WFMAD Challenge: Thinking about Consistency in Classrooms

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I’ll just jump right in; it’s late! I’ve been thinking about consistency in classrooms. I know (prior knowledge, research, communication with others) that consistency is key in classroom management, and I have found this short school week that consistency does play a key role in lowering stress for classroom teachers…eventually.

The stress level has been high (!) this school year, with getting to know new students, planning again, standing up all day again (tired feet!), and one of my goals is being more consistent and less flexible with my expectations for students.  High expectations = High achievement.  I followed my plan to a “T” this week, and today was a wonderful Friday, full of learning! My students behaved and were engaged in the learning. They seemed to take pride in their work, and I observed them working together well, communicating politely, and getting the job done. I was even surprised with some of the scores on my formative reading assessment; students were achieving higher scores than I expected. The week was full of stress: calling parents, writing notes for documentation, talking to the administrators. As frustrating as the week was, and as much as I wanted to assume the role of “nice guy,” I did not give in. I was consistent and expected the best. I even said to a colleague Friday morning, “No!” when she asked how I felt about having a Friday free time session. “They don’t deserve it,” I noted. Now next week, after staying consistent with practicing procedures and expecting high achievement, I hope to say, “Yes! Let’s have some fun! We’ve worked hard all week.”

Staying consistent with practicing the classroom ways and holding my students to higher standards was rewarding for me this week because even though I was the “mean, bad guy,” (Oh, man! Hey! I’m not a man. Stop it!) my students quickly changed their behaviors to comply with those standards, and they even noticed improvements and received rewards! One student even said, “You’re giving us a compliment? (Yes!) Well, I’ll be good more often now!” It seemed like we were practicing too much before this week. I remembered that the first few weeks of school are rough, and teachers assume that practicing procedures a few times will be enough for the students. But just like fluency research states that students must read a text about 7 times to be fluent readers, students must also practice other tasks several times to succeed.  (Got some reading research in there!)

I found that sticking to my plan, and “sticking to my guns” helped all of us. We were all calm, relaxed, and ready for the tasks at hand. Consistency pays off!

Have a great weekend!

Getting into the Routine(s)

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Routines are required because routines are reassuring.

Routines lead to relaxing and getting down to work without distractions. Or trouble.

 Teachers teach procedures and routines in the first weeks of school so that students can have order and consistency in their lives, so they can feel successful, and so they can learn to get down to business without worrying about the small stuff. Don’t sweat the small stuff (they say). Having routines makes life easier – really! Students know where to turn in homework, when to go to their lockers, and how to get to the lunchroom independently when teachers help them to learn the daily procedures. Harry and Rosemary Wong even wrote about it in The First Days of School. But I’m finding more and more that teachers need the procedures and routines just as much as the students.

(The following is a personal story that is meant to show how teachers need routines just as much as students. Thank you for allowing me to share.)

As a “veteran” teacher, I’m supposed to know how to teach content, manage my classroom, and manage my time. Daily tasks such as taking attendance, transitioning to the related arts classes, and end-of-day dismissal procedures need to be taught, practiced, and mastered by staff and students alike. I’m still learning. Nowhere near mastery yet. Even though I’m supposed to know. Here’s what I learned today:

When you assign lunch detention, the acceptable procedure is to keep students in the classroom for up to ten minutes, and then allow them to move to the lunchroom to eat. Ten minutes is plenty of time – all you have to do is walk down the hallway – to get to the cafeteria. Well…I released the students within the acceptable time frame, but I also directed them to follow the noon procedure of changing books for the afternoon and they traveled to their lockers, and got to lunch really late! Oh, my! Following procedures and routines, and then changing them without practicing the change, may lead to greater stress for everyone involved. It sure didn’t make my lunchtime relaxing.

Teachers, remember to practice the routines for your own well-being as well as for your students’ peace of mind. Write your routines down and follow them as you have recorded. Also write down any changes or predicted flexibility that may be ahead. Practice the changes, as well. (“When you have lunch detention, you need to…”) Then, you can be reassured, relaxed, and get your work done, too! And maybe even stay out of trouble.

Hey, you worked really hard all week, so take Monday off.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Student Engagement…Defined?

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Administrators are looking for engaging lessons. Outside observers are looking for engaging activities. Teachers want engaging activities for their students. “Engaging” – a buzzword in education, to be sure.  What is “engaging” in classrooms, anyway?

The dictionary defines engaging as an adjective meaning charming and attractive. Hmm. Are lessons not engaging because I don’t write neatly on the chalkboard? Am I not dressed attractively enough to engage my students in the learning? Am I not charming enough? I tried synonyms for engaging: winsome, fetching, alluring. Now I’m supposed to be Prince Charming to be engaging? How am I ever going to get my students to learn anything? Then I changed my search to “student engagement in education.”

According to Chapman (2003), “the term ‘student engagement’ has been used to depict students’ willingness to take part in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class.” In my search to define student engagement, I also found Skinner and Belmont’s more comprehensive definition (1993): “[Students] who are engaged show sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”  If students are engaged in lessons because they choose to select activities, initiate action, exert effort, and show positive emotions, then how can teachers help them to choose these desired behaviors? Is it really a “dog and pony show?” I say, “No.”

My continued goal is to implement engaging activities where students choose to act, exert effort, and show positive emotions during the school day. I made a list of Dos and Don’ts to guide me in my journey:
DO                                                                                                     DON’T
use activity and movement in the classroom                 use worksheets to teach
show students how exerting effort leads to success      assign “busy work” I won’t grade
set the purpose for each lesson/activity/reading            sit down at my desk and watch students
communicate clearly                                                     tell students to “figure it out” themselves
create choices                                                                assign every student the same work
show positive emotions about learning                         give the “evil eye” to students
give opportunities of time to learn                                 hurry students to get the work done

Some of these Dos and Don’ts may seem vague or uncertain (of course I’m going to give the “evil eye” to a student who is wasting time, but only after I have clearly taught the procedures, lesson scaffolds, etc. and he/she is still not exerting effort to get the task done), but it’s a starting list for me to remember to be engaging in the classroom.

What is your definition of student engagement? How will you teach engaging lessons this school year? It’s almost time to start!

Chapman, E. (2003). “Alternative approaches to assessing student engagement rates.”Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(13).

Skinner, E.A., & Belmont, M.J. (1993). “Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4). p. 572.