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."