Good Questions: Behavior Plans, Part 1

This post is for Christine, my smart, thoughtful, (and yes, only) regular commenter.

In response to my post, “What’s Worth Rewarding?” Christine wrote, “I wonder about the place that extrinsic rewards have in my classroom, especially around behavior.  Can you share ways that you use reward systems specifically for behavior (either individual or whole group)?”

Good question!  Children’s behavior in school is kind of magical.  Whatever patterns they follow at home, when children walk into school, they align to a whole different set of routines and expectations.  In well-run classrooms, there is an esprit de corps, a group desire to work together to accomplish a shared goal.

So how do you establish this kind of classroom?

First, let’s talk intrinsic rewards.  Good behavior starts with good teaching. Continue reading

Homework That Changes Lives

love homework.  But I didn’t always.  I used to hate homework.  I hated it as a student, and I hated it as a teacher.  I hated it for all the reasons it is now questioned by education researchers.  Homework at the elementary level is usually:

  • Busywork (for teachers and students)
  • If un-differentiated: too easy for some students, too hard for others
  • If differentiated: unbearably complicated and time-consuming for teachers
  • Stressful for families
  • Graded too slowly or infrequently to give students valuable feedback
  • A poor form of assessment
  • Something we (and I mean all of us: teachers and students and families) do only because we have to, or because we think we should, or because other people think we should.

I am also really skeptical of the idea that homework at the elementary level teaches study skills in and of itself.  Now, if you put into place a real system for programmatically teaching children to study at home and at school and use homework strategically to reinforce that system, well, ok then.  But usually, people expect that just by giving kids homework, they will learn study skills.  Instead, I think kids learn how to procrastinate, how to put up a good fight with their parents, and how to put as little effort into their work as possible in order to get it done quickly.

I tried all kinds of traditional homework systems: weekly packets, daily assignments, even differentiated homework that involved making different packets for several different groups of students (which, by the way, is insane).  And then I went to the Skillful Teacher, learned about effective effort, and decided there had to be a better way.

I asked myself, what if homework was really valuable?  Better yet, what if homework was life-changing?  What if it could teach students — prove to students — that with effective effort and time, they could achieve anything? Continue reading

What’s Worth Rewarding?

What kinds of incentives you use to motivate kids in your classroom is a big question.  All the time, we use incentives that range from positive feedback and encouragement to stickers and prizes to extra recess and parties.  But what’s the most effective way to reward students?  How do incentive systems align with our ethics?  How do they align with our desire for students to become intrinsically self-motivated?  And how do we use incentives to encourage students to work for longterm rewards and not just short-term gains?

This week’s Marshall Memo summarizes an Education Week article titled, “Study Suggests Timing is Key in Rewarding Students.”  When they reviewed incentive programs, the authors of the study found: Continue reading

The Best-Laid Plans

It’s true, the best laid plans of mice and teachers often go awry.  But in teaching, shoddy plans darn well guarantee disaster.  The end of the year comes, and there is so much left to do and so little time to do it!  New teachers, especially, trust me: you do not want to be that teacher who is frantically trying to fit two science units, a math unit, and, you know, the Pilgrims into the last three weeks of school.

In each of my 180 school days, I have about 4 hours of real instructional time.  That’s it.  It’s about 80% of what I think we really need.  But it’s what I’ve got.  So how do I get the most out of it?

My strategy is to plan at three levels: the curriculum plan for the whole year, long-range plans for every six weeks, and weekly lesson plans. Continue reading

Improving Special Education… Without Going Over-Budget

These are not my ideas, but after reading about them in the latest Marshall Memo, I gotta say, they make a lot of sense.  In their Education Week article “Improving Special Education in Tough Times,” Stephen Frank and Karen Hawley Miles discuss a number of money-saving ways to improve special education.

The first that resonated with me was reallocating funds from one-on-one aides to better coaching for teachers.  They say having an aide “does not always promote student independence, effective inclusion, or academic support.”  I have been lucky to work with some really talented support teachers, and while they do a great job of helping students do their work, they do not, as a general rule, help students to become increasingly independent.  Often, I’ve seen the opposite happen.  With such intense one-on-one support, students become more dependent on the aide’s help, and less willing to believe in themselves. Continue reading

The Strengths Mentality

I started reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman (high brow stuff, right?  I know you’re impressed).  It was witty and wildly imaginative, but man, was it giving me the most bizarre dreams.

So now I am sticking to the safer choice, Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard (summary here).  (And my husband, who is, literally, tired of my sleepless nights, has told me I’m not allowed to read before bedtime.)

One point that resonated with me in Count Me In! is the way Judy describes the “deficit mentality” children and parents often face.  She shares the experiences of parents of special needs children whose parent-teacher conferences are dominated by discussions of their children’s needs, but never their strengths.  An autistic student, for instance, has many math-related skills.  He’s great at solving puzzles, building with legos, and remembering directions.  But, his teacher’s expectations of him in the math classroom are very low.  Frustrated with hearing about her child’s limitations, his parent asks, “How can his skills be used to build math knowledge?”

This reminded me of one of my first-ever parent conferences.  I’m gonna say it plain: the student was a pain in the butt. Continue reading

Summer Reading!

Because I just finished reading the vampire novel The Passage by Justin Cronin for the second time (don’t you judge me), and because it’s August, when I get back to thinking about school, I’ve begun an excellent new book called Count Me In!  Including Learners with Special Needs in Mathematics Classrooms by Judy Storeygard.

You should stop reading now and order it.  I’ll wait.

All set?  You will love this book.  It aims to fill a huge gap in education literature.  We focus a lot on helping children with special needs in reading, but what about math?  How do we help kids who – whether they have ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, a Nonverbal Learning Disorder, or no label at all – struggle to make sense of word problems?  The kids who get so lost in their steps they can’t finish their work?  The kids who have difficulty using language to express mathematical ideas?  And so on. Continue reading