Saturday, September 26, 2009

SuperSpeed teaches ... kindness

I set aside a little time at the end of class to play the SuperSpeed 1000 fluency game from Power/Whole Brain Teaching. My students work in pairs daily and know to turn to a neighbor.

Of course, someone is always absent, and I need to make adjustments. On this day, I scanned the empty seats, then asked Sammy and Johnny to work together. Sammy rebeled, shouting loudly, "Who? Johnny?! No way! I hate that kid; I'm not working with him!" By now I am down to my last five minutes of class. If the rest were to play, we needed to keep moving. No time for even a quick conference asking on what level this behavior was, etc.

Soooo -- I told Sammy he could go next door while we played. I swapped Johnny to another student, and I played with the odd man out.

Sammy sputtered. "No! Wait! Let me play with Tommy! No? Okay, okay; I'll play with Johnny. I want to play!"

It was beautiful.

Now, Sammy is one of the most charismatic kids on team. He is a bonafide leader. When he speaks, kids listen. Except for today. Everyone moved ahead and had a blast with the game, while he protested and fussed.

I met with Sammy later that day, one-on-one, after he'd cooled off. His temper flared when he remembered; "I really wanted to play!" I explained that my feelings are hurt easily, and if he had refused to play with me, I'd have gone home crying. I won't let kids say mean things to or about him, and I won't let him say mean things to or about anyone else. Now, no one would ever take on this kid. He is the definition of popularity. Would he be able to understand how his words hurt Johnny? I am happy to report ... yes, he could. He literally hung his head. We spoke a bit more. I agreed to try to avoid pairing him with Johnny, if he would agree not to complain about any partner in the future. We have a deal.

In the past, I might have issued a detention, then maybe a referral for his arguing and refusing to leave. This would never have helped him reflect on, own, and potentially change his behavior.

Thank you Chris Biffle for the game. Thank you Fay & Funk for logical consequences. Thank you Marvin Marshall for Raising Responsibility.

Next week -- I really, really, really intend to discuss KINDNESS in class meetings!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From "I hate this class" to "I was Level C today, Miss!" in 60 minutes flat

Sammy, a third-year student (in our two-year school) had a rough day. He was doing virtually no work, and, instead, was holding court among his many admirers. (Sammy happens to be a particulary charismatic middle school specimen.) Ultimately, he had to go next door. He did not go quietly. This is a departure from the book, where miscreants own their level B behavior and willingly slink away. Clearly, I am doing something wrong.

Next day, my proud young man boldy marched into class professing his loathing for school in general and my class in particular. I don't know what Marshall would have me say. I do know what I did say. "I love you too, Sammy; nice to have you here today. Thanks for coming. Have a seat, hon."

Well, if nothing else, his entrance reminded me to refer often to what level C/D behavior would look like as we moved through various activities. I remembered to ask students to reflect on their choices, and thanked those who chose the higher ground.

And Sammy? Sammy had a great day. He worked hard, and begged me to acknowledge that I'd observed level C (or D! I can't tell, can I?) behavior from him. Clearly, I am doing something right.

Thanks, Marshall!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The sweetest visit - muffins and SM

I could not teach without the possibility that the students I fall in love with will reappear now and then.

Today was especially sweet.

Two former students stopped by. This is not unusual. What is unusual is that one of the boys struggles with Selective Mutism. I worked very closely with him all last year, but this very fact makes it all but impossible for him to talk to me. Further, the awkward act of reentering an old school building is daunting for someone with social anxiety.

But ... he came.

At first, my quiet boy sat on the steps, facing away, as if to wait outside. I opened the door. "Muffins. I have muffins. And look, I promise not to touch ..." The two had seen me bear-hug plenty of visitors in the past; I knew that this concern must have been foremost in his mind.

The quiet one rose and walked straight to my old room. I was beside myself.

I kept my promises -- muffins, no hugs -- and they impressed me with their new inches, haircuts, and freshman year stories. Well, one had stories. But both were there. And if I did not get an armful or an earful, well, an eyeful was enough for me.


Marvin Marshall's Raise Responsibility framework rejects both punishing and rewarding students. Instead, we encourage students to develop personal responsibility. Ultimately, we want citizens to do the right thing always - not just to avoid punishment, not just to receive rewards.

Chris Biffle's Whole Brain Teaching emphasizes making teaching as engaging as possible, which both increases understanding and retention *and* reduces misbehavior. However, class rules and rewards are an integral part of his vision. Can I be a WBT without using his rules? without the scoreboard?

I rolled out the scoreboard this week -- I've used it successfully in the past -- and realized that if the kids work toward earning points and, therefore, a reward, I am in direct conflict with my Marshall Raise Responsibility values.

What to do?

On top of it all, I continue to struggle with ... all of it!

I think I need to choose.

The goals of RR are more important to me at this point. Perhaps I will adopt the WBT engagement approaches -- teach-okay, mirroring, etc. -- and leave the rules and scoreboard behind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Week Two: Too Much New!

Half-way through week two, and I am on a roller-coaster.

Academically -- we are on point. We are further ahead than usual, largely because I cut back on many introductory mini-lessons. I am spending lots of time with new teachers, which helps me make sure I am planning further ahead and keeping lessons strong.

Procedurally -- Oh, I wish I could skip ahead two weeks! We are still learning the new habit of passing and collecting classwork folders. I still have students who have not yet selected an independent reading novel ... and I have students who are on their second! We have not begun using reading logs yet. I have to remember that I swapped reading time from the start to the end of class -- and leave room for it! As a team, we have not yet distributed the out-of-room request passes. I love order ... and hate this messiness.

Power Teaching (CBiffle) -- Class rules with hand-motions are almost cemented in. Some kids still too cool, but I am not sweating them, as long as they cooperate. Teach-Okay working well with most classes now, although some kids give me an "okay" with great gusto ... and return to talking! Time to introduce the Keep The Scorekeeper Happy game.

Raise Responsibility (MMarshall) -- We've had lessons, discussions, posters ... by now, the kids know the deal. The thing is - I don't! I find that I am not towing the line. I need to practice, practice, practice ASKing about behavior. I'll get there. Lots of new ideas this year ... I can make it work!

And I still need to begin CLASS MEETINGS. Next week. I am very afraid. Still, I am convinced the effort will pay off.

Too much new!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Whole Brain / Power Teaching, week one ... and ... my baby, she wrote me a letter

I teach in a school with a reputation for having a fairly jaded population. Maybe I should not have asked for hand-motions day one, when the kids were still trying to impress one another, size one another up, show off their back-to-school duds. There was no outright mutiny, but there were a lot holding back. No matter. The kids who loved it, loved it. The rest will come along.

I loved the idea of WBT, but really got the courage to give it a try when I watched the video clips on the site. I confess -- I'd love to show the *kids* the clips so they can see how crisp Teach-Okay is supposed to work!

Moving on ...

My tradition has been to write a letter to all the kids about me, asking for a letter about them in return. The kids did a great job pair-reading my letter and questioning-around. Tomorrow, I will collect their letters -- they rarely let me down -- and then read them on the beach over Labor Day weekend! The killer is, I write personal letters back to each child. This is just about all I do over Labor Day, but the pay-off is huge. Can't wait to start!