Sunday, October 28, 2012

The B In My Bonnet - Behaviorally Speaking...

So, I was blog surfing a week or two ago and came across a little gem of a post by Nikki at Teaching in Progress concerning how she will never use a clip chart again!  Explosive stuff, I tell ya.  But it was an explosion I was right there with her jamming down on the detonate button. Huge response to her post spurned on a great linky party, which I was invited to link up with and gratefully do so. 

Why do I hate greatly dislike clip charts and card turner systems anyway? 

One, they are completely subjective based on your emotional investment at the time.  It bends to what you find annoying at that single moment- and as human beings, we are flawed by having our level of annoyance vary by the degree of which we already find the other party annoying in the first place.  Squeaky Clean Suzy made a silly joke during a lesson!  Well, shucks, she's soooooo good most of the time though- so we'll just give her a verbal warning. 

But dang it if  Super Annoying Andy didn't make a ridiculous joke and got everybody laughing.  Turn your card ANDY!  See?  Don't pretend you're not guilty.  I have not met a single teacher yet that this hasn't happened to.  Does it ever stop Andy from his antics?  Of course not.  Why else would you have a nickname for him already?  Why else would you groan a little inside when everyone is out with the flu but Andy has shown up to school because he has the immune system of a god?  (Fact:  The most disruptive child always is the most healthy)

Two:  It's a system of shame.  "Andy!  Go move your card!"  Aside from the fact that he's going to argue with you.  Aside from the fact that he's going to drag his feet to go do it.  Aside from  the fact that he will mumble the whole way over there and the whole way back.  Aside from the fact that he's going to get back to his seat and either throw his head down OR more than likely, make sure he does something EVEN WORSE to get under your skin -  Andy has been made the center of negative attention to an audience of his peers.  Those that hold the card system sacred are going to go home and tell an Andy story to their parents.  Who will, in turn, create in their minds a negative opinion of Andy. (Andy is never going to get a date in this county...) And you will have no control over whether or not they repeat that negative story to other parents or even Andy's parents.  You are directly affecting Andy's reputation out in the community because you didn't care for his joke in the middle of your magnet lesson.

Three: Look at your clip chart or card system at any given moment of the day- are you concentrating on how many cards/clips haven't been moved?  Or are you thinking about the ones that have, and how you have to write a note home to the parents, or make so-and-so sit out at recess?  It concentrates on the negative.  It puts you in a negative frame of mind each time you look at it.  Oh, but I'm going to reward those kids who never have their card moved!  Hey, sport, good for you.  But, uh, trust me, they've already been rewarded ALL DAY by your praise, attention, positive statements, and occasional mercy by not having them move their card.  But your repeat offenders...they don't believe you will EVER reward them.  Because you haven't noticed yet the excruciatingly painful two minutes Andy kept completely still, hoping you would notice.  Two minutes was all he had in him, and you totally missed it.

And then here is my major reason as a mother:
I've got three kids.  My little girl is the "perfect student"- I snort at this, since I get the opposite at home- but for whatever reason, she is a pleaser at school.  She will bring her teachers flowers and candy and write love notes.  She will study, make sure her homework is perfect, raise her hand for every question, try to help everybody with anything she can.  Her school uses the card system.  Ok, so she went to Kindergarten, and I told her teacher specifically to make sure her card got moved- early on and often.  Wow, am I a horrible mom,or what? (Well, not in this situation, anyway)  No!  I was trying to avoid our third grade snafu.  She needed to get it over with so it wasn't a big deal.  She needed to get it over with so she could empathize with the Andys of the world.  But, alas, her Kindergarten teacher thought she was perfect.  So in first grade, I told her teacher to move her card, early and often.  But again, she was perfect.  Already at this point in her life she's bringing home the Andy stories, and the little chant "I've never moved my card!" (And no, I'm not ever going to let her date Andy) Second grade comes along - Please for the love of God move her stinking card.  But no, she was too perfect. 

So here we are- third grade.  I didn't even bother saying anything to the teacher this year.  But lo and behold! I come home from work, and where is Squirt?  Hiding.  She is hiding from ME, and sobbing in the most dramatic princessy way. (Which, I have noooooo patience for)  She's been this way since she got home two hours earlier, and now I have to wait another hour to get her to pull herself together so she can tell me her card got moved because Andy told her a joke and she thought it was funny so she laughed really loud.  (On Andy's behalf, he's learned to whisper the jokes by now.  Good strategy, Andy!) 

Dudes, this is my CHILD that is traumatized.  Mama Bear mode ACTIVATED.  Why is she crying?  She thinks I am going to HATE her. My kid thinks that her own mother is going to hate her because of a stupid stinking card.  I'm going to be paying for therapy for years.  I told her I do not care about the card.  I told her I thought it was stupid. (Yes, I did, and I really don't care if she goes back and tells her teacher that- since I'll have my fifteen minutes on parents conference day to go over it myself).  She still does not believe me. It's been over a month now. This is what she says to me "But you're a teacher!"  Yeah, buddy, I am.  But why should that mean I hate a student?  Why does she think getting her card turned equals being hated?  Because of dang Andy, everybody!  The kid is an outcast at eight years old.  And Squirt is PETRIFIED of that happening to her.  And now I am thinking about Andy.  Does Andy think his teacher hates him?  Does Andy think his mother hates him?  Does Andy's mother think the teacher hates him? Sooo disturbing.

Let's think for a second about behavior that we turn cards for.
Kids talking while we're teaching.  Yeah, It annoys me too- but, um, check yourself out at your next staff meeting.  Tell me you haven't started whispering to your teammate or started to draw nasty pictures of somebody that's kissing up? 

Disruptive calling out.  Hey, I know I've cracked sarcastic jokes at staff meetings.  It's thrilling

Kids getting out of their spaces without permission.  I've gotten up while someone was speaking to go to the bathroom.  I'm an adult, why should I wet my pants in front of everybody? (That kid in your class is very possibly making the same decision.)  I've also left because I decided a phone call I wanted to make was more important than hearing about one more assessment I should be giving.  It doesn't matter that I'm an adult and this is a child.  Children are learning independence- they are going to attempt to make decisions for themselves.  So in the midst of them attempting to be independent, we smack them down.  But then get mad when they don't get up and take care of their pencil instead of just sitting there not working at all.  Kids don't get the nuances of decision making.  It's all or nothing with them, and we are sending seriously mixed messages.

When we get down to it- after you've named the behavior you don't like AND given them some options for choices they could make that you would like- why do you need them to turn a card?  You've spoken.  You've said what the important message was.  Why does a card have more merit than your words?  But they didn't do what I wanted!  Then, babes, you didn't offer them enough choices on how to accomplish the goal.  You can do this, I swear.  You know there is more than one way to skin a cat.  Don't give them only one choice.  You're asking for defiance.

Recess time comes a long and you want to make them pay for the disruption by a reminder hours after the fact of what they did.  Seriously- are you still mad at that point?  Why are you carrying that feeling around with you?  Our jobs are stressful enough.  When recess time rolls around, if I've had a bad day, I don't want these kids around me.  I don't want to have to monitor their behavior even longer and listen to them getting angrier.  Maybe their disruption was based on the need to get some energy out.  What sort of afternoon are you going to have if they weren't able to?  And besides, we give more courtesy to dogs than we do our students.  We know that you can't punish a dog after the fact.  We know you can only punish a dog at the moment of disobedience.  And yet we hang on to a child's wrong doing for hours.  Come on, gang, we've got to be honest about ourselves.

So what do I do instead? 

Kids talking during a lesson:  I use an attention getter before I begin.  I'm playing around with whole brain teaching this year, so my kids are loving Class/Yes and Hands and Eyes.  I make sure I talk in short bursts, and have a turn and talk period right after.  Unusual days of strange barometric pressure and they just can't get themselves under control?  I say out loud "Ok then.  I'll wait!"  And I sit down and look reaaaaalllllly bored.  I stare at the floor. Or sigh at the ceiling.  My kids that are teacher pleasers, immediately get all shushied and get everybody else to stop talking too.  And then I start again where I was.  Do I spend time on being angry?  No.  I don't have the time.

Disruptive calling out:  I ignore it and say "I am looking for a student who is modeling raising a hand to speak".  And I do not call on the blurter until they model it correctly.  Generally, they do try it the very next opportunity, so I make sure to pick them next so they can feel that it was worth it.  The joke cracking, or completely off topic shout-out does not get my time at all.  I bulldoze right over it.  If you give the joke any of your attention at all, the joker won. Plain and simple.  They told the joke for the attention, they don't care whether it's negative or positive.  Sometimes my way of ignoring it is to ask them a question related to what we are talking about.  If they can't answer, I simply say, "I'll come back around to you in a minute to give you time to think of an appropriate answer"  and I do make sure I come back around.  They either have an answer that's valid, or they stare at the floor.  If they answer the question correctly, PRAISE the answer.  Follow up with, "can anyone add on to so-and-so's great comment?" Either way- no joke is being cracked.  Winner = ME (and the joker- they've gotten exposure to positive encouragement).

Kids out of their spaces:  Make sure it's on your terms.  Even adults don't sit still all day- don't force a kid to do that.  It's painful.  I make movement part of my daily routine.  We do a brain gym activity on You Tube to start our day.

During writing and reading time, after I've given my mini-lesson, I let them sit anywhere in the room where "they want".  The trick is, I've labeled the other spots available, so they aren't actually "anywhere".  But the ones that don't like to sit at a desk, have NINE other options.  Some lay down on the carpet.  Others sit on crate seats.  Some enjoy the floor with a seat cushion and a lap desk.  And some still sit at a desk, but they're sitting at , someone else's desk, which for some reason THRILLS them to no end. Whenever possible, I do let them work with a partner. 

We start off math with a video that they can dance to.  I've shared a count by fives video in another post,
but my kids are also liking this count by twos video:

They move up and down with the monkeys.  It's also meeting one of my curriculum objectives, so double cool beans for us all.  They actually request this video as a treat.  And after I've done my math mini-lesson, while I meet with small groups, they can sit in other places with their partners.  All of the choice I've infused into my day keeps kids from getting jittery at their seats.

And, yeah, I know there are tons of other behaviors out there that tick us off, but once you put yourself into a positive frame of mind, you start finding solutions.

Last thought before I end this super long post.  I've got a boy this year ( and I've had a kid like this EVERY YEAR) that really hates writing time.  I was going through his writing folder the other day and found an unfinished story about how much he hated school.  In the past, I would have ignored it, or even been aggravated by it.  Because I'm AWESOME darn it, how can he hate school?  But my psyche aside, at the next writer's workshop when I came upon him clearly NOT WRITING when he was supposed to be,  I said "Hey buddy, I saw that story you had in your folder about hating school." Immediately his body language got defensive, he thought for sure I was going to bless him out about it.  "You were doing a really great job on that one.  There was lots of emotion, and you were doing this really cool compare and contrast thing when every other page said what you did like.  I'd love to see how that story ends."  His body went limp in shock.  He had no idea what to say to me.  And then I walked away. 

I did not visit his space again to nag him or see what he was up to. Twenty minutes later, he brought me that finished story.  In nine weeks, it's the only story he's written with actual sentences as opposed to two word phrases.  There was an illustration on each page that matched the words instead of just random stick figures.  Winner = ME, but also my little buddy.  Because I am going to use that story as a spotlight author example next writer's workshop.  And Mr. I Hate Writing is going to be a star.  Will he do a great job on the next story?  Not necessarily.  I think there is A LOT going on there aside from just writing time- but he will have at least ONE great memory, one moment where he SHINED doing something that he hated.  And that is not a feeling you can generate with any card or clip system.

If you read to the end of this- wow- you are a dedicated post reader.  I was an English major, so brevity isn't my thing.  And, to be honest, neither is classroom management.  This is my year where I'm really focusing on it as a goal, and trying to keep it positive.  I hope to share my experiences with behavior management on Sundays- so tune in again!


  1. I read the whole post! This is my first year teaching 2nd grade (I was in 3rd for my first 6 years of teaching.) and my class is a tough one. One of the hardest I've had so far. I too am working on my classroom management this year and I find your post encouraging and oh so true!! Thanks!

  2. I'm glad you got something from it! Definitely check out Whole Brain Teaching with Chris Biffle. He's got some great ideas that have helped me tons this year.

  3. I had to read to the end - I couldn't stop reading! My son asked me what was wrong with me as I was yelling, "Preach it!" at my computer screen.
    I just remind myself every morning that Andy did not come to school with the singular goal of driving me batty.
    Whole Brain teaching and the interactive modeling, daily choice, and community building of Responsive Classroom have made made my school day not just bearable, but enjoyable. We are all in it together in that room all day long - good or bad, happy or sad, all for one and one for all.
    I hope that the kids go home and tell the story of how they supported Andy that day instead of how naughty he was.
    It clearly is no easy task since we all struggle so much to find classroom Nirvana. But, it sounds like you have reached it!
    Thanks so much for linking up and sharing such sage advice:)

    Teaching in Progress

  4. Yaaaaay! Supporting kids in their positive behaviour is so much more effective than shaming their inappropriate behaviour. Clothespins are for hanging up clothing!

    rubberboots and elf shoes

  5. Brilliant! Thank you!

  6. So are we twins, or what? I do the exact same thing in my room. Doing Whole Brain Teaching, and I like to be dramatically bored a lot.

    I also use ClassRoom Dojo, but I use it for generally positive points -- I only take away points when I want to document a behavior for parents. The kiddos only hear the "ding!" when someone is awarded something positively and I never let them know who until they see their totals at the end of the day. It's magic, I tell you!

  7. This has to be one of the most truthful yet inspiring posts I have ever read. I haven't started school yet but I will take down the clip chart that is in my already decorated room and not look back! This was truly a wakeup call for me and an eye opener to the mixed messages we send to our students daily. Thank you for this post.

  8. How would you suggest using this belief with a school wide token economy( students get bucks for good behavior to use at school store)? How do you share your beliefs with parents at the beginning of the year to explain your classroom management style?

    1. My school has a behavior system too with star punches for good behavior. A kid gets ten star punches it gets turned in to the school counselor for a prize. I have no problem giving positive praise. I don't announce star punches being given out necessarily- unless it's a big deal thing, like, they rescued a puppy or whatever. I keep their punch cards in my desk, and at the end of the day give punches for anything I took note of during the day. Kids also get their punches for bus behavior- they bring me a ticket-, successful fire drill, days with subs, etc. I turn them in and they get their prize. I never tell anybody they're going to lose a punch - which you can't really do that anyway.

      With your school's money system, I think it would still work in the positive praise end. I'd just be wary of telling a student publically that they've lost money. Or that they didn't earn it. As adults, our paychecks are private, and so are our bills. I don't see why it can't be that way for kids too.

      There has been a resurgence of conversation about clip charts lately I've noticed. And I've noticed it getting emotional in the discussions on line. To me, that means that education is at a turning point. I've been thinking a lot this summer about teaching habits I have based on traditional practices. And whether those practices are actually relevant for the kids.

      As far as informing parents- 90% of my parents don't speak English. And I - even though it is a personal goal to learn Spanish- can't speak to them very effectively without a translator. So usually, the topic is not one that comes up. However, I do write a letter and have is translated for me before I send it out, and generally in it I explain my five core beliefs in the classroom - Love, commitment, enthusiasm, humor, and creativity - and that my purpose is to build a relationship of honor and respect for all. I write notes in my sub binder to inform any sub I have that systems of shame are not allowed in my room, and they can write names on a note card if they feel it necessary, but not on my board or any other public space. Some subs listen, some don't.

      I mostly talk about my management style with my kids. I tell them that I don't sugar coat, and I will always be honest with them. I tell them that I will tell them the behavior that is not acceptable and that I will help them if necessary find an alternative behavior that IS acceptable. I do tell them that I love them. And that they won't be able to do anything to make me not love them. But I will absolutely tell them when they are not on the right road. And then we spend lots and lots of time having discussions and making posters about great behaviors we can do to be quality students. So far, for me, it is working out quite well.