Category Archives: Discipline

Are Classroom Rules Needed?

My school is shifting its policies and behavior programs, and I was asked what rules I felt were essential in the classroom. I replied that I don’t have any classroom rules and have never felt like I needed them. Obviously, there was a bit of shocked silence, and then the speaker moved on to another person to ask the same question.

I decided to bring back one of my more popular posts, so here it is.

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This may sound overly simple, but I tell my (high school) students that I only create rules if we need to have them. We only have them in my classes if students can’t respect one another and me.

For me, everything revolves around trust. At the beginning of the semester I work on relationship building since these bonds will make the class more successful over time. Once I establish a rapport and establish a relationship with students, things move along rather swimmingly.

In general, I attempt to deal with behavior issues on a one to one basis. I often use phrasings like “I know you’re better than this” or “I know you aren’t really acting like yourself” or things like that and then may start asking questions about why the student is behaving a certain way, possibly finishing with a technique called the “5 Why Questions.” A typical conversation might go this way:

Me: Why are you here?

Student: Because I have to take this class.

Me: Why do you have to take this class?

Student: ‘Cause it’s required to graduate.

Me: Why do you want to graduate?

Student: ‘Cause I want to get a good job.

Me: Why do you want a good job?

Student: ‘Cause I want to make money.

Me: Why do you want to make money?

Student: ‘Cause I want to buy stuff, and I want and to take care of my family.

Me: That’s your goal. That’s the dream. This class is not what you’re after–it’s the family and money. This is just a step on the way. What happens if you don’t complete this step?

Student: I don’t get to my goal.

Me: That’s your motivation. Close your eyes and picture the dream and think about that while you’re here. You don’t have to like me or the class, but you do want to reach your dream. Let’s do it together. I’m here to help you reach your dream, but I need you to help me, too.

I know it sounds corny, but the kids really buy in. And, it almost always eliminates future behavior problems and sometimes improves my attendance rates. I have not had a student removed from my classes for behavior issues in six years since I started this type of discussion with kids.

Kids understand dreams.

Play Games!

One of the strategies I have used to engage my students and to encourage academic growth is the use of games. Everyone plays games: young kids, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. Whether it’s a game of pinochle, solitaire, video games, board games, or puzzles, I’ve never anyone who didn’t game in some way.

However, we all know those a-type personalities who have to win no matter the cost and need to show off that victory every time. Thus, I have instituted some rules to game play in my classroom to ensure cooperation and maintain proper discipline in the classroom.

Firstly, any game we play has an academic purpose and focus. If I’m not using the game to learn or review course material, then I am wasting the students’ time. As much of every minute of every class should be devoted to the course (in my opinion), and I want to ensure my students have fun but learn simultaneously.

Secondly, we do not compete against one another, not really any way. Typically, I set a class goal for a score and we try to reach that goal. Or, I set a high score a previous class has earned, or I let the kids know how each class did. But, I never have the students truly competing against one another in the room. I don’t like the chance for a division in the room, and my very competitive students can lose focus. If the students do compete in groups, I still set the goal score, but I never give the top scoring group more than another group. The goal, after all, is to learn or review the material.

Thirdly, the reward is never bonus points or something that affects the students’ grades. I don’t really believe in extra credit, but allowing an activity that is essentially a practice to boost a student’s grade goes against my belief that grades should reflect mastery.

Additionally, I never want to allow the perception that one student gained while another lost in the grade category simply because of a game we played. The purpose should always be on the learning. What is the knowledge with which I want my students to exit the game? This is the focus.

Fourthly, I ask my students to keep paper and pencil at the ready in order to write down any information gleaned from the game. If the goal is to increase academic knowledge, why not let the students record what they wish to remember?

Lastly, I always have my students take 2-3 minutes at the end of the period (on a sticky note or a note card) to jot down what course content knowledge they learned during the game or what they were forced to remember. I like to know this, and I want them to process one more time. Plus, I usually ask the kids to tell me what would make the game better the next time. They normally provide some great ideas/suggestions.

If I do provide prizes, everybody gets something. Typically, the prize is a piece of hard candy or something of the sort. It’s always small and something easily shared around the room. I really like using the mixed bag of hard candy where the students get to choose; any choice seems to increase the excitement, appreciation, or engagement of my students.

Maybe this week before I leave for my conference I’ll post a few games I play with my students. No matter what though, play games and make learning fun!

The Purpose of Punishment

Consequences can be positive or negative, and they can increase or decrease the frequency of specific behaviors. However, some consequences can have virtually no effect on behavior whatsoever.

This weekend two NFL players, Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan, were each fined $25,000 for a fists-a-flyin’ fight during the 4th quarter of a game Sunday. Sounds like quite a chunk of change, and it is…for us. For them it amounts to .45% of Johnson’s salary and .94% of Finnegan’s salary. For me, this is the equivalent of a $225-470 fine. While this is not chump change even at my level, it probably isn’t enough to deter NFL players from fighting if this is precedent setting.

What really is the purpose of this punishment? Is it simply a way to make people think the NFL is taking a hard line on fighting by startling the common man with a figure of $25,000? Is it an easy way way to say “don’t do that again” but still keep the game agressive (and maybe even violent)? Did the commissioner simply not want a star player (Johnson) out of upcoming playoff-impacting games?

So again, what is the purpose of consequence, of punishment?

I believe this may be the most important question to answer when trying to decide what sort of discipline system to use in a classroom.

I don’t have classroom rules in my teaching style. I prefer to discuss incidents on a case-by-case basis, and I relate everything back to levels of respect when talking to my students. I guess, to be honest, my classroom is full of implied rules and expectations of behavior, but I do not post them and do not take class time to review them. Granted, I work with high school students, but I think forms of this system–even on a small scale–can be used at all levels.

I prefer, instead, to reward positive behaviors and celebrate them. I publicly praise my students for desired behaviors, say “thank you” and “please” regularly, use the terms “sir” and “ma’am” without irony, and often throw out a couple extra credit points or candy here and there for unsolicited positive behaviors.

Just last week before Thanksgiving a girl’s colored pencil case crashed to the floor, and only one young gentleman got up to assist her in picking up the pencils. I thanked him for helping, joked that he was now the most worthy eligible bachelor in the room, and awarded him 2 points on the next vocabulary quiz. The points are really worthless, but that’s not the point. I wanted to see a repeat of the behavior, not just in him but in others in the room.

Also, I enter a room and give all students a clean slate. They have my trust until they violate it. I frequently use language like “I trust you to…” and then fill out the rest of the line with a desired behavior.

Once the first person asks to use the restroom, I tell my students that I trust them to use the restroom when needed and not to abuse the trust. In fact, I prefer that my students not ask, that they simply wave the pass at me to let me know where they are going and simply go. I do keep track of their time out but don’t mention anything more until a problem arises.

Still, what is the purpose of your intervention system? Are you attempting to curb undesired behaviors? Are you desiring to increase wanted behaviors? Do you approach students with an atmosphere of trust? Must trust be earned or given right away?

Song Causes Suspension

The comments might be the more interesting read in the first of these two articles (here and here), but the case may be a good one to follow.

How does a district choose which one of the many, many teachers using unapproved supplemental material? Maybe the one who uses a song that criticizes the education system? Yep, that’s the one.

Maybe the parent or student complaint had an impact, but that’s what happens when policies aren’t enforced. This seems to be one of those situations where the district only has the policy as a CYA measure; it’s the old “if no one complains, we won’t enforce it…but if someone does, we can make an example of someone.”

Every piece of supplemental material must be approved prior to use? That just seems crazy to me.

Admittedly, I did say the following when talking about this with a friend: “I would probably have elected not to use that song, but this requirement for supplemental material would kill contemporary relevance.”

P.S. Here are the lyrics to the song in case you’re curious. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is more extreme than the song. How districts approved that novel?

How to Lessen My Workload

In a previous post I discussed how I combine skills when assigning work in my classroom. One poster responded, “that though this seems like a lot of work on my part, I do think and hope that it will pay off for me to try with my students.” However, I have actually reduced my workload and gotten more success out of my students.

I should state right away that I like my students to move a bit in the room and to complete short tasks that build, which keep my students attentive and reduce discipline issues.

Let’s use my assignment example from my previous post: explain where an example of situational irony is employed in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar using 2-3 sentences. Include two vocabulary words and a coordinating conjunction (correctly using a comma) in the answer.

I would give my students about 5-10 minutes to write the 2-3 sentences, and then I would have the students share with a partner. This would allow the students to help each other edit their work first in a no-pressure situation. Sometimes I would have the students placed in groups of three, and the first editor would look for a correct example of situational irony while the second editor would check the comma rule use.

Or, if my students seem a bit nervous about the assignment I might have them work as team with a partner. In this way, the students can experience the assignment and work with another student to complete the assignment. We’ll be doing this type of assignment numerous times, so working in tandem the first time is not a problem.

Then, no matter which method was used to create the sentences, I would ask the students for a good example of an answer. I could either project the student’s paper onto the screen with a document camera or have one or two responses written on the white boards. Next, we could look at the example(s) and check to see if all elements are present: 2-3 sentences, an example of situational irony, two vocabulary words, and a coordinating conjunction.

We edit as a class, and the point is to create a good example to keep for later. Sometimes I will post an example on a display wall or just keep a copy for students to use later (like an anchor paper).

At first this entire process might take 20-30 minutes, but after a couple times the time drops dramatically to 10-15 minutes.

At this point everyone has

  • reviewed a part of the content (the text),
  • used two vocabulary words,
  • connected a literary device to a text,
  • practiced a comma rule,
  • made an attempt at the assignment which synthesizes skills (high on Bloom’s Taxonomy),
  • helped edit 1-2 others’ assignments (thus seeing other examples),
  • looked at a couple examples as a class,
  • and edited one or two examples as a class.

Plus, we now have an anchor or two for comparison later, and I didn’t need any special supplies to gather. And, I still have half of the class period for another activity!

Note: I do not grade this assignment. It is practice only and not grading it allows students to have a risk-free, low-stress activity to improve their skills. I can move around the room and check on the students and help here and there as they work, which allows me to see who is struggling and who is excelling.

Obama Speaks to Kids

President Obama gave his speech to students today on C-SPAN, and I had not planned on having my students watch it since it’s not directly germane with the course of study; however, my students requested to watch it, and I let them.

Here is the transcript.

I don’t really understand the objections to Obama’s speech since his message was to become successful in school.

However as I heard today, if you play it backwards you can hear his Communist plan to indoctrinate our youth and to destroy America…or it’s simply the perfect cheesecake recipe. I can’t tell which. 🙂