Category Archives: Discipline

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. 🙂

Get Them Out of Their Seats

If you have ever had a class where everyone seemed like they had ADD, you know that movement during a lesson is critical in order to keep the students’ attention on the lesson. Plus, movement can help eliminate discipline problems as well. In an ideal lesson I have three distinct parts, so we shift focus and possibly location in the room at least three times in a period.

While studying a novel, I like to have the students analyze themes, especially prior to writing any extended timed write or the like. Here’s an easy lesson I like using the Carousel Brainstorming strategy.

  1. I bring 7-8 sheets of butcher paper with a theme from the novel/play listed at the top of each sheet.
  2. Next, I break the students into groups of 3-4 (depending on the attendance that day).
  3. Then I have each group stand before a theme-titled sheet.
  4. Next, I have the students choose a scribe who receives a marker (ideally, each group has a different color).
  5. Now, I provide an allotment of time for the students to come up with as many examples as possible to be recorded on the sheet.
  6. Then, once the allotted time expires, the groups move clockwise to the next theme-titled sheet.
  7. The process repeats until every group is back to the original sheet.

The sheets can be displayed in the room whenever necessary, and I really like having the students moving as well as seeing some examples prior to recording their own examples (after the first movement).

I also allow students to write questions they have on the sheets, and they may write down comments about previous answers if they so desire.

Of course, this strategy also works well with different open-ended questions on each sheet, character connections, story parallels, and so on.

Teens and Texting

Maybe you have seen the shoulders scrunched in together, the head down, the hand at the side of the thigh, or the trips to the restroom at the same time each day. I have and I know it means the dreaded text messaging occurring during class time has struck once again. I even had a student answer a text while giving her speech!

And now, according to a recent NY Times article, texting may have more negative effects than previously thought, and here’s a statistic for you:

American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

Also included in the article are the following imapcts detailing that texting can lead to:

  • anxiety,
  • distraction in school,
  • falling grades,
  • sleep deprivation, and
  • repetitive stress injury.

Dr. Martin Joffe observed students in a couple high schools and, after watching the volume of texts being sent and received,  remarked, “That’s one [text] every few minutes,” he said. “Then you hear that these kids are responding to texts late at night. That’s going to cause sleep issues in an age group that’s already plagued with sleep issues.”

Sherry Turkle at MIT noted the following:

“Among the jobs of adolescence are to separate from your parents, and to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be,” she said. “Texting hits directly at both those jobs.”

Psychologists expect to see teenagers break free from their parents as they grow into autonomous adults, Professor Turkle went on, “but if technology makes something like staying in touch very, very easy, that’s harder to do; now you have adolescents who are texting their mothers 15 times a day, asking things like, ‘Should I get the red shoes or the blue shoes?’ ”

As for peace and quiet, she said, “if something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes, it makes it very difficult to be in that state of mind.

“If you’re being deluged by constant communication, the pressure to answer immediately is quite high,” she added. “So if you’re in the middle of a thought, forget it.”

Psychotherapist Michael Hausauer stated that, “teenagers had a ‘terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.’ For that reason, he said, the rapid rise in texting has potential for great benefit and great harm.”

One girl in the article discussed how she developed painful cramping in her thumbs, and another girl’s parents noticed that in one month she sent over 24,000 text messages. That’s 800 a day. That’s 33 an hour!

Now features on phones include GPS notices to tell you where the person is to whom you are speaking. We can track one another on our phones. No more lying about where you are to mom or dad or to a friend…or to your boss.

Will there be a backlash for this super-connectivity? When will it be too much?

Merit Pay or Bust

President Obama has reiterated his feeling that merit pay is needed to improve education.

At least he’s consistent.

He said the same thing when addressing the NEA when I attended the NEA-RA last summer in Washington D.C., and he has been saying he’s an advocate of merit pay for years.

I am right now not a proponent of merit pay simply because no one has shown me a system which is can be used fairly and objectively. Test scores are not a good measure, and administrator recommendations seem biased at best.

I don’t have an answer right now, and even as a “union guy” I’m open to listening to ideas. If someone comes up with a means of merit pay, which I believe is fair and avoids simple bias I could be persuaded.

My biggest beef with the notion of merit pay is that too many people hang their hats on the idea that less effective teachers can’t be eliminated from the system. To me, this is a false argument. Administrators can get rid of teachers they do not perceive as effective, but I have not met one who has taken the time to follow the steps (even when we had a blatant alcoholic skipping days and arriving under the influence). This is a major failing in education in my opinion, and I don’t understand it.

Granted, the process for firing a teacher can be long and allows teachers to improve, but isn’t this what we want? Teachers should be forced to improve. If they can’t, they should go. And merit pay isn’t going to solve this.