Saturday, May 25, 2013

Don't Let Crazy Teacher Take Over

I can't stress enough how vital a good classroom management system is to having an enjoyable teaching career. You can have the most amazing lesson plan, but without the right foundation it turns into this:

And before you know it crazy teacher takes over and says something like . . .

Oh, it's happened to us all.

When you get to this point, you've lost your students, you've lost your potentially great lesson plan, and you're close to losing your mind. But it needn't get to this point! And why don't people use the word needn't more often?

After a few years of experience, and what research backs, I've found that classroom management boils down to two major points:

  • Clear Expectations
  • Consistent Positive and Negative Consequences

The students need to know exactly what is expected of them and they need to know that when they follow the rules there will consistently be positive consequences and when they don't follow the rules there will consistently be negative consequences. Every time.

When my students seem to be extra rowdy*, the vast majority of the time I can pin it down to me either not giving them clear expectations, or not following through with consequences. The exceptions being the day before Christmas break and that awful, awful day after Halloween when no teacher should be held accountable for the way their class acts.
I just had seven bowls of skittles for breakfast!
Now try to teach me something! Go on, it'll be funny!
So here's what I do! It works for me wonderfully, but every teacher is different. This is just the basic system, and works for the majority of students. Some students require special additions and modifications to make it work for them.

Step 1: The Point Cards

This one is actually in pretty decent shape. 

All my students have cards and a dry erase marker to keep track of the points they earn in my class. You let your students keep track of their own points? Don't they cheat? Yup. Yeah, they cheat. At first. But the good news is that kids are really, really bad at cheating and they are really, really good at tattling on each other.

Either it's painfully obvious they've given themselves extra points . . .
Why, Garrett, I don't recall giving you all those points.

Or another kid is sure to let you know. If I catch them cheating, they lose all their points for the day and in general the cheating fades after a week. For me, it's well worth not having to keep track of all their points.

At the end of each day, I record their points and erase their cards. They start fresh the next day.

Step 2: The Rules
Keep them short and use concrete language**. Then review, review, review them the first couple of weeks, along with the consequences. Here are mine:

Step 3: The Consequences
Choose consequences that you are actually going to follow through with. Things you can and will actually do, every time. Mine are very simple and therefore I consistently do them. The first couple of weeks I choose a volunteer to be my misbehaving student, then we act out what the consequences will be for not following the rules until they know exactly what will happen. No surprises.

  • Warning—"Garrett, remember to raise your hand."  I remind them to follow the rules.
  • Flip Card—"No seriously Garrett, raise your hand."  Next step is to flip their card. When the card is flipped they are ineligible for points. If I award the class a point and someone can't get one because their card is flipped, it's painful for them, and effective.
  • Take Card—"GARRETT. RAISE YOUR HAND."  The next step is to take the card away. If I still have it at the end of class, they lose all of their points for that day. 
  • Contact Parent—"Your mother is going to be disappointed you didn't raise your hand."

Two important points about the consequences:

  1. I never erase points and I never take away points they've earned from previous days. It just doesn't work, and it's not really fair. One bad day shouldn't erase a week's worth of good days.
  2. They can always get their card back, or their card flipped back over by following the rules again. If taking their card away is final, they can lose motivation early on in the class.

Step 4: The Store

It's not all negative! Those points actually mean something, though I suspect I might be able to just give them meaningless points for a few months and they wouldn't catch on. But these points are worth something.

I give them school money for their points and every so often we have a class store day where they get to spend their money. The schedule depends on the age of the students. My store is mostly made of free things. Some great ideas:

  • Free Time
  • Teacher's Chair (This means they get to sit in the teacher's chair for the day. Oh man, they go nuts for this.)
  • Homework Pass (Usually so many points equals one problems off)
  • Teacher for the Day (Not really the whole day, but I let them do something that normally I do. I can't believe they actually pay to let me have a break for a few minutes.)
  • Ask your students! They will have plenty of ideas.

And there you have it! 

*Do people still use this word? I don't think I've heard it since the 90's. But it's the first one that popped into my head. Am I old? Is that why I used it? Am I getting old? Am I going to be complaining about all the rowdy kids on my lawn soon?

**For a more thorough post on rules, go here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Please Go. Anytime Now.

Little kids take . . . forever . . . to do anything, am I right?

This was one of the things that caught me off-guard when I began teaching younger children. A child would be gone for about an hour and when asked where they went would say, "to get a drink." A drink? For an hour? How could anyone ever take that long to do anything? Oh, but they do. When they're six, they do.

What was most maddening to me was to get them all to go somewhere. Announcing, "Everyone please line up at the door," would result in three or four kids meandering somewhat towards the door, with a few stops or side-projects along the way. Some might glance towards the door as though they really are considering going there sometime, maybe even today. The result certainly wasn't ever my students all lining up at the door.

Typical response from my students
 when asked to do something.

Yes, it takes them a long time to do things, but the upside is that you can pretty much convince them that anything is super fun if you present it in the right way. Which leads me to a couple tips on transitions that have worked for me.

1) The Magic Word

It's so simple, but so...magical. Here's a sample dialogue of how it works.

Teacher: When I say "banana", everyone line up at the door. What will you do?
Students: Line up at the door.
Teacher: Ban...dana.
(a few students stir)
Teacher: Banono.
(less students stir)
Teacher: Banana
(All students magically line up at the door at a fascinating speed)
My students love this. A variation is to let the students choose the word, which they love even more. I say, "Everyone line up as soon as I say. . ." then choose a volunteer to come up with the word. And one more variation is to let a student choose the word and say the word (while trying to trick the other students), but this depends on their ability level.

2) I Don't Know What to Call This One

This involves physical activity and attentive listening, and also demonstrates their understanding of a subject. And they think they're having fun! I use this when we are done with a group activity or meeting and they need to go back to their seats.

Teacher:  When I say go, start doing jumping jacks (or physical activity of your choice). When you hear the right answer to the problem, stop and return to your seats. The problem is 5 + 5. Think of the answer in your mind. Go!
(Students begin jumping jacks, or other physical activity of your choice.)
Teacher: 7. . . 8 . . . 3 . . . 10
(Students stop jumping jacks and return to their seats.)

Again, works like a charm.

What transition methods work for you? I'm always looking for new ideas.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Compound Words

Are you looking for an excellent detailed lesson plan about compound words with aesthetically pleasing worksheets? Sorry. I'm sorry, that's not what you're going to get. But if you're looking for a quick compound word worksheet that looks like someone made it in about 15 minutes using Word and some clip art, you're in luck!

But, really, it's a fun worksheet. The students like it because it's like solving a puzzle and it helps solidify the concept of compound words as being two words that make a new word when squished together.

Here are a couple tips for teaching it.
1) Introduce the concept by holding up a yellow and blue crayon and asking what students think will happen when they put the colors together. Demonstrate that when we put two colors together it makes a new color and sometimes when we put two words together it makes a new word. 
2) Tell the students they are going to be detectives and to get out their imaginary magnifying glasses. When you pass out the worksheet have them use their magnifying glasses to solve each compound word puzzle.
3) After they solve each clue ask, "What type of word is this?" Or they will quickly forget what a compound word is.
4) Have the students stretch their arms out and squish them together as they say, "compound word." Getting them to do something physical while saying the word always helps for recall later.

Soon, I plan to actually make that excellent detailed lesson plan with aesthetically pleasing worksheets. So, that link will show up here one of these days**. But for now, here's the link to the free download:

If you do end up using it, let me know of any other teaching tips to make it a more effective lesson!

** Did it!

*Pop quiz! How many compound words can you find in this post? The winner gets nothing. Not even a sense of pride.