Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why did she ask for a marble jar?

"Mrs. Davies, do you think we could earn marbles for a pajama party?"

Hmmm.... well, yes.  I suppose we can.
How will we earn the marbles?

"For being quiet, for cleaning up and working hard."

Maybe I think too much, but this simple question had me wondering about so many things...
  • Is my classroom too noisy?
  • How do I make quiet work spaces in a crowded room with 32 second graders?
  • Should a quiet classroom even be a goal?
  • Should I be trying to teach the kids who are distracted by noise and activity to tune it out?
  • Does she go home and tell her mom it's too noisy (Mom sent a glass mug and mason jar for me to choose from)?
  • Who will earn the marbles?  Can the finished early clean up crew earn for the class?
  • Do I have to wait for every student in the class to be... quiet, cleaning up, and working hard... before I give out a marble?
  • Will the marbles interrupt our lessons?  
  • Do I really want to stop mid-interesting magnet exploration to award a marble?
  • Do I set aside my desire for intrinsic motivation, to reward this student's initiative?
  • We just had a day filled with Valentine's treats and cards, do I want another party?
  • How many parties are appropriate at school anyway?
  • Behavior reward parties, or learning celebrations?
Let me tell you a bit about my experience and my classroom management philosophy.  But, just so you know... it is evolving.  

The Teacher Voice
As a student teacher, my mentor teacher from Liverpool University told me that I needed to learn to "use my voice, to project" as a strategy for classroom management.  I thought to myself, "I was a cheerleader in high school, I know how to use my voice!"  I like a quiet classroom, and I want to be a teacher who manages the room with a gentle voice.  My mentor was right in the end, the teacher voice is a wonderful teaching tool!  I use my voice to create calm, to inspire interest, to question and probe, for emphasis and dramatic effect in read aloud, to sing, to reinforce routines, and yes... to gain attention.  

Interest and Engagement
As a first year teacher, with 34 first graders and half a world away from home, my Mom was worried about me.  And, she had heard about this great strategy for classroom management from one of her teacher friends. She sent me stickers for rewards, and told me I should start a marble jar.  Yes, the marble jar has been around for a very long time!  Well, I gave out stickers... I used them to let kids decorate book marks, and folders.  But I never did institute "The Marble Jar".  My kids didn't seem to need a behavior system.  When I looked around the room I found the kids busy... reading and writing, painting and glueing, building and talking, exploring and making.  I don't remember any classroom rewards or celebrations from that time, in that school.  But there was a teacher who longed for the "good old days, when you could wave that stick and the kids would behave."  Was I just blind to the misbehavior?  More tolerant than some?  Are some teachers just tired and cranky?

Building on Strengths
This was part of the mission statement from Mt. Hood Community College Head Start when I joined them as a teacher/home visitor.   I was home again!  And I found myself experiencing some culture shock.  In the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave, kids are encouraged to shout out their independence!  My most difficult student, in England, sometimes crawled under the table.  Here, every student had a mind of his own and was eager to let you know it.  Sometimes kids would express their feelings with words or hands or feet that hurt.  Naptime, "Not for me!"  Story time, "I'd rather build a road with blocks."  Some kids were loud, others were quiet.  Some were defiant.  I had a new challenge as a teacher for sure, to find what motivates each child.  Is it making my family happy?  Is it sharing my art?  Is it expressing my ideas?  Building on strengths, is about forming relationships.  When you know what someone is good at, or what makes him happy... he isn't the naughty kid.  Now, I have a mover who needs to wiggle.  I have a thinker who needs some space.  I have a leader who needs to a team.  I have a child who needs a hug.

Lesson Design, Pacing and Grouping
Eleven years ago, I joined a team of fantastic kindergarten teachers in the school district where I still work.  In my interview, I was asked about classroom management and I talked about knowing kids.  I was thinking about individualizing for interest and personality.  Part of knowing kids though, is understanding child development.  It is about setting goals and knowing what each student needs in order to meet his objectives.  It is about being able to find exactly where a student is on a learning path and providing the right support at the right time, and the encouragement needed to persist.  I simply can't do this for 32 kids all at once.  So, for me, it means making small groups.  It means pacing the lesson appropriately.  I do my best teaching... I mean, my kids do their best learning... when they can work at their own pace.  I encourage choice and independence by creating learning stations.  I love the math workplaces in the Investigations Math Curriculum we use, and when I learned about the Daily 5 routines for reading workshop I said, "Yes!  That is how it's done."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Classroom Community: Who was included? Who was left out?

Who was included?  Who was left out?

One of my goals for this school year, as I found myself back in the role of classroom teacher with 32 second graders, was to build a true classroom community.  I read about Peace Circles last Summer, and remembered sitting in a "Magic Circle" myself in 1970something.  I made a collection of songs, and practiced them on my guitar.  I taught my kids to sing This Land is Your Land, This land is My Land and It's A Small World.  Today, in my mind, there is a bit of a negative connotation to the idea of peace and love, but also something nostalgic and idealistic.  I am an idealist.  I'll admit it, I like lofty goals.  The pragmatic part of me knows it isn't always easy or practical to include that kid who can't keep himself from bouncing all around the room.  It's hard not to send away the little girl who so often hurts others with the words she can't hold back.  But the peace loving hippy, the novice teacher at heart, loves the idea of creating a place for kids to feel safe and supported, valued and encouraged, inspired and loved.  I'm going to keep working on it!

Isn't this a beautiful picture of kids?  A circle of gentle hands, patience and sunshine?  Yes, it is! And, they are mine.  My little community of learners.  But upon reflection...  how many do you see in this picture?

     Who is included?  

These are my strongest personalities.  These are the ones who listened to my advice, "Be still... stay back... watch them fly... make sure everyone can see!"  But then, they couldn't resist the urge to inch forward.

  • Neither could I... but I'm the teacher, right?  The teacher gets to move, to touch!
  • The boy with the mohawk.  He's our scientist, so of course he can't resist the natural impulse to get closer.  Can't stop that curiosity!  Let him move forward, he brought us the tadpoles and newts.  He brought cow magnets, geodes and homemade tornadoes for sharing time.
  • The boy in the baseball cap.  He's the one who sits on a ball in class to help him control his body and pay better attention.  Look how gentle he is!  Of course I can't stop him from creeping forward.
  • The little girl I mentioned before, the one with angry words.  Oh my!  She reaches out her hand and crawls on her knees toward the butterfly... just wishing, just hoping, she might be the one it chooses to land on.  Just once, to be the one selected.  Wouldn't it be wonderful?
  • Front and center.  She is strong and brave and kind.  She is wiggling in, so she can scoop up that sweet little butterfly, and bring it to her friend still sitting in the circle criss cross apple sauce just waiting for his turn.  But notice, her hand is on the bottom of the pile?  She will bring us all up and along with her where she goes.  Can't wait to see who she turns out to be!
Who is left behind?

With 32 kids, this has been my biggest struggle all year long.  Who do I spend that extra few minutes of one-on-one time with?  Who do I leave be, because he will do just fine without me?  Oh... but is that the one who needed me most, and was too polite to say?  After 45 minutes of math workplaces, the one who whispers, "I was waiting... and you never got to me."  In the butterfly circle... I can tell you who is left behind.  But I worry because there are some, that maybe I can't tell you enough about.  Next year, I will do better.  

  • The independent, creative, and well... sometimes stubborn one.  She likes to do things her way, in her time, and yes... sometimes it's all about her.  Today, she wants so badly to participate and prove me wrong.  She can do it, she will listen.  She will wait her turn.  And, because she waited today... she didn't get to touch the butterfly.  But, she saw him fly!
  • Our wonderful funny one.  He's telling us all about it, and has his own little community in the corner of the courtyard.  Butterflies?  What about beetles, and ants and ... hey!?  What will happen to our butterfly with the bent wing?  What about that robin over there?  Does he eat butterflies?
  • The girl with all the stories in her head.  Is looking enough?  Will that butterfly fly so she can tell his tale?  Or will he get crumpled under too many feet?
  • The kids in the middle.  I didn't think to give them extra attention, to clear a path for each of them to see... I tried, but there were too many.  The moment passed too quickly.  Because butterflies sit still for a moment, and then they are off!

Some things I have read lately, that inspired this question of Who was included?  Who was left out?...

Peace Circles: A Talking and Listening Community

And these, make me wonder about our Positive Behavior Support policies.  In my classroom, in our school.  Who is included?  Who is left out?

Peaceful Playgrounds Campaign

Why Kids Need Recess

One Way to Wreck a Child's Education: Take Away Recess (Huffington Post Parents)