Sunday, September 8, 2013

More on Classroom Management in Kindergarten and First Grade

I was once observing a very talented teacher and I was shocked to hear her say, "Michael! You're wiggling! Go change your card." Um. Michael was a kindergartner. Aren't they supposed to wiggle?

So, I don't use a clip chart or change your card or rating system or anything like that. I loathe those systems both as a teacher and as a parent. For whom do they really work? The "good" kids are already doing the right thing. The students who have challenges just face public humiliation when they have to change their card or move their clip. And often, a student the whole class watching when he (let's be really, it's mostly the boys) has to walk across the room to move is marker. The high achievers get completely stressed out and over-react if they ever make a mistake that requires moving their clip, and the same students end up in the same places day after day. I just think it's too public, too visible, too ineffective... Changing a card or moving a clip can make a child feel terrible all day. Is feeling terrible the goal? I don't think so. I want my students to learn, but not feel bad!

Right, wrong, or otherwise... those procedures just don't work for me.

So what do I do? Well, I constantly self-evaluate. I find things that work, and then I keep using them. I try new things. Some work, so I keep them... some don't, so I stop using them.

What I definitely do is create a classroom full of joy, acceptance, learning, understanding, high expectations, collaboration, communication, responsibility, respect and friendship. Yep. That's it. Simple. I do everything I can to help every child feel important, valued, capable, and included.

I have a few little things that I do to work toward that goal.

To take roll each morning, I say "Good morning,  __(child's name)__," to every child. Is that a big deal? Maybe not so much, except... it starts the day off right. I use my sweetest teacher voice and my cheeriest smile and I look right into the eyes of the person I'm talking to. I tell my students how important my "Good mornings" are, and I expect them to be respectful during that time.

At the end of the day, I stand by the classroom door and say, "See you tomorrow, __(child's name)__,"  to every child before he or she leaves the classroom.

Another big, important piece: communicating expectations. My students know exactly what is expected in our room as far as behaviors and procedures go... because I tell them what is expected! They wouldn't know otherwise, because they can't read my mind. This must be taught!

As far as classroom rules and procedures go, I model, teach, and practice everything with my students. I assume nothing. Well, that might not be true. If anything, I assume that my students do not know how to do something. I create entire lessons around how to use scissors, staplers, glue... how to wash hands and where to put the paper towel... how to neaten up a desk... how to put away a book... how to push in a chair, how to walk from desks to the carpet, how to sit during a story, how to ask to use the restroom, how to stand in line for a drink, how to walk in the hallway, how to push a chair under a desk...

It's true. At the beginning of the year, I take MUCH LONGER than most teachers to get to the academic meat. But it pays off. Because later in the year, I rarely have any behavioral interruptions, and students can move forward much faster.

My lessons for procedures include an explanation of why it's important that we do it my way. And I always demonstrate myself and then have students demonstrate the correct way for their peers. After each demo, I thank and praise the students extensively. I let them know how proud I am of them because they know how to do whatever-I've-just-taught the right way. I ask the class if anyone else could demonstrate, and everyone raises their hands! I allow a few students to demonstrate again, and while they do, I point out everything they are doing correctly.

The other day, it was time to discuss how to sit on the carpet for Writing Workshop. I have a pretty specific procedure. Children get writing folders and pencils out, and set them on their desks (folders still closed), so that everything is ready to go. Then students sit on the carpet next to their writing buddies (writing buddies sit next to each other at desks.) First, I explained, the folders had to be ready, then writing buddies push in chairs and come to the carpet together, they sit as close to the easel as there is space, they do not talk on the way, and they always walk. I asked if there were any pairs of buddies who could demonstrate all those things. Lots of pairs raised their hands, and I chose two students. I asked students to watch, and as the demonstrators  followed the procedure, I narrated. "Well done, Matt and Gabby! Did everyone notice the way they remembered to push in their chairs? Look what a great job they are doing walking together and waiting for each other. I'm pleased to see that they remembered not to talk. And look! They sat up close to the easel, ready to learn! Thank you so much for showing the class what you know about getting ready for Writing Workshop, Gabby and Matt."

And then I had another pair demonstrate, and another, while I did the same thing. And then I had the rest of the class do it, while I praised as many students as possible for the correct behaviors. "Good job remembering to walk, Kim. Thanks for pushing in your chair, Alex. I really like the way you're waiting for your buddy, Daniel. How wonderful that you sat as close as your could, Annie. You are ready to learn!" When all my students were seated in front of the easel, I told the group how proud I was of them and talked about a few things I noticed that were well done!

During this entire demo/lesson, I was able to recognize the three pairs of students who demonstrated. Plus four more while the group was coming to the floor. Plus 5-6 more once the class was on the carpet. That's nearly half my class!

When I teach procedures, I do it in a similar way for everything, and I'm certain to recognize at least that many students every time.

Throughout the day, I use as many positives as I can. Over and over. Over and over. Sometimes I feel a little like Pollyanna. But it works! "Thank you for walking in our classroom. I like the way __(child's name)__ stood in line with her hands to herself. ___(child's name)___, I'm so pleased that you remembered how to hold scissors safely."

And even more powerful, I teach my students how to talk to each other that way. We discuss ways to thank and praise others, students demonstrate, we all praise them for a job well done, and it becomes a part of the culture. After a few weeks, and completely without prompting, children naturally complement each other all the time!

One of my easiest tricks to implement is the Superkid. I write each student's name on a popsicle stick. I keep the sticks in a little pail, and each morning, I pull out one name. That child gets to be the Superkid for the day. The Superkid gets to lead the line, help pass out materials, get a drink first, choose their Choice activity first, choose the pointer when we have our class "Read the Room" time, and whatever other little tasks I think of that day. I don't do class jobs, but instead use the Superkid for whatever we need (messenger, plant waterer, whatever.) The first few days of school, the students whose stick did not get chosen let out a collective moan of disappointment. But now, they cheer for whoever was chosen! The whole Superkid thing feels to me like it's not a big deal. It requires very little effort on my part. But it's THE WORLD to the student who is chosen that day! And the Superkid gets to have this sign on his/her desk all day! (Students get to be the Superkid about once a month.)


I got the cute red from at IKEA (I think it was just one dollar!) and if you click here you can have the file.


The file also includes a Happy Birthday Sign that I put in a green frame from IKEA. Each student gets to have that sign on his/her desk when we celebrate his/her birthday!

Another simple thing I do is a marble jar. Old trick, I know. But I chose one specific procedure that I felt was important and I give marbles only for that. What I chose was the procedure for coming into the room after recess or lunch. When students walk in, I have the lights off, though there is some natural light from the windows and the open door. Students are to walk straight to their desks and put their heads down, without saying anything to me, talking to anyone, touching anything, going to get a drink/pencil... straight to desks silently. If there was a recess problem, students can raise their hands once they are sitting, but they may not tell me on their way into the room. If ALL students come in the right way, the class gets five marbles. If they do it especially quickly (first graders can dawdle, oh yes they can!), I'll give them a "bonus" of five more marbles.

It works like a dream. You know how normally everyone has something critical to tell you as they walk in? Before I did this, I was seriously overwhelmed with issues and stories after recess. Now, a student will occasionally raise his/her hand to tell me about a problem on the playground, and I do encourage them to speak up about problems. But it has helped to eliminate the stories of issues that were already taken care of during recess and the tattling for the sake of tattling.

When the marble jar is full (about two weeks worth of coming in the room correctly after every recess and lunch), students get to watch a movie (usually Reading Rainbow, or something equally educational and worthwhile) and I pop a ton of popcorn (air popper, no butter!)

And since I've very nearly written a novel today, just one more thing...

I very often use the idea of "we are all learners" whenever there is a problem. The other day, an argument erupted in the Lego area. Two boys both wanted a particular piece and one had taken it away from the other. I pulled the boys aside for privacy and we talked about it. I gave the students the language, "When you are done, can I have a turn with that?" and we had a quick talk about working together. Then I said to both, "There is so much to learn in kindergarten, and we are all still learning to share."

I use the same line for nearly everything. One student complains that another touched his leg? "We're all still learning to keep our hands to ourselves," I say publicly... and then I privately remind the offending student. The "we are still learning" idea works for nearly everything, and the understanding that goes along with it can make a big difference in students' acceptance of each other. That's not to say that I don't address serious concerns. I do. But most of the issues in kindergarten and first grade are things that students are still learning.

It's all in the attitude. My classroom is a happy place of learning!

What management ideas do you have to share?


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