Sunday, October 25, 2009

We're on the same side, you know ...

Timmy owed two assignments. One had not been attempted, the other begun, but abandoned.

You haven't finished these yet?


Will you come after school today?

"No." Digs in heels. "I have to go to the Social Studies teacher."

Well, why not start one now, while we are together? Could you try?

Shakes head no. Eyes averted. Knee bouncing. Agitated. Getting upset, clearly.

We are on the same side, you know. I am on your side. I am here to help.

I take a remedial version of the blank assignment and begin doing it myself on his desk, thinking aloud as I do. He watches silently. After modeling the first lines, I stop and walk away, saying, I'll give you some space and some time to think about trying the rest.

By the time I checked back in, he had picked up his pencil, completed that paper (perfectly), and was examining the second. He was calm. I praised his effort *and* his result. He was now able to ask me about what confused him on the second paper. He finished this as well. We were best buddies again before the weekend.

Kids who are late with work are *not* the enemy. They are our responsibility. They are the ones who need us the most, even if they can't say so.

Is there any possible chance that a zero in the grade book and/or a detention would have taught Timmy more?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ask, don't tell

My habit has been to tell, to label, -- let's be honest: to nag.

"Edwina, you keep shouting out your thoughts. The rule is to raise your hand when you want to speak. I am tired of reminding you of this. You are on warning."

The result was always the same: dirty looks to match my dirty looks. Edwina might or might not answer back, but she would always complain about what a b**** I am.

WHEN I now remember instead to ASK, "Edwina, what are you doing? And what is our rule?" ... nine times out of ten, Edwina apologizes and self-corrects. ASTONISHING!!!

Or how about this, "Armando, I see you are choosing not to work today. That is not acceptable. Students who choose not to work may end up with Academic Detentions. Don't make me do that. Get to work."

Armando would typically respond by digging in his heels, daring me to follow through with my threat.

WHEN I now remember instead to ask, "Armando, what are you doing?" ... nine times out of ten, Armando slowly begins to work! AMAZING!!!

If after a few minutes Armando does not begin (or Edwina keeps shouting), I might need to add, "If you cannot work (cooperate) today, you can go next door. The choice is yours."

The really dazzling thing about the detour to another class is that the kids HATE to be detoured even though there are no additional punitive strings attached. No detentions, no referrals. Leaving their class and facing the rolled eyes of peers in the detour class is punishment enough.

This simple Raise Responsibility technique is transforming. It is still hard for me to remember, to change my nagging ways, but the jaw-dropping results are worth the effort.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Idea for ELA/Reading teachers

Reading comprehension test today. Reading passage, multiple choice questions, open response (essay) answer.

I asked the kids to read, answer m/c, and ORGANIZE IDEAS ONLY for the open response.

By now, 3/4 of my kids have the hang of writing a solid response from an organizer. The real test is, the real work is, can they read carefully and pull out the best answers and examples before they begin writing?

Alas, many could not. But ... we've only just begun.

Tomorrow they will be told how many multiple choice are wrong, but not which. They need to become responsible for checking their own work.

They hate this. They think I want an answer circled on a page, when what I want is a thought process that arrives at the answer! The pair/group work does help, as does a little competition (which group will get the answers first? team Fabulous? team Amazing? team Ralph?).

And, of course, they will eventually write those open responses. But -- not before they determine, in pairs or small groups (depending on the class), that their ideas are solid.

Back on track!

Whole Brain Teaching

Introduced gestures to help the students remember the column titles of the organizer we use to prepare to write open responses. Remembered to have my odd students teach the evens, then switch. Remembered to let the kids know whether they were "keeping their dear teacher happy."

A hit! A hit! Increased participation, retention, and FUN!

I MUST remember this.

Raise Responsibility

Remembered to ask kids to "be a C student" today. Remembered to ask, "What are you doing?" in the face of misbehavior.

Tried a baby-step toward class meetings. Posted quote, "Success is determined by what you do when you don't know the answer," and began tossing a teddy bear around the room for student comment. High engagement, and some of the first "big" thinking I've seen from some of my cherubs.

Back on track!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

LOTS of room to improve - how am I doing with WBT and RR so far?

Long weekend. Time to reflect. Time to assess my performance.

It's not good.

My goals:

ABI (continue)
* I get an A here.

Of course, I have been doing this for a while now. Still love it. No trouble.

Whole Brain Teaching
* Trouble An F. Maybe a D-. [Using my ABI grading scale: I!]

I began strong, and the kids do know they need to keep me happy by making smart choices. I also adopted an idea from a WBT post about beginning the class with high energy each day by having pairs work with review cards. Fine.

I am not so fine with remembering to use all the gestures I brainstormed while relaxing on my deck last summer. I am not so fine with remembering to stop and have partners teach-okay bits of instruction. As soon as I began teaching familiar lessons, I fell back into old habits. This I can remedy, beginning tomorrow.

Raising Responsibility
* Shaky at best. D+/C- [Using my ABI grading scale: I!]

On the plus side, I have eliminated behavioral detentions - with one exception, I'll get to that! - and increased student conferences. The kids I speak with do try to improve behavior, even without detentions. I am building relationships earlier in the year than in the past. All good.

On the minus side: I forget, forget, forget to ask questions that elicit self-reflection when I am in the moment in class. I am still essentially issuing reminders and then removing kds (detouring to another classroom) when they do not turn it around. This is not how it is supposed to be.

Also in the minus column: I did not know how to marry the RR idea with the Academic Detentions I have traditionally issued to those who do not complete work before Friday. Grades do not motivate my kids, and I don't give bad grades anyway. The only consequence for falling behind is that detention. I decided I must continue with Academic Detentions, even though I feel it is counter to the tenets of RR.

Finally: Confession time.

We have one class this year that is, shall we say, uncooperative. There are a handful of hyperactive students who demand constant attention. Others in class behave poorly as well, feeling that as long as they are not as "bad" as the multiple heavy-hitters, they won't be chastised. It is bad.

I shut down last week. Stopped teaching. Had kids work silently and independently for the period. Commented sadly that this is NOT how I like to teach, but if the class chooses Anarchy and Bullying, then I am capable of moving into Bossy teacher mode. I pointed out that I had not been giving behavior detentions -- but will begin if this is what this class, by their behavior, needs. Before the end of class, I gave a half-dozen behavior detentions, many to those who are *not* heavy-hitters.

The interesting thing is, because of the conferences with most disruptive kids, these did the best at buckling down when I got tough. They tried harder to meet my expectations - at that moment, if not before! - than the rest of the class.

So, even though I still have a LOT to improve upon, I feel the benefit I just from the conferencing is enough to give me a (barely) passing grade.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October is Selective Mutism Awareness month

Have a silent - not merely quiet, but *silent* - student in your class this year? One who cannot look you in the eye, or speak above a whisper (if at all)?

Your student may suffer from a social anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism (SM).

Please take a moment to read about my experience teaching a middle school student with undiagnosed SM.

For more complete information about SM, visit the websit of the Selective Mutism Group at

ABI: blank to B

Time for a little ABI success story.

Freddy demands to know why he is FLUTTERing (behind). "Is it because of this?" he asks, holding up a completely blank open response (essay) stamped Revise/Return. "I don't do these," says he, "I don't know how, and I don't do them."

Now, he has two examples - one a model, one from peerwork - in his notes. Sigh. Nevertheless ...

Freddy agrees to come after school for help. I have prepared a sheet with organized notes at the top and the first three sentences written. I show him how we use the notes to make the sentences. I show him the pattern we use. I help him get started on the next sentences. He writes the final sentences on his own. When he is done, he proudly hands me the paper. I study it carefully, declare it 4-point (perfect) work. I chide him, "Don't you tell me you don't know how to write these papers; you've just done it!" He beams.

Compare that to a zero in the gradebook.

Of course, not every child needs one-on-one help. In another class, more than half left that open response blank, and none of the written papers were solid. This was not an opportunity to pass out zeros. It was an opportunity to teach.

Yes, I had modeled similar questions and answers, and kids had worked out responses in pairs in the prior weeks -- but a couple of examples are not enough for many students. So, as a class, we discussed the prompt, found relevant examples, and organized notes to use in our answer. I posted the sentence starters and wrote the first sentences from our notes. By the end of class, most had picked up the rhythm and completed their second try (well, first attempt for many!) for homework. This exercise alone was enough to help many more succeed. There were still some who checked out, or who copied words but not ideas. They, like Freddy, eventually will work with me alone or in small groups -- sometimes instead of Enrichment, sometimes after school, sometimes in Academic Detention. The point is, each will have experienced writing a perfect answer before the next test. Over time, they will need less support. I take the training wheels off in January, I tell them. But for now, I offer as much structure, support, scaffolding, hand-holding ... you name it ... as I can, so that each knows s/he, like Freddy, has already written a perfect answer.