Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Are You Causing Your Classroom Problems?

Classroom problems, just like most of the problems in the world, rarely have just one cause. Life would certainly be much simpler if they did. Many classroom problems, however, do have one particular cause in common: somewhere a teacher misread a situation and made things worse. As disheartening as that thought may be, there is a bright spot. If we are the cause of many of our problems, then we can also be the remedy.

            For example, if a student is tardy to class, there will certainly be a disruption. The size of that disruption is often closely tied to the teacher’s reaction to it. Often our reflex action is to stop what we are doing and irritably demand, “Why are you late?” Instead, if we just let the student settle in while we continue with the rest of the class and then quietly sort it out later, the problem stays as small as possible. Here are some of the other ways that we cause our own classroom problems.

  1. We are not as prepared as we should be for a particular lesson. Handouts are incomplete. Materials not sorted. Equipment not working. These all result in wasted time where our students either have to wait for us to get ourselves organized or take advantage of the opportunity to do something not okay.
    Solution: Mentally rehearse a lesson well before you stand in front of students. In the car on the way to school work if you have a long enough commute.
  2. We don’t pace instruction correctly. Either students have to rush through the material without really internalizing the instruction, or they have nothing constructive to do after finishing their work for the day. Either way, we have caused students to not be as productive and successful as they could be.
    Solution: When you plan lessons, always have a backup plan and always have the next assignment ready so that students can transition seamlessly from one to the next. Sometimes giving students a checklist of things that they must do works well, too.
  3. We don’t monitor students carefully enough. Small problems can snowball with alarming speed. We’ve all been there—that awful moment when you realize that the whole group has misinterpreted the directions to an assignment and is growing more confused by the minute.                              
    Solution: Once you give directions for an assignment, spend at least ten minutes checking on your students before you sit down. That usually gives them enough time to encounter any problems. Stay on your feet and monitor.
  4. We forget how awful it is to have to ask ourselves, “Now what should I do? When we neglect to spend time on the prevention of problems, trouble will always happen. Even simple actions such as having a policy for managing bathroom breaks in place makes life easier for us all. It’s always better to think in terms of prevention instead of coping.                                                                                      
    Solution: Don’t hesitate to ask yourself what could go wrong when you are thinking about your classroom and your instruction. You’ll save yourself lots of problems if you can get into the habit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Ten Most Common Discipline Mistakes to Avoid

Although there are plenty of places where classroom discipline can go wrong, it is not too difficult to figure out that there are some mistakes that are absolutely going to cause problems for you and your students whenever they appear. Here is a quick list of the ten most common discipline mistakes. If you find yourself (like many of us) involved in one of these, try your best to avoid that mistake.
  1. Don’t take student misbehavior personally. Distance yourself emotionally from student misdeeds and remain objective.
  2. Don’t lose your temper; you will only appear foolish. Calm down and think before you act.
  3. Don’t create problems by tempting your students. Don’t leave valuables lying around, don’t leave the room unsupervised, and don’t allow opportunities for misbehavior because you are not monitoring.
  4. Don’t ever touch an angry student. Your innocent touch can be misconstrued.
  5. Don’t confront a student in front of the class. Not only will this create a disruption that will upset everyone who watches, but the misbehaving student may act even worse to avoid more embarrassment.
  6. Don’t neglect to intervene when a problem is small enough to be handled easily.
  7. Don’t label students negatively. Their behavior may be bad, but they are not bad people.
  8. Don’t be confrontational or order an angry student to comply with your demands. Adopt a problem-solving approach instead.
  9. Don’t assign academic work as punishment. The consequence should match the misbehavior.
  10. Don’t be too quick to send a student to an administrator. Handle your own problems as often as you can.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Checklist for the Successful Prevention of Behavior Problems--49 Ideas That Can Help

  1. _____    Change pace of lesson to meet needs of students
  2. _____    Provide transition activities between assignments
  3. _____    Make sure students know the relevance of their assignments
  4. _____    Deliver instructions in at least two modalities
  5. _____    Praise good behavior as often as possible
  6. _____    Teach and reteach classroom procedures
  7. _____    Enforce classroom rules consistently and fairly
  8. _____    Call a student’s home while a problem is still manageable
  9. _____    Contact a student’s home early in the year to create a supportive relationship
  10. _____    Stand in the same area of the classroom when asking for student attention
  11. _____    Set reasonable and clear boundaries and help students observe them
  12. _____    Present yourself in a professional manner at all times while you are at school
  13. _____    Be specific when giving directions
  14. _____    Make sure that your behavior directives are positive in tone
  15. _____    Listen patiently when students are expressing themselves
  16. _____    Provide a mixture of activities so that students can be successful
  17. _____    Celebrate your students’ successes
  18. _____    Make sure students have clearly expressed and obtainable goals
  19. _____    Design and deliver engaging instructional activities that encourage active learning
  20. _____    Model the courtesy you want from your students
  21. _____    Provide motivational activities to inspire your students to want to learn
  22. _____    Use encouragement to make sure that students know what to do to be successful.
  23. _____    Establish classroom signals so that students can seek help appropriately.
  24. _____    Follow school rules and observe school policies. Help your students to do the same.
  25. _____    Try to ignore as much of the small stuff as you can.
  26. _____    Make student success as visible as possible. Let students see their successes.
  27. _____    Offer appropriate tangible rewards as often as necessary and effective.
  28. _____    Encourage students to work together and help each other learn.
  29. _____    Move close to a student who is just beginning to misbehave.
  30. _____    Don’t turn your back on a class.
  31. _____    Don’t ever leave a classroom unattended.
  32. _____    Pay attention to the signs that your students are starting to be restless. Change the                    activity sooner rather than later.
  33. _____    Offer plenty of formative assessments so that your students will know what to do.
  34. _____    Stop horseplay as you as you can. It can quickly escalate into trouble.
  35. _____    Avoid giving students “free time.”
  36. _____    Carefully monitor your students throughout class. Move around.
  37. _____    Start to build positive and caring relationships with your students early in the year.
  38. _____    Present yourself as a well-prepared, knowledgeable teacher who is clearly in charge.
  39. _____    Never lower your academic or behavioral expectations for your students.
  40. _____    Offer help individually and to larger groups.
  41. _____    Try offering your students as many options about their work as possible.
  42. _____    Set up the traffic flow in your class so that students can move around easily.
  43. _____    Say, “What are you doing to help yourself learn right now?”
  44. _____    Make it easy for students to be willing to take a risk by encouraging an atmosphere of                tolerance.
  45. _____    Be so prepared for class that you can focus on your students .
  46. _____    Pay attention to the things that tend to trigger misbehavior and address them early.
  47. _____    Provide activities where students can interact productively with each other .
  48. _____    Arrange the desks in your classroom so that you can see every student and every                student can see you.
  49. _____    Have students settle to work as soon as they enter class by providing them with                engaging and useful bell work activities.

Friday, January 9, 2015

How to Manage Snow Days and Other Inclement Weather Events

Inclement weather takes many forms: bitter cold, hurricanes, tornadoes, excessive heat, floods…just about any weather event can turn into a school-closing inclement weather event very quickly. As teachers, we probably welcome the idea of an occasional happy day spent snug at home just as much as our students do. But the issue is far more complicated for us than it is for our students. Here are some things to think about the next day you have to miss school due to inclement weather.

        Be the responsible adult in the room and temper your personal enthusiasm for a day off—at least in front of your students. Not every student welcomes a snow day. For some, home is not the comfortable, safe haven that school should be. There may not be enough food or heat or the family dynamic may be dysfunctional. Be mindful of this as you help students manage the time away from school.

        Loading students up with homework or rushing them through a lesson is not the most productive way to catch up on missed work. Instead, be sensible. A little here and there over a few days of class will result in more learning and less stress for everyone. Shift your plans instead of rushing.

        Even if the time away from school is only one day, spend a few minutes reminding kids about the information from the previous class. Activate their prior knowledge. Get them back into the routine of thinking about school. Spending a few minutes on this will save you a great deal of time in the long run.

         Before demanding that homework be completed, check to make sure that your students have access to power and a place to work.

        If you have a class Web page or another way to communicate with students, touch base with them while they are not in school. Remind them what they need to bring to class. Remind them what the day’s schedule will be like. Communicate with them so that they can be as prepared for a productive return as possible.

        It’s always a good idea to leave your desk clean at the end of the day, but during the months when weather may make school difficult, it’s important to leave your classroom in good shape just in case you need a sub. Have a set of emergency plans, class rolls, seating charts, and anything else you can think of ready just in case you can’t get to school.

        Be kind. Ask kids what they did while they were not in school. If the weather event is extreme, they will want to share stories. Shared stories and good listening build a positive class atmosphere.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Classroom Problem Solved: Did We Do Anything While I Was Out?

It's tempting to respond sarcastically when a student who has been absent from class innocently asks, "Did we do anything while I was out?"  Unless there is a plan in place to help students find out what happened and what work they need to make up, everyone feels frustrated. One way to manage this is to create a class log book where students take turns keeping a record of the day's events. You can have individuals, pairs, or even small groups do this. Sharing the responsibility for helping their classmates stay on track is also a good way to build community in a class.

Begin by printing several copies of a form similar to the one below. File the blank forms in a large three ring binder. When class starts, the student or students who are responsible for keeping the log that day simply turn to the first blank page and fill it out as class progresses. Soon, the logs add up to a complete record of what has happened  in class.

When absent students return to class, they first check the class log to see what happened in class and then can check with you ask clarifying questions and to pick up missing assignments, handouts, or returned papers.

Class Log
Day of the Week and Date____________________________________________________________
Student Reporter___________________________________________________________________
Homework Assignments and Due Dates
Class Activities
Work Turned In

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fifty Lessons You May Have Learned This Year

1. If you’ll just listen to your students before taking action, you will avoid having to backtrack on many decisions that you had convinced yourself were sound ones.
2. Reinforcing good behavior is much more fun than punishing bad behaviors.
3. Parents are serious when they tell you that they would rather hear about a problem when it is small and solvable instead of a major headache. Don’t hesitate to call home. Do it early. Do it often.
4. It is crucial that you teach students how to do their work. They can’t learn study skills without guidance.
5. Asking students to tell you what they have learned from a lesson is more likely to elicit enduring knowledge than if you tell them what you think they should have learned.
6. Passing out materials can take forever and be a huge hassle until you figure out how to do it efficiently.
7. If a child misbehaves, sometimes all you have to do is move that student to another seat.
8. You have to give a rubric when actually making an assignment for it to be effective in guiding students as they make choices about their work.
9. It is always wise to think before you speak and to think again before you act.
10. Every now and then you should reexamine your classroom rules and procedures. Are they still working for you and your students?
11. Few students can succeed without your high expectations. You will get what you expect, so you may as well aim high.
12. Open-ended questions can be loads of fun for everyone in the class—including the teacher.
13. If you want to take a new approach to a topic under study, you can change the process or the product or both.
14. Document, document, document. Even the stuff that you think you will never need has a way of becoming necessary later.
15. Deeper understandings usually take longer to acquire. You can’t rush substance.
16. It’s important to laugh with your students.
17. Students will beg all week for free time and as soon as they have some, announce that they are bored.
18. Even young students need to be reminded of their future goals so that they will stay on task.
19. Learned helplessness is not an easy attitude to combat. It takes patience and determination and lots of time to undo its stubborn comfort. Be persistent. It’s worth the effort.
20. The worst behaved child in your class deserves your best efforts.
21. Determining the appropriate level of challenge in an assignment takes lots of practice.
22. Ask students to focus on essential questions and you will reap unexpected rewards.
23. Take a problem solving approach to discipline issues and you will be closer to having command of a situation.
24. The paperwork load at the end of the school year is truly staggering. Take it one page at a time.
25. Appealing to your students’ different learning styles can stretch a lesson to unforeseen depths.
26. For most students to consider work meaningful, they need to know how they can benefit from it right now.
27. For some students, a teacher is the lifeline to a world of possibility.
28. Students have a keen sense of fair play. They have an even keener awareness of unfair play.
29. Being positive about your school, your colleagues, your students, your classroom, and your workload beats being negative any day of the week.
30. Don’t hesitate to give a student a second chance. And hope for one in return.
31. When things are tough, remind yourself that what is bothering you probably won’t matter a year from now.
32. Who you are is more important to a child than what you say.
33. Three days is the absolute longest that a set of papers should remain ungraded and unreturned.
34. Teach tolerance every day. It takes a thousand small steps, but eventually they will add up.
35. Once that excited hum of busy students fills a classroom, you will find it easier to get out of bed and come back to school the next day.
36. Always have a backup plan. Your probably need a backup plan for your backup plan. Actually, having a file of backup plans is a great idea.
37. Teachers have to choose to do what’s best for their students, not what’s easiest.
38. Respect comes from the many small things you do in the classroom every day.
39. Teach your students an important life skill: to clean up after themselves every day.
40. Students need to be taught listening skills. Just a few minutes every day will make a big difference.
41. Sarcasm is an unfair weapon to use against a child.
42. Active learners rarely have time to complain.
43. No single approach holds all the answers. It takes a multifaceted methodology to reach every child every day.
44. If you smile at a child who is getting ready to misbehave, you will often confuse that child into good behavior instead.
45. Teaching, in order to be successful, must be a purposeful activity.
46. If you want to reduce discipline issues, connect with your students. If you want to connect with your students, listen more than you speak.
47. You have to create a reasonable policy about how and when students are allowed to leave the room and stick to it.
48. Teachers who can learn to accept constructive criticism gracefully--no matter who gives it--will avoid burnout.
49. Setting group goals is an excellent way to have students figure out how to work well together.
50. The ability to see the future in the face of a child is the sustaining hallmark of a great teacher.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tracking Behavior Interventions for a Difficult Class

Behavior Interventions for a Difficult Class
Difficult classes come in all types--the one where students come in after lunch wild from running through the halls, the one where students want to pack up early and never, ever do any work, the one where student punch each other when you are not looking, and the one where students shout out inane words in an effort to annoy each other and you. The list could be endless. Sigh.
When confronted with a difficult class, there are lots of viable options to take to help them learn to control themselves. One action that you can take is to be as systematic as possible in your approach. Here is a little form to help you do just that.
Behavior Interventions for a Difficult Class
Period__________ Major Concerns________________________________________________________
Level of Success
 1: Not successful             2: Somewhat successful  but needs modification                  3: Successful      
Date of Intervention
Level of Success
Recorded or videoed self to determine how I could be contributing to the problem
Asked a colleague to observe the class and provide feedback
Analyzed the time use by students at the start of class, during various activities, and at the end of class
Made sure that expectations are clearly expressed in several modalities and taught to students
Made sure that procedures for all activities are in place and known to students
Made sure that students are aware of the class rules and the positive consequences for following rules as well as the negative consequences for disregarding rules
Held individual conferences with key students
Held a brief conference with entire class to solicit their suggestions
Used exit tickets or other written formats to elicit student suggestions
Adjusted the pace and types of instruction
Increased student choices or options for instructional activities
Praised positive behavior of entire class
Gave class positive labels to use to identify themselves
Mad their successes as concrete and visible as possible
Involved other staff members in creating solutions
Involved the parents or guardians of students in creating solutions
Shared a pleasant activity together to build a sense of community
Made sure everyone has access to materials and supplies
Worked with individual students to set and achieve goals
Worked with entire class to set and achieve group goals
Made sure that the level of work is neither too easy or too difficult so that students will find it easy to stay on task
Used all available class time in a productive way
Offered a variety of relevant learning activities including games and technology based instruction
Taught students a courteous way to respond or to behave
Included motivational activities in the lesson to increase engagement
Provided opportunities for students to be in the spotlight for positive reasons
Established signals for students to indicate that they need help
Involved students in as many helpful roles in the classroom as possible
Established ways for students to help each other in productive ways
Offered a combination of tangible and intangible rewards
Taught students how to modulate their noise levels
Made it obvious that the purpose of class is to learn and not to misbehave
Posed encouraging mottoes to remind students to stay focused
Allowed students to redo a failed assignment for credit so that they have a reason to continue to work
Communicated a strong belief in the ability that students have to succeed
Established predictable routines so that students know what to do
Provided different role models and mentors for students
Appealed to a variety of learning styles in each lesson
Established a time-out area in another area of the school so that students can gain self-control
Gave a student a second chance
Made sure the lesson was as exciting as possible
Gave written and verbal directions that are easy for students to follow
Made sure the traffic flow of the class is conducive to on-task behavior
Offered frequent checks for understanding to reduce frustration
Involved students’ interests in the lesson
Acknowledged student effort
Ignored as much bad behavior as was possible and prudent
Asked students to help teach a lesson
Varied instructional activities so that students could interact as well as work independently
Kept expectations for academic and behavioral success high