THWACK! Keep those kids in line!

June 7, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, culturally relevant teaching, inner city, learning modality, strategies | Leave a comment

It’s the end of the school year.  The students are tired.  You are tired.  The kids act more like caged monkeys than students.  And by golly, three weeks can last an eternity.Students act more like caged monkeys.

At this point, I don’t know who’s behavior is worse, the students or the teachers!

Now is not the time to slack off.  For the last few weeks, I noticed a definite pattern.  When I feel tired and plan for “fun” activities so that kids are “enthusiastic” about school is when I have the most behavior problems.  When I plan and execute rigorous lesson plans, my kids revert back to their pleasant, well-behaved student mode.

Here’s a link to a Responsive Classroom strategy, Interactive Modeling, that I’ve been using to remind my students of proper behavior.  I’ve noticed a significant difference in my students behavior after I’ve started using this strategy.  At the very least, my students don’t act as if I’ve never taught them rules and routines before.

Interactive Modeling uses several forms of modeling to teach rules and routines.  The teacher models, the students model, and then the students practice.  The interactive and physical modeling is far more successful at teaching rules and routines than simply telling students what to do.  This is particularly true of inner city kids, many of whom are English Language Learners and Standard English Learners and need the scaffolding that Interactive Modeling provides.

I’ve only discovered this strategy in April when this article came out, but I have added it to my repertoire of teaching skills.  I definitely intend on using this strategy repeatedly at the beginning, middle, and end of the next school year.

Culturally Relevant Teaching Part 1

November 5, 2007 at 5:40 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, culturally relevant teaching, education, elementary, inner city | 4 Comments

As a teacher, we’ve all heard the terms. We’ve all been told to use it. We’ve all been trained. I know I have. We’ve even piecemeal integrated one or two strategies into our teaching. Many of us are still VERY confused as to what it is and how it’s any different from what we’ve been doing. I know I was!

Here is an exploration of Culturally Relevant Teaching from the perspective of one teacher who is beginning to take ownership and really see direct impact in his classroom.

Primary Resources: Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay and How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis. Geneva Gay’s book really explores the theory and the whys of CRT(Culturally Relevant Teaching). Bonnie Davis’s book explores YOUR experiences and gives practical strategies.

What is Culturally Relevant Teaching?

It goes by a few name. Culturally Responsive Teaching. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Variations thereof. In a nutshell, CRT is respecting the student’s complex culture and individual strengths to teach in a rigorous manner that will lead to academic success. That’s a mouthful.

We want all of our students to be academically successful. Every year, the faces that look back at us in the classroom is more and more diverse. The numbers from standardized tests tell us that there is a persistent “achievement gap”, meaning students of color are not doing as well as white American students. The students are becoming more and more disconnected from education, with worsening behavior problems, and less and less motivation to succeed in school, or so it seems. Many teachers feel frustrated, some even hopeless.

CRT proposes a very convincing argument as to why that achievement gap persists and how we can change our teaching so that our students of color has the best chance of academic success.

Culture Counts

Culture counts. That is a premise of CRT and two powerful words that truly affected me. Culture counts. The culture of the diverse students, absolutely, but also the culture of our educational institution and the teachers teaching.

The American educational institution was built by and for the dominant culture, white, middle class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. That culture has been entrenched into education to such a degree that we, as fish, don’t see the water through which we swim, nor do we see the cultural norms that exist and force upon our students who DON’T in fact, come from a white, middle class background.

Two examples

We expect students to sit and listen attentively. That sounds perfectly logical to those of us raised in a middle class educational environment. It is, in fact, logical in all culture. It just looks different. When we say “sit and listen attentively”, we mean sit straight up in the chair, eyes on the speaker, hands still, mouths quiet. In many other culture, African American culture for one, “sit and listen attentively” means moving, nodding and clapping in agreement, yelling out encouragement, nudging the person sitting next to you, and quite often, being really attentive means standing up, not sitting at all. So, when our little black students start moving in class when we speak, we yell at them to sit still. We’ve also just told them to stop listening.

We expect, and teach our students from a young age, to raise their hands and take turn to speak so that it is fair to everyone. Conversation in the classroom is between the teacher and one other student only. Everyone else is expected to listen until it’s their turn. In our individualistic society, that makes sense. In other, more communal society, it doesn’t make sense at all. Everyone is expected to contribute to the conversation. In the classroom, what this looks like is that our students of color call out to the teacher and to each other during discussions. Once again, we tell our students to raise their hands before speaking…and we’ve also told them to stop contributing to the conversation.

Two of our most basic assumptions about teaching clearly clashes with the cultures of our diverse students and tell our students to stop learning! And our students obey. They stop learning. A little at a time until, by fourth and fifth grade, teachers throw their hands up in despair, wondering what they could do.

How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis does a great job of helping us to examine our cultural lenses and then readjust our teaching so that we can actually teach our students. Do take a look at it and see what other assumptions about teaching that we hold as logical norms, when in fact it is detrimental to our students of color.

Why should we be mindful of CRT and actively seek to integrate it into our daily classroom instruction? I won’t go deep into this discussion. I figure, if you’ve read this far, then you already want to do it, you just want to know how. Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay does a fantastic, and thorough job of discussing why we should use CRT. I highly recommend that every teacher should read Geneva Gay’s book.

Effective Teacher Praises

September 4, 2007 at 3:39 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, education, strategies | Leave a comment

Mr. Pullen brought up an extremely important topic in teacher talk: effective praises.  Simply telling a child that he/she is smart may end up being detrimental to that child.  Read the in-depth article for more information on the research.

For teachers, we know that teacher talk is important and teacher praise is critical in determining a child’s behavior and motivation.  Here is my quick list of Ineffective Praises and Effective Praises.

Ineffective Praises

  • Good job!
  • Excellent!
  • I like it.
  • You are so smart.
  • I like what you are doing.
  • You got a perfect score!

These praises are quick, easy, and meaningless.  They are generic and gives a quick burst of good feelings, but don’t really help the child learn or acquire effective work habits or learning skills.  Contrast those with:

Effective Praises

  • I like the way your writing is neat and your letters are in between the guidelines.
  • Your writing has improved so much!  I see detail sentences here and here.
  • You are so polite when you apologized to so and so.
  •  I like the way you circled your spelling mistake and tried your best to sound it out.
  • You started to work immediately.  You are an independent learner!

These praises are specific to the student and the situation.  Students immediately learn what “good job” means and can repeat it.  Guaranteed, your other students will also be joining in in exhibiting these specific behavior so that they too can earn praises.  More importantly, you are guiding the students toward appropriate behavior, work ethics, and learning with praises.  Combine effective praises with clear expectations and students know exactly what they need to do to be successful in the classroom.

The Adult World

Do people use praises in the adult world?  Of course!  Do we need these praises to be targeted and specific in order to improve our performance?  Absolutely.  I’ve had administrators come in and leave a lovely note on my desk that read “Good job!  I really enjoyed visiting your classroom.”  My first thought of course was: did you even bother to watch?  What was good?  I want feedback, not pats on the head!  I’ve also had occassions when my admin left a note saying “Good use of ___ to ____.”  Hey, now that’s different!

The Praising Game 

Since these were just short lists, let’s play a blog game.  Bloggers, create your own list of effective praises and ineffective praises.  Then, pop me an e-mail or a comment so I can add you to our list of effective/ineffective praises.

The Debate: Have Students Copy a Behavior Letter to Parents or Send Generic One Home?

July 7, 2007 at 10:38 am | Posted in behavior, best practices, second grade, teachers | 4 Comments

The Situation

Every conscientious teacher should notify parents about the behavior expectations in the classroom.  I am planning my letter right now.

The Debate

Should I have my second grade students copy a letter to their parents or should I just send home a typewritten letter?

If the Students Copy

If the students copy the letter, it’s in their own handwriting.  They take more ownership of the behavior expectations.  The parents will feel thrilled at reading a letter from their child, even it it’s merely a copy, thus I’m building a sense of connection to the classroom for the parents.  However, some students won’t be able to copy this letter (I have two in particular I’ll post about later).  It will take time and I’m learning that second graders have VERY short attention span.  It will have to be a two session project or a very short letter, which is fine.

If the Teacher Sends a Copy

If I send a copy, then the students don’t take ownership, the parents may or may not read the letter, and while there is a home to school connection, it isn’t nearly as strong (I feel).  It’s quicker and easier though.

The Decision

I will have the students copy the letter, just because the benefits outweigh the hassle to my mind.  I will however have two typewritten copy prepared for my two students who won’t be able to copy.

Why did I bother to blog about this?  It helps me work through my tangled thoughts in my mind 🙂  I also like to blather.

Insane Absences and Tardies

June 28, 2007 at 9:09 pm | Posted in behavior, education, elementary, inner city | 3 Comments

I’m doing my report card and, as I already knew, found insane absences and tardies.  Out of 66 days of schools, three of my students missed more than 10 days of school, one of whom had 15 tardies.  This girl is one of the lowest scorer, academically speaking.  Her mother pretty much shut me out because I pushed her and her older daughter hard last year.  She, my current student, made a lot of progress this year, but is still lagging behind her peers.  One of my friend said, “Third graders don’t make decisions about going to school.  They do as they’re told.”  Yup.

A half of my students had five to nine absences with some tardies hitting the twenties.

I consider this a “symptom” of how difficult my class was this year.  I could be wrong, but in my five years of teaching, I noticed that, generally speaking, attendance is a good clue to class’s achievement and behavior.  Last year, half of my students earned perfect attendance for the year.  This year, two of my students earned good attendance certificates.  Last year was the mellowest class anyone can wish for.  This year, my class ran off a substitute (just two weeks ago in fact).  The substitute pushed them out the classroom door 15 minutes before the bell rang and headed for the parking lot.  Some of my fellow teachers were laughing about it.   I cringed.

Back to the report cards.

How to Start the Mornings – Getting Students On Task

June 25, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, elementary, inner city, strategies, teachers | 3 Comments

A teacher visited my classroom this morning at 8:10 and was very surprised that most of my students were quietly working at their seats, with two students hanging up their backpacks.  She wondered how I achieved this because she was used to her classroom.  Her students wandered around in the morning, chatting, sharpening pencils, putting away homework, while waiting for the lesson to start.  Then, it takes her just forever to get the students’ attention.

Very simply, the lesson started the minute the students walk into the classroom.  That’s how I get my students to start working immediately, with no time to wander around and chat.

Before Coming into the Classroom

I remind students how to line up quietly and walk quietly.  I may even make some small announcements to prepare the students for the day’s activities.

Coming into the Classroom

We walk in and stand ready to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  A monitor leads us.

Morning Activities

A list of morning routine activities is posted on the wall.  After the Pledge, the students immediately get started on their routines, usually without my verbal reminders.  Their first lesson is posted on the morning routines chart and is waiting for them at their desk.  This activity is usually an independent activity that everyone can do.  A homework monitor collects the homework from students’ desk.  I have a box of pencils already sharpened and waiting for the students.  I walk around and give a few students the “look” while I silently take roll.  By 8:10 we’re all working quietly and can begin our writing lesson for the day.

Students On Task

Beginning the day in an orderly fashion, focused on work, sets the pattern for the rest of the day.  My students are reminded by this pattern every morning that they are at school to work, and that time is precious.  I have very little trouble keeping my students on task and I believe it is because I don’t waste a minute of their day, starting with 8:00.

What Some Other Teachers Do

I find that teachers who are most aggravated by their chatty students not being on task are usually not prepared in the mornings.  Students wander around because the teacher is wandering around looking for materials.  Students don’t do work in the morning because teachers don’t have work for them in the morning, therefore they talk, which is a natural reaction.  This too sets the tone for the rest of the day.  Students will not be in the mental state to work.  It’s also about respect.  Students know you don’t respect their time if they’re sitting around waiting for the teacher for ten minutes.  Why should they then respect the teacher’s demand to be on-task and respect learning time?

The Remedy

Be prepared to teach and your students will be prepared to learn.

Inner-City Schools

Yes, I teach in an extremely low performing inner-city school.  If this is true about my classroom, then it’s certainly easier to implement in other classrooms.

Special Ed Student Committed Arsony Again

June 20, 2007 at 5:47 pm | Posted in behavior, Special Education | Leave a comment

For the second time this year, one of my special ed student (the same boy) set fire to school property, namely the restroom trashcan. He finds it fascinating.

He’s suspended for two days, pending a parent conference. He will be counseled of course.

It’s one week and two days from the last day of third grade.

His behavior in the classroom is extremely good. He used to be reluctant to do any sort of work, but now, quite often, he would beg to do a class assignment as homework because he enjoyed it that much.

Unfortunately, as soon as I’m not there, he’s a holy terror. When the cat’s away…

It took me months to get him to be on his best behavior consistently, without any promptings. My question is, what can I do to help him and students like him behave and make wise choices when I’m not around? I want independent students.


This is his latest writing sample.

“I had a fluffy dog.  His name is fluffy.  My dad cut his hair.  When my dad cut his hair, he was skinny.  I feel sad because my dog ran away.  When he was still here he popped a water balloon at me.”

“I do not act the way I look”

May 29, 2007 at 4:09 pm | Posted in behavior, elementary, teachers | 1 Comment

My principal and I had an interesting conversations regarding a couple of my students today.  One, the new boy, is large, tall, and tough looking as well as tough acting.  In the last week he’s been in my class, I watched as he enthusiastically “put my armpit in” during music class or sat at rapt attention as I tell a story or furrow his brow as he works on a math puzzle.  He looks like a big boy, but inside, he’s just a little baby, same as any other third grader and ready to learn.

Another one, is just MASSIVE, the size of a high-school football fifth grade.  He’s always been that big.  When he was my student in first grade, he looked like a third grader.  The unfortunate thing was that adults expect him to act “his age”, meaning his size, and treated him like he should have known better when he makes a mistake…when in fact, he doesn’t know better because he WASN’T that age and since people always expected him to know better, nobody bothered to teach him better.  He’s a huge behavior problem now, but when I come around, he runs up to me and excitedly catches me up on the events in his life.  BIG baby.

It’s an epiphany for me.  Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge a kid by his size.

The new boy in my class continues to have problems with his previous teacher.  Had an altercation at an assembly today before I could intervene.  Teacher made the judgement that my new student did something wrong.  My student threw a huge attitude fit.  Teacher got aggravated, things escalated.  The kid in fact was just wiggly, the show hadn’t started, and he just needed a gentle reminder to wait patiently.  He may look older, but inside, he’s just a little kid, same as all the other ones that were wiggling impatiently (none of whom got told off).  He wasn’t even talking.

Protected: Teaching Second Grade Next Year

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Day 4 of Big Test- All’s Well that Ends Well

May 25, 2007 at 7:08 pm | Posted in behavior, education, elementary, high stakes testing, Special Education | Leave a comment

I conferenced with the New Boy to see how his week went.  He enjoyed himself.  Didn’t get into much trouble.  Felt he did well on the Big Test.

The other kids were happy to have music class and then a health assembly after lunch.  Over all, not much academic learning took place, but the kids all had a great time.  They’re groaning at having to take more tests next week, but so long as I promised to bring Gummi Worms to snack on during the test, they’ll be happy.

They wonder, same as me, why they have to do this for EIGHT days.  Some other grade levels are excited to be done with their tests already.

My three special education students will stay with me for the entire test, though their IEPs (special education plans) specify that they should have  modifications such as extended time and a quiet place to work.  We, that is, all the adults involved, agree that the best place for them would be with me in the classroom as that is where they are most comfortable and would have a quiet, minimal stress environment in which to work.  They did very well so far.  One tries very hard to read and answer all the questions laboriously.  One does the best she can in as quick a time as she can.  The other one just quickly fills in the bubble and will go back to take a look at a few questions if I specifically asks him to go back and check.

For him, I wish the resource teacher was more accommodating.  I dream that perhaps she could keep him focused one question at a time whereas I could only keep him focused every five to ten minutes as I make my rounds throughout the classroom.

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