Assessment

Assessments are not as fun for kids as they are for teachers. I need to remember to teach lessons that add value to students’ lives and not focus on assessments all the time. They are not what’s most important to families.

I realize the almighty standardized test is what measures our effectiveness as teachers, in some settings. At the same time, what do you remember most fondly about school? I know for me, tests are not at the top end of the list. I remember learning songs from other cultures, writing creative stories, learning about society and culture and other stuff that was non-assessment related. Here in California, the standards test has become the arbiter of success for teachers. We work all year to get a final stamp showing if we as teachers passed or failed. I don’t know if this is the best measure for our public school system. Still, the pressure exists. There can as a result be an emphasis on “practice tests” for the kids on a regular basis. We can use these tests to map what we need to review and/or reteach altogether.

At the same time, we can get a “rush” from seeing the kids perform as we have taught them to. But we aren’t in teaching to get a rush. If there are any rushes to be mentioned, they are the rushes students should get from the learning transaction. I have learned this year that I can assign way too many assessments. These can actually burn the kids out on tests.

I have always given the analogy in my writing on this topic of the “briar patch” method of teaching. Just like Brer Rabbit knew how to escape Brer Bear and Brer Fox through the briar patch where he was born, so I hoope my students can sail through the standards test in May because they have “lived” with it the way Brer Rabbit lived in the briar patch. Unfortunately, I think I have become a little stodgy thinking they can handle the rote, ABCD multiple choice drills day after day.

Kids need real life examples and experiences to really have success in school.

I think it’s time in my career and also on my blog to be promoting those real life things in school. Instead of being concerned about teat scores, shouldn’t I as a teacher be more concerned on real life value my teaching will bring them? Every lesson in our curriculum has a human application. I will be focusing more on that rather than whether a benchmark test matches closely to the standards test. Tests are assessments of one sort. Success in life and enjoyment of school (real learning) are another sort. One can’t exist without the other because we have to measure what is happening with students. Having said that, how much faith do you have that if you strive to connect the curriculum to real life it will translate into good test scores? Maybe we are at the point where we all need to have that sort of faith as we plan lessons for our students.

If we give 10 assessments a year, let’s make it 5. The results will be an impassioned set of students connected to the stuff they are tested on. This is my current thought: I assess too much. I plan between now and May to focus more on creating valuable lessons and letting the assessments go however they go. Of course, I assume they will go positively. I can’t think of a better teaching focus than real life value for the student.

How Fast Do You Learn a New Skill?

imageHow long does it take you to learn a new skill? I recently got a little folding my iphone and when I started using it, despite my excitement, I made horrendous mistakes and it wasn’t a bit comfortable. I kept at it, typing on it a few days and now, it’s very natural and I see what a great device it is! Note that it took a lot of time for me to see that. Now imagine your students. All the skills they are required to learn in a year can feel overwhelming, especially if they don’t have the pre-requisite foundation. Remember that it will take time and repetition for them to get the feel for new skills, just like it takes adults time to learn their new gadgets and skills. Why would you expect it to be any different? Continue reading “How Fast Do You Learn a New Skill?”

The Parent Trigger and 2 Radical Changes I Suggest for Public Education in 2012 and Beyond

After the reckless voices have waned, people are likely to sit down and discuss real change in education. I think this change will be radical in some ways but in others it will contain common sense that has been a long time coming.

Being a teacher in my area, I’m probably a little more aware of the parent trigger law and the Hollywood movie Won’t Back Down. I’ve watched the media chaos descend into what is now the lowest grossing movie in recent memory. In other words, the movie is no crescendo for the parent trigger movement. Despite that fact, the parent trigger law will bring, and already has brought, some changes to education. I read that education degrees are less sought after than ever. After the reckless voices have waned, people are likely to sit down and discuss real change in education. I think this change will be radical in some ways but in others it will contain common sense that has been a long time coming.


The standardized test needs to go away. I think No Child Left Behind gave us teachers a clear and solid goal and encouraged us to teach to the test. We tried to include all students in this process but as you know, not every kid is a multiple choice test taking success. Like millions of teachers, I got used to this goal however and it became a lighthouse, a navigation device telling me how my kids were doing. It did not guide me to the finer arts like music and art and I had to get creative to get those taught. Furthermore, I even felt at risk of being reprimanded at times when I would incorporate these into the curriculum. Parents are realizing now that they want more than a test for their kids. I am only surprised that the parent trigger law and Parent Revolution don’t measure a school on more than just a test.

Every major news article I read on Desert Trails gives some statistic on how low the percentage is of kids who can “read and write.” Where did they glean this information? I don’t know of any test or company hired that went in to check how many kids can read and write. They are using standardized test results and changing the words from “% proficient on the CST” to “% kids that can read and write.” It’s scandalous really but I would rather look forward with new ideas for teaching than dig in the dirt with this issue. I have a feeling it is far from over. If it shifts focus in education away from the standardized test however, I will see it as having been positive. I wrote a book review on Renewal that discusses some of the possible coming trends in education. Check it out if interested, it has some very encouraging predictions.

To close for now: Student collaboration and open ended questions must be the focus. With our country’s unemployment being as high as it is, we need to foster and teach skills to our kids that will help them find jobs and do them well. The most important skill set one can bring to an interview is the ability to work with others to find productive solutions. After we get a new focus other than the test, we need to be instilling these skills into our kids. As teachers, we need to be brave and address the collaboration piece. There are many times kids can teach something indirectly through a peer group more effectively than when it comes from the teacher. The role of the teacher is to instruct and inspire but we need more now: fostering problem solving skills. The good news is, the Common Core appears to place a high priority on this … awesome! Also, watch for the advent of online teacher jobs. These should be interesting.

Power of a Recital

I teach guitar to a group of about 40 kids nearly every weekday. It is a great feeling sharing the art of guitar. My students are all different but most all doubt their ability to excel at the beginning. Tonight’s recital proved to them they were finally guitarists. They played two songs: Jingle Bells and This Land is Your Land. Perhaps there is someway to do a “recital” with my academic groups in the day. The energy is powerful and get get encouragement from their family, friends, and peers. If this stuff could be bottled, one could easily become a billionaire.

Kids always want family approval. If a child gets praise from playing guitar, they will undoubtedly continue in the discipline. If she/he is ignored or even put down for the pursuit, that child will probably drop out or fail to put forth a decent effort. Playing guitar for me was an identity. I became “the kid who played guitar.” It wasn’t enough to be the GATE kid, or the kid who spelled well. I found my true identity in the instrument. Now the kids I teach hardly know what their identities will be. Their feeble fingers reach and strain to form new chords. As they practice, often through pain, I see them gain strength. They get understanding of how chords inter-relate. They learn how to tune an instrument. These are life skills but so much more the stuff of identity that nowadays so many of our students seem to be lacking.

A groan grasps the peanut near the offending anthology.

The Late Great Standardized Test and Happy Birthday Common Core

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nI wrote this post a couple years back. These are my impressions of the Common Core back then I think this post is relevant when deciding the worth, or lack thereof, of these still new standards.

Based on what I have been reading and hearing, the multiple choice standardized test as a state assessment is going away. Will absence make the heart grow fonder? Today I gave my kids a math test that is very similar to the type of standardized test they will take in May. Using explicit direct instruction
may yield results but unless you have a measurement tool, you’ll never really know. Giving some sort of assessment is crucial in determining whether kids have gained mastery over the material.  Finding that sort of assessment can be challenging but once you do find it, it can be encouraging and educational to you the teacher. My students performed better than I imagined they would. As I examined their scores I saw clearly that everything we’ve been doing this year has worked. I will be sending home color coded results to parents because I want the home to know the child is getting it. It certainly isn’t the only measure of growth in a learner but it is a clear and accepted one for most people in California.

As a parent myself, I always like to see growth in my children’s standardized test scores. I say all these good things about the “test” because it is under fire these days. In fact, it appears Common Core is going to revolutionize the idea of state assessments. I am all for that but in a way, I will miss the ABCD bubbles. They do provide us with a concrete score that holds widespread clout. There are a lot of things I don’t like about them but I certainly have seen value today in preparing for a traditional multiple choice test with a traditional multiple choice test. teaching materials are likely to change drastically. I wonder how we as educators and parents will look back at the multiple choice standardized test once we transition over to Common Core. My understanding is that it will be after one more year of the status quo. The traditional standardized test will definitely be something I reflect on after Common Core comes into use. Here’s to the future and what is next for us in k-6 education.