Stepping Back, Stepping In: Ideas for Effective Helping

No matter how large their class is, or how many hours they have in a school day, most of the primary teachers I’ve met feel like they have too little time, too many kids, and/or too many different needs in their classroom. As a result, teachers can feel like they’re perpetually in motion, moving from one child to another, without any time to stop and think. We end up feeling exhausted and like there’s not enough time to help every child.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 2)

I’ve always had a lot of compassion for my students with ADHD (or ADHD-like behaviors) because my husband had ADHD as a kid. Never diagnosed (it was the early 80’s), Kevin struggled in school. Despite being a very smart, charming, and energetic little boy, his report cards were filled with comments like, “Kevin fails to live up to his potential” and “Kevin contributes wonderful ideas in class, but doesn’t complete his work.”

If you ask me, his teachers failed to see that he needed help, and instead, blamed him for his inability to focus and follow through on tasks. It wasn’t until fifth grade that a teacher finally recognized Kevin’s strengths, helped to develop his love of science, and made accommodations like allowing him to take tests standing up. That teacher changed Kevin’s entire outlook on himself as a learner. Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 1)

I’ve always thought of ADHD as a context-specific disorder. What are considered talents in one setting — such as high energy, creativity, and the ability to make brilliant cognitive leaps — are considered deficits in other settings, particularly traditional school settings, where students are required to sit silently for long periods of time, engaged in teacher-led tasks.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching Sir Kenneth Robinson’s address to the RSA, in which he contends that diagnosis of ADHD is on the rise because schools are failing to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

Continue reading

Why We Don’t Call Kids “Bullies”

When I was in third grade, I was bullied by a girl in fourth grade named Alex. She rode my bus and always sat at the back. Whenever I could, I sat at the front, but if those seats were taken and I had to sit near Alex, she teased me the entire way home: about my clothes, my hair, the way I spoke, the way I acted. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. To me, Alex was just a bully: a mean kid, rotten to the core. I hoped she’d drop off the face of the Earth, or, at the very least, go to middle school and not ride my bus anymore. Continue reading

Good Questions: How do you motivate students?

I was recently asked how I motivate my students.  Immediately, I thought, what don’t I do to motivate students?  I do everything short of standing on my head… no, wait a minute — I do that too, along with cartwheels, Captain’s Coming, Indian dances, and “old school” 4-Square.

Motivating students is at the very heart of being an effective teacher.  It’s a huge topic that encompasses just about everything we do, so let’s break it down. Continue reading

Cognitive Psychology in the Elementary Classroom

My husband Kevin has read (and improved) almost everything I’ve written in the past 15 years.  After my last post about behavior plans, which he liked very much, he had three observations: (1) I should write about the love of learning kids experience in my room, (2) teachers are surprisingly manipulative, and (3) the posts I’ve been writing are mostly about behaviorism.

To the first point: Kevin’s right.  Posts about freedom, inspiration, and love of learning coming soon!

To the second point, about manipulation: what an interesting way to put it.  Good teachers build strong bonds with their kids, develop trust, and define clear expectations and boundaries.  Do I use those strong bonds to make kids work harder than they would on their own?  Of course!  I use all the resources I have to make them want to do what I (and their parents, our district, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) want them to do.  And is that manipulation?  I suppose so, but another way to put it is that it’s an effective use of influence and motivation, always in the service of student learning and growth.  I have more thoughts on this.  Another future post!

It’s Kevin’s last (excellent) point about behaviorism that I want to write about today. Continue reading

Good Questions: Behavior Plans, Part 2

This is the second part of my two-part answer to Christine’s question about behavior plans and rewards.  Part 1 discussed whole-class reward systems, and now we’re on to individual behavior plans.

I use behavior plans frequently, starting around the second week of school.  Today, I’ll share three variations, but each of the plans I use is designed to do the same thing: to help students make better choices in the classroom.  Each individual student’s goals are different, but might be to focus better, to put more effective effort into their work, to work cooperatively with classmates, or to follow certain norms for classroom behavior. Continue reading