Saturday, March 26, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
“How old is she?” I asked.
“Is it too much for her? After a long day at school she maybe tired. How long is the tuition class?”
"It’s for 90 minutes and only three days a week. The other days she goes to one of those Maths training classes,” the mom said.
Flashcards for a year old baby, sight words for 2 year olds, academic classes for 3 and 4 year olds, 90 minutes of tuition for 6 and 7 year olds… What happened to play time?
I remember my mother’s advice when I used to play with my niece when she was a baby.
“Don’t pick her up all the time. She needs to be able to move around and explore.”
“Put the toy at the right distance—she will try to reach for it.”
“Sing and talk to the baby—the more you play the more she’ll interact.”
As my niece grew older there were other directions:
“Wait for her to tell you what she wants. Wait for her to show you. Don’t do it for her.”
“Play different kinds of games with her—she won’t get bored.”
“Play games where you describe the object or the action. How you talk to her is important.”
“Don’t manage her time completely—otherwise she’ll never know how to keep herself occupied."
My mom studied only up to 5th standard (as was the custom in those days). She insists that this is just common sense, not some fancy child development theory. I agree. But I hear from many parents who want to manage their children’s time and development so much that there is no time for play. They believe that this will make their children smarter, faster...the list is long.
Research shows that flashing cards at a young age doesn’t do anything for the child’s cognitive development. On the other hand play does!!!
So, look at your child’s weekly schedule. Does she/he spend more time going to organized classes or does she/he play more? I hope it is the latter. I bet your child does too.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
We never thought the 'clean and organized' woman would ever be able to tolerate an indoor pet, let alone a dog. But she put things in perspective for us.
One of the schools I worked had an amazing program where our student went horse riding for therapeautic purposes. In the process they learnt to groom, feed and care for the animals. It was fun to watch temperamental and irritable students turn gentle and caring, and inhibit some of their instincts because they didn't want to spook the animals.
If you work with kids, I'm sure you have seen that same care and trust when they interact with animals.
In this light here is an article from NY Times:
Monday, March 14, 2011
What are your choices?
If you ignore her, she is going to get ‘louder’ and others may join her. There will be a shift in who controls the class. Are you ready for that? Some teachers chose to do so. A few students regularly acted out during my schooldays and the teacher continued to teach—for the front benchers. The rest of us struggled to hear the teacher with all that disruption. Those kids were labeled as ‘difficult’ and nothing was ever done—to identify the cause or manage the behavior. I hope someone (teacher or not) reached out to them to redirect their lives.
If you decide to handle the behavior, how do you go about it? Do you have a plan in mind or do you send the student straight to the principal’s office? When do you involve the parents? Or do you not inform them? Do you follow a sequence of steps?
First, don’t take it personally. It is possible the student doesn’t like you. Even then, don’t let the student know you know that.
Remind the student about what is acceptable behavior at that point in class. “Please open your book to page 33. We are going to discuss the events leading to World War II.” Yes, do use the word ‘please.’ It tells the student that you are in control of the situation and you are still going to be respectful. Most students will get back on task—especially when the teacher has not reacted to their challenge.
There will always be that student who wants to take it further. What then? Find out if there is a valid reason (from the student’s point of view) for that particular behavior. “Why don’t you get your book out now and you can come and talk to me about your problem at the end of the period.” If the student is in a stressful situation, that reassurance will help redirect her back to task. Your lesson can continue for the benefit of all the students and you can help her at the appropriate time (end of the period).
There is no valid reason and the student refuses to cooperate. Now remind the student that her actions have consequences. “If you don’t take your book out you won’t know what we are talking about. If you don’t participate in the lesson you will have to …” Keep the consequence relevant and manageable. Once you state the consequence, you must carry it out.
If the disruptive behavior persists, carry out the consequence. Let the parents know. Keep parents in the loop and work with them to handle the problems. Does this mean you send a letter to them asking them to meet with you for every small problem? No, but they should be aware of their child’s behavior, especially when there seems to be a chain of incidents. Remember, behavioral issues in the classroom should be dealt with in the classroom. If you ask parents to give consequences for infractions in the classroom, the student will not respond to you.
Some behaviors obviously do not follow this rule of wait and see. Hitting, cheating, stealing, bullying, etc need parental involvement right from the beginning. Both parents and teachers must send a clear message that these behaviors are unacceptable under any conditions.
Some parents give children mixed messages about this. They say, “My child has to know how to handle bullies or kids who are violent. I tell him/her to hit back.” Not on school grounds, definitely not on my watch!” is my answer. I will address this in a different post but on the same note,
teachers, you should never, ever, ever, ever, ever lay your hand on a child to reinforce the rules. Hitting a child is an absolute NO under any circumstance!
I know someone or the other will say how they were caned by their teacher and turned out ok..but is is for the rest of us to say whether you turned out ok or not!
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Her reaction is engraved in my memory and has helped me sustain my interest in planning my lessons.
Think back to your own school days. Which classes did you enjoy? Which subject was interesting/challenging/rewarding? Was it actually the subject or was it the way the teacher presented the material? Now, did you misbehave in these classes or were you on your best behavior?
What does this have to do with classroom management, do you ask? A well planned lesson keeps the students engaged. There is no opportunity to be disruptive or get up to ‘mischief.’ Even if a student starts something, the others are going to redirect him/her without teacher intervention.
Haven’t we all had teachers who bored us to death? Does the following list sound familiar? Come on, be honest!
- Whisper (the meek ones) or talk out of turn
- Look out the window/stare into space
- Write notes to each other
- Share jokes/laugh loudly/draw/doodle
- Read storybooks
- Throw paper planes, paper balls and other objects
- Pull your neighbor’s hair/ clothes
- Interrupt the lesson with random comments
(I admit I got carried away with the list).
The point is, there are a lot of teachers who know their subject matter very well but don’t know how to present the information in an interesting and interactive manner. They stand in front of the classroom, drone on for 45 minutes without a break and teach to the brightest (who’ve already understood the concept). The rest of the students know they’ll catch up that evening during tuitions. So how do they pass the time in class? By being disruptive!
So teachers, look at your lesson plan. It’s not just about the printed material in the books. Bring other props and real life examples of your topic to class. Make your lessons interactive. Ask your students to research a topic and lead discussions. Take a back seat and ask them to teach. You can always add the missing pieces. Divide your period into two or three activities. If you lecture for the first half of the period, do you have a hands on activity planned for the next half? If you find your students are lethargic, think on your feet. Can you set aside your planed activity and do something completely different?
Make your students want to come to your class to learn. This is where your skill as a teacher comes in…Oh, and do remember that teaching is a skill.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
No secret recipe there…it came down to the teacher!
- Had clear behavioral expectations,
- Were consistent in their follow up of rules
- Showed enthusiasm for their subject
- Were organized and
- Made the lesson interesting.
All these teachers recognized the importance of the rules. Interestingly, some didn't realize how explicit their directions were in this regard. One teacher said, "Oh, now that you mention it I guess I do explain to my class about how they should behave with me and with their friends. I suppose if all teachers (in our school) followed the same system of rules, we reinforce those skills again and again." "Maybe the parents can also reinforce these rules, especially those which impact social skills," another teacher added.
A lot of these rules are important not only in the classroom. They shape the students for the work place, social groups, etc. Don't we get irritated at the person who talks all the time without letting us say a word? Don't we avoid the person who tattles on others?
Take a minute to assess the following behaviors. Do your students:
- Follow directions the first time?
- Wait for their turn?
- Keep their hands and feet to themselves? (no hitting, pushing, etc)
- Modify their volume based on the environment? (using softer volume inside the classroom versus being loud during recess and playground)
- Respect other students’ belongings?
- Listen quietly when others speak?
- Use polite speech and body language? (includes no teasing)
- Place their belongings in the right place?
- Take care of own behavior instead of carrying tales about others?
- Stay on task?
- Stay in seat?
For those who teach older students, here are additional requirements:
- Are they on time?
- Bring all the necessary classroom materials?
- Start work within a minute of teacher direction?
- Use a quiet voice during discussions and small group activities? (doesn’t disturb other groups)
- Do their best in class?
No matter which level you teach, these are absolute No-Nos:
- No cheating
- No profanity
- No bullying
- No hitting
Your answers will tell you which rules/social skills your students need to learn. For example, it is very typical of students to point out others’ mistakes or behavior. I bet you’ve heard several, “Miss, Miiiisssssss, he is not doing his work, Miiiissss,” in your years of teaching.
Besides being annoying (yes, tattling is an annoying habit), it takes away from your instruction time. When child B is tattling, he isn’t doing his work either.
I use a simple reminder, “You take care of yourself and I (the teacher) will take care of the others.” You let the child know that it is your job to monitor others’ behavior without being abrupt and rude yourself.
The need to be first in everything is a similar issue. It is typical of children to want to be first. They want to be the first to answer your question, share stories after the vacation breaks, and to do special ‘helper’ jobs in the classroom. I’ve been in several classrooms where all students rush to participate at the same time. Let me tell you something—it is quite loud and difficult to get a good picture of the student’s skills and abilities. It is natural for five year olds to want to talk at the same time. But a seven year old or a ten year old—they need to learn to wait for their turn and listen quietly when a peer is answering. Besides facilitating learning (the other student’s contribution may be more informative), it is also a very important social skill!
So go back to your classroom and see how you can put these rules in place. You’ll definitely be able to cover your portions on time because you spend more time on instruction and less on managing behaviors.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
“O.K., I’ll wait until you are done,” the other student replied and the issue was resolved without any intervention from us adults.
At the beginning of the school year we sat with our students and drew up a list of classroom rules. They were very simple and focused on individual and group rights and responsibilities. The first month I directed my students to these rules and the reason behind them quite explicitly. For example, “Raise your hand and wait for your turn. I will call your name when it is your turn. If all of you talk at the same time, everything sounds jumbled and I won’t be able to understand you.” As the year progressed we noticed how often our students used the reason behind each rule to navigate through social interactions.
Society requires all of us to follow certain basic rules. No one is born with an understanding of these rules. They have to be taught explicitly to children. Teachers play an important role in this as children spend most of their waking hours in the classroom.
What should teachers do?
- Draw up a set of rules with your students at the beginning of the school year.
- Post these rules prominently in the classroom. If you teach young children, use pictures along with the words on your poster.
- Keep the rules simple.
- Explain how everyone has to follow rules-at school, at home, at work.
- Finally, discuss the reason behind these rules.
In our Indian school system we place a lot of emphasis on following rules as means of showing respect to the teachers. Yes, following directions does show respect but that isn’t all, is it? The ultimate purpose behind rules is to teach our students to be responsible members of society. Society functions smoothly only when its citizens understand that rights come with responsibilities.
In the classroom this translates into
- Following directions
- Waiting for your turn
- Respecting others’ belongings and their person
- Using polite language
Rules help prevent behavioral challenges. When students know what behavior is acceptable, they will try to emulate the same. What happens if these rules are not followed in the classroom? The teacher spends less time teaching and more time managing behaviors. Some students may become disruptive, others disinterested and distracted.
To be continued...
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Changes in instructional methods creep up on us:) and leave us open for new ideas. This includes the seating arrangment of the students. Cooperative activities and, large and small group instructional activities require different arrangements. If students face each other in small groups, you set the tone for interactive learning. Typically seating is not fixed for the entire year. Group interactions change as the year progresses, as do the learning progress. Teachers keep this in mind and change seating arrangements to suit the evolving group dynamics.
Whether you arrange the desks in groups of four or in a big U, make sure there is room for you and other teachers to move amongst all students. If you are in the front of the class, you will be able to keep track of those students who are right next you. Students weaker in the subject or with difficulties (behavioral or learning) move to the back to ‘avoid’ being in the limelight. Make sure the desk arrangement doesn’t cut off access to these students.
If you have several small groups, keep an eye on how the students interact. The group size should be manageable and students’ interactions should facilitate leaning.
Supplies And Teaching Materials:
Where do the students keep their books and other supplies? Is there sufficient room for the materials to be kept in an organized manner? What about your teaching materials? As a teacher, nothing annoys me annoying than having to carry big props from class to class. Is there room for you to leave the props and materials in the classroom?
How well do you use the wall space? A lot of incidental learning happens in the classroom when students walk up to a chart, comment on the pictures, the ideas, etc. Do you have visual props on the walls? Do you display students’ work in the classroom? Young students especially love to look at their drawings or their writing sample and talk to one another about their work. Take care to maintain order—displays should encourage students to comment, refer and discuss without being a distraction.
There is another important reason to have displays on the walls. Our classrooms don’t have carpeting and acoustic tiles, central AC or heating. There is a loud fan though. Covering the walls reduces the echo in the classroom. I’ve been in classrooms which look clean and bright but the echo is so bad that the students can’t hear the teacher’s directions. If students can’t hear your directions, chances are that they will make mistakes in their work or engage in distracting behavior.
Every classroom should have a reading area with comfortable chairs and accessible bookshelves. This is particlarly important in primary classrooms. Students should have the opportunity to grab a book and read if they complete their work before the others. It keeps them occupied and encourages them to read independently. Try sending an agitated or overactive student to the calm reading area for a few minutes. This is a great non intrusive way of calming the student and getting him back on track.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I asked in return, “What do you think?”
“Actually I know you like me.” Then she continued, “How about Savitha? Do you like her?”
“Yes I do. I like all the children in the class,” I replied.
“Do you like Arun too? He’s always naughty in class!” she exclaimed.
“Yeah, I like Arun too. I like you all for different things. You follow the rules very well. I appreciate it because it helps the class go smoothly. Savitha is always cheerful and she tries her best in everything. I like that in her. Arun is very kind to some of the children who need extra help. I like that in him…”
“Oh, ok…that is good that you like all of us,” she nodded and turned to chat with her table mate.
I could see that she was happy with my answer. It made me realize how careful I should be in my interactions with all my students and especially Arun! If she thought Arun may not be liked because of his behavior, what did Arun feel after my redirection/correction?
Teachers, take a minute to understand how you interact with your students. How do you focus on the following:
Do you address the students with respect? What about your body language? How about the volume? Are you aware of the changes in you when you get frustrated at a student's work or behaviour?
In any given classroom students show a range of abilities. Do you recognize all students’ efforts and achievements (whatever their level)? Students don't always have a clear picture of their strengths and weaknesses. A teacher may think a student is performing within range but a child with poor self esteem or anxiety may feel that his work is poor. It is important to bring it to the student's attention by saying, "Last month you had difficulty writing five sentences about the topic. But now, you are able to write these sentences without any help from me." Never mind that another child is writing short paragraphs about the topic. Do not compare the performance of two students. Instead track individual student's progress over a period of time.
Do you expect positive behavior? Have you made your expectations clear to your students? Too often, children hear how bad their behavior is. Instead make it a point to say, "I know you can wait for your turn. I want you to try." Students start out school wanting to please the adults.
Are you fair? Do the students perceive you as being fair? This is a tricky one. As I mentioned in my anecdote, students want us to be fair with the whole class. Sometimes, being fair means making accommodations for one child.
One of my students who was too young to be diagnosed with ADHD (but very obviously was impulsive and hyperactive) got into trouble every evening at pick up time. We came up with an activity+supervision for him. The most rule abiding, helpful child was also being picked up at the same time. We made sure that she wasn't left out of the activities just because she didn't have any 'problems.'
At the same time, there were certain accommodations made for him in our class which couldn't be replicated for the others. We explained to the rest of the class, that some kids need different kinds of help and they had to accept the rule we set out for them. Once we discussed this openly, the other students stopped asking us why they couldn't do the same chores.
As you can see, it's 80% attitude and 20% quick thinking:)
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The teacher sets the tone for emotional safety in the classroom. How does a good teacher accomplish this?
Show respect to the students:
In India, we talk a lot about students respecting their teachers. It works both ways. How we use language to encourage, redirect and correct academic work, and behavior plays a big role in this. People tend to think this is mollycoddling the students. There is a school of thought which equates discipline with corporal punishment. They focus more on 'stopping the child from doing the wrong thing.' In the process we forget that a child learns more from observing our actions. So give respect first.
A year ago, I was in an 8th standard classroom. One student decided to be goofy and challenge the teacher. Others started laughing and encouraged him even more. The teacher redirected him to the task, “Kannan, can you please derive the answer to question 1?” Kannan came up and even as he solved the problem (on the board), he kept up the ‘clown act.’
The teacher quickly realized that she had provided him with a stage for his act. She went right up to him and whispered, “If you continue to be goofy, it is disrespectful to me and to your classmates. If something is the matter, stop and talk to me after class. This period is not only for your learning but also for your classmates. If you continue with the behavior we’ll have to look at consequences.”
Not surprisingly, Kannan stopped his behavior and focused on the question.
Let’s look at what happened in this situation.
- Addressed the behavior but realized her mistake quickly
- Addressed Kannan’s behavior in a different manner
- Was very respectful—no name calling, no threats and no loud denunciation in front of the whole class
- Explained how Kanna’s behavior affected her and the other student.
- Gave Kannan a way to save face
- Let him know that there will be consequences for his behaviors
- By addressing Kannan’s behavior she was ensured the safety and progress of her other students.
This teacher paved the way for a safe learning environment through her tone, language and actions. Later in the evening, I mentioned this incident. Her remark was, “Oh Kannan is a nice child—he knows the rules. He needs a few reminders every now and then.” I had a very pleasant time in this classroom.
To be continued...