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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Aside

“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

(Not the exact question I was asked to give, but close enough.)

Sub for long enough and you get to the point where you look forward to unusual days. Last Wednesday started normal enough, but I had something interesting happen about halfway through. I was subbing for a history teacher who wanted me to show a movie on Martin Luther in the first period. No problem. Not my favorite thing to do, but easy enough. The rest of the periods were to be used as a study hall to catch up on work for this and other classes. I knew the students would see this as synonymous with ‘free time,’ but there was little I could do about that.

During the day, I am sure that word got out that this teacher was absent and the students would essentially free to do as they pleased. That was true of all the classes except fourth period. For them, the teacher had left me a long question to ask. It took most of the white board to write the explanation and the instructions for what they were to do, but I did as instructed. Imagine the consternation of the students who entered fourth period assuming they were to have a ‘free day’ only to find they were to write and thought provoking essay. You would have thought I had sentenced them all the forty lashes tied to the ship’s mast. Needless to say, managing the class for that hour was difficult as the students did everything they could to avoid actually having to do the assignment.

A number of questions entered my thinking as I wrestled with the students to keep them on task. Why was this class singled out? Was it some sort of punishment? If so, it would have been nice to have been given an explanation. Perhaps the students were being punished and they knew why, but I didn’t know and that would have been helpful information to have.

Next, I wondered at how hard they seemed to think this assignment was. To help alleviate some of their fears, I held a class discussion on the subject assigned hoping to spur their thinking a bit. I thought they had enough information by the time we were finished that writing the essay would be a snap. Sure enough, two of the students were finished five minutes after I asked them to start, but they were the exception. These were high school seniors and many of them claimed that they intended to go on to college. Did they have any idea how much of this kind of writing would be required at higher levels? Did they not realize that many of them would be answering a question much like this on their entry application? Apparently not.

I still have no idea why fourth period was singled out this way. If I get the chance, I am going to stop by and ask that teacher when I am at his school next. I can’t wait to hear his answer: it’s bound to be interesting.

Bad News for 4th Period

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Education, Policy

 

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Giving Noisy Kids a Chance

Recently I was reading a book on classroom management and found a statement I thoroughly disagreed with. The author made the statement that if students act up in class you should fist assume the assignment you have given them is too difficult and they are acting up to avoid the work.

“How naive!” I thought. Many of the students in classes where I sub start acting up long before you have had the chance to hand out the assignment. It may be true that they are trying to avoid work, but not because they think it is too hard,they haven’t even seen what it is yet.

On further inspection, it occurred to me that the author was making the point that we should start by assuming the students do feel they are up to the task. I can see where that may be helpful, but in my experience, most of the students I see in class that act up are simply seeking attention.

The other day, I was  subbing in a middle school math class with several challenging students. That is, they were noisy and didn’t want to stay on task. I demonstrated the first problem on the worksheet that was assigned, then asked one of the noisiest girls to come up and help with the second problem. At first, she hesitated thinking this was some sort of punishment that would involve embarrassment. I assured her that I would not let her get embarrassed; all she needed to do was follow my instructions. We did the problem together with me telling her exactly what to write at each step.

As soon as she was done, three more hands went up, all wanting to come work on the board with me, all of them among the noisiest in the class. One by one, I let them all come up and work out a problem. In almost every case, they did not need help from me and they loved it because it meant that for a few minutes, the entire class was focused on them.

I have used this technique in several classes since, and have found it quite effective. If students want attention, then I let them get it by working at the board. They get to demonstrate what they now with the promise that I will not let them stumble. It’s a win for them, a win for the class who gets to see the lesson from the eyes of a peer, and a win for me, because management issues are greatly reduced.

This is a work in progress for me, but I would encourage you to give it a try and see how it works for you. There’s little downside and lots to gain. Just the way I like it.

 
 

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Counting Your Words

I was in church this morning when someone stood up to sing. Before the music started, the singer decided he wanted to say a few words. I have never been a fan of this “sermon before the sermon” but don’t mind if it is kept short. Unfortunately, this person wanted us to know just how passionate he was about the theme of the song and what it meant to him and how it had effected his life, and on and on. To his credit, most people forgave his indulgence once he started singing as he had a wonderful voice. Now I know I should have been listening to the words and considering their meaning, but I’m afraid I had tuned this gentleman out two paragraphs into his soliloquy.

My mind wandered to something I read this week in Gary Rubenstein’s book, Reluctant Disciplinarian. He says a mentor once told him that “teachers have only a certain number of words they can say in the year before their class tunes them out. New teachers use them up in the first month.” I thought that was particularly sage advice when I read it, and now, having sat through words I thought were unnecessary, I had a new appreciation for this bit of wisdom.

Harry Wong says much the same thing in The First Days of School. He says “the person doing the work is the one learning.” All too often, the person doing the most work is the teacher and frequently that work is being done in the form of talking. In Wong’s class, he had the work posted on the board and his students were trained to get started as soon as they entered the room. Now I know, subs rarely walk into classes so well disciplined, but I love the idea of keeping words to a minimum. Say what you need to say and let them get to work.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in Education

 

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