Mississippi Teacher Corps

Friday, November 10, 2006

Required blog: classroom management

My original classroom management plan went a little like this. Expectations: no gum; keep arms, legs, and objects to yourself; raise your hand to speak and listen while others are speaking; be prepared; respect others. Rewards: verbal praise, high five or high ten, cookies for the class, letter home, stickers, star student award. Consequence latter: warning, detention, office referral. Other consequences: move seat, phone call home, loss of priveleges, pop quiz for the class. I've stuck to it, mostly, with some changes.
I'm still trying to work out a good warning system. A few weeks into school, I started writing names on the board as warnings, and placing checks next to names to indicate detention. It helped me keep track of everything, it made it clear to the students that they were being warned, and it meant that I didn't have to interrupt myself to verbally warn a kid. I like this system, but I've been trying to move more from using the board to using the overhead projector, which means that I have to walk around to write names on the board and lose time and focus. About a month into school, I realized that I was letting too many minor things go because I couldn't issue detentions to half the class every day. I added an intermediate consequence between a warning and a detention: copying definitions out of the back of the book for homework. Ten words for every check next to your name, double the number of words if you hand it in a day late, detention if you still don't turn it in, and it's your responsibility to remember to give me thte words. I'm thinking about abolishing this consequence, since so few kids do the assignment. My principal actually suggested that I skip straight to detention because of the lag time involved: I have to submit approval forms to the principal every time I write a detention, then fill out two copies of a detention form, get the kid to sign one copy (which sucks because there is no good way to do it quickly without the inevitable, "What I do? That wasn't me! How many days I gotta go? What day I gotta go?" and my school does not have enough passing time that I can just ask the kids to stay after class and take care of it all right then) and give the other copy to the kid, send the whole thing back to the office (and possibly get evil looks from the secretary) several days before the detention gets issued. Bottom line: lots of paperwork, lots of delay. I'm giving out detentions like crazy but really wish I could figure out something else to do because of all the paperwork involved.
I had some clear ideas about how I would like the procedures in my class to work, many of which didn't work because of the weird half-class-half-lab setup of my room. I recently rearranged the room so that kids are sort of sitting in rows (albeit facing sideways and cornered on one side of the room), which makes it easier to enforce ideals I had like feet on the ground, bags under your chair. A recent procedure that I instituted that's revolutionized the start of class is a 6 minute time limit on the bell-ringer from the time the bell rings. In other words, 6 minutes to get your binder, sharpen your pencil (these were huge time-wasters), settle down, write the question and answer. After 6 minutes, I stamp the ones that are done, and I count up the number of stamps each kid has at the end of the week. The first day, almost no kids finished in some of my periods, but now they are almost all doing it.
Office referrals are the hot topic of the moment for me, since my principal has recently expressed concern about the number of detentions and referrals I write. At my school, teachers are supposed to write an office referral, not send the student out, and wait for the office to call the student down (which may take hours or days), unless the student is "an immediate threat to the learning environment". With almost all of my office referrals, I end up sending the kid out because if I could conduct class with the kid in my room, I wouldn't need to be writing an office referrral in the first place. I've been frustrated with how little the administration has done lately with the kids I've sent to the office: reprimand them, paddle them, and send them back to my class the next day, and have consequently been writing up the same kids over and over again. I tried to discuss this with my principal but didn't find the conversation particularly fruitful. We are allowed to send students to the guidance counselor for behavior issues, which I may start doing more if the administrators aren't doling out adequate consequences. I've also been sending students into the hall and making them wait to talk to me. More often than not, I'll just hand the student an office referral and say, "Go," but I'll sometimes step out and have a talk with them about their behavior and letting them back in the room on the condition that they stop whatever it was they were doing. The biggest problem I have with my consequences is that I have no serious consequence that is immediate, other than office referrals.
I've added a reward that I really like. It's very simple and informal: a student does well in class one day, I call the kid back as the rest of the class is leaving, I give the kid a piece of candy. This one is really fun because I call the kid back in a serious tone, see the kid some back with a really concerned look, ask me, "Ms. Long Skirt Blue Jacket, am I in trouble?" and then get to smile at the kid and say, "No, I just wanted to tell you that you did really well in class today. Here's a piece of candy. Can you do that again tomorrow?" Letters home are similarly fun.
I've been lazy on my classroom reward system. I have a line drawn on my board with a sad face on one end and a happy face on the other, and have a construction paper cut-out of a car for each period. Good behavior moves the car forward and bad behavior moves it backward. Hit the sad face, I give the class a pop quiz on behavior expectations, hit the happy face and I bake cookies for the class. Part of the difficulty with this is that I haven't figured out consistent increments or anything of the sort, so it's all fairly arbitrary whether I move the car and how much I move it, and I've been largely ignoring the cars. Third period has never really moved past the sad face, and no one has earned cookies yet, although sixth period has been lingering close to the happy face for quite some time. I'm wondering if I should figure out a more consistent system for moving the cars or if I should just focus my time and energy on other things.


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