Engagement as Behaviour Managment

Today, I want to tell you about three classes.

Class A: The chatty class

These students like to have a chat.  They are a bit noisy when they enter the classroom and there is quite a bit of banter going on during teacher instruction, group activities take a little longer than you might like because these kids are talking too much.  However, the teacher is happy, because, while sometimes annoying, these students are engaged in the learning experiences in class.  That’s good.  It’s not great, but it’s good.

Class B: The Off-task Crazy Class

These students drive every teacher nuts!  They are disengaged in the work and it’s hard work to get them to focus.  The teacher feels overwhelmed by specific students and the general immaturity of the class.  He/ She is constantly dealing with behaviour and struggling!  This class is hard!  This teacher needs help!

Class C: The Zombie Class

These kids are a bit strange. Their teacher is often frustrated and the students are often wondering why. This class appears to be perfect.  The students enter the classroom quietly (or close to it) and they settle quickly when the teacher begins instruction.  You can hear a pin drop when the teacher speaks.  Everyone is sitting in their assigned seat, facing the teacher and even have their books open to a clean page.  Some students are even copying everything that is written on the board or projected on the screen.  Sounds like a dream class, right? WRONG!!  Appearances can be deceiving! When it comes to listening and learning, this class just isn’t there.  They are quiet, because they are busy dreaming about their weekend.  When there is an activity, they don’t know what to do and they achieve very little.  The teacher goes home tired and frustrated!  The students go home confused and questioning why the teacher is so unhappy with them when they weren’t talking out of turn and they got all the notes copied down.

Which class would you rather have? 

While behaviour management strategies are necessary for ensuring students are on task, it is also vital that you work on ways to engage students in your class.  Participation needs to be an expectation of the classroom (every classroom) for students to learn.

Students need to be present, interested and feel capable of success in order to engage in a lesson.  At my school, attendance is a huge part of engaging students.  The students who are chronically absent, will obviously have difficulty engaging with class work when they are actually in the classroom.  Making the topic interesting is not always the easiest task for a teacher, however the way we teach the (not-so-stellar) content can generate more interest.  Students believing they can succeed is more complex than it seems, there are years of successes and failures as well as learned behaviours that every student brings with them into the classroom and these will inevitably impact upon student confidence.

How do we Engage Our Students? 

Especially. how do we get the Zombie Class to wake up and learn?

In order to engage our students we need to address all three aspects of classroom engagement.

Students must be PRESENT

Unfortunately this one mostly relies on the student and the parent/s to ensure a student is physically at school.  However, a Zombie class can have full attendance and still be disengaged.  When we say ‘PRESENT’ we don’t only refer to physical attendance but mental attendance/ focus on the lesson.

As teachers, we can contact parents when a student is often absent (or for more than a few days) and ask if everything is okay? We can also offer to send learning materials home via email or through a class mate, so that the student doesn’t fall behind.  While the student may not do much with the materials you send home, as a teacher, you can know that you have done your best to help your student be ‘present’.

In terms of maximising ‘focus’ ensure that your students understand that your expectations go beyond a ‘quiet’ class or having the notes copied down correctly.  Make participation a requirement.  Instead of requiring that specific notes be copied into books, require the students to answer a question or complete an activity.  Formulate the required activity so students won’t be able to complete it without listening and engaging with instruction/ learning.  If a student is unable to complete the activity it shows you that either they didn’t understand the concept or they weren’t engaged.  Either way, you need to spend time with them re-teaching the lesson content. So, ask the student to stay back after class for a conversation about that.  As long as you are consistent with this, most students will quickly figure out that it is easier and more time efficient to just participate in the lesson in the first place.

Sometimes, the FOCUS of your students will be somewhere else.  That’s understandable.  Even as adults, there are times when we are distracted!  Try to minimise distractions and remind the students that we sometimes need to hit pause on some things in life so we can focus on taking care of business.  If a student is often distracted by life due to family/ financial/ relationship problems or none of your strategies seem to help, refer the student to counselling and support services in your school.  Chronic disengagement is often a signal that something is up.

Students must be INSTERESTED

When was the last time you spent an hour reading about a topic you cared nothing about?  When was the last time you watched a movie you hate?  Have you ever spent the whole day at a museum or trade show that had nothing to do with you?  Maybe you have watched that stupid movie recently or read about a topic you have no interest in or maybe you went to that silly trade show.  I’m guessing that if you did, you had a compelling reason e.g. my husband loved it and wanted me to share the experience, or I was reading for my job, or my kid had a booth at the trade show. It may not have been your first choice, but you made the best of it, because it was important to you or someone you love.  We can’t always twist our curriculum to be the favourite topic of every kid in our class.  We CAN explain why the content we are teaching is important to the students.  We CAN help them to understand how the knowledge and skills they are learning will help them get a job, get into university, pay their bills, manage their finances or conserve their environment.  So, take the time to do that.  It will save time in the long run, as students will know why they need to participate.

Students must be CONFIDENT they CAN

Sometimes, students disengage because they don’t understand the words we are using.  They might have had a bad experience with algebra.  They might have failed Science last year. There could be a million reasons for a student to think/ feel like they CAN’T learn what you are teaching them.  The best way to combat this feeling, is to make your classroom a safe place for mistakes (easier said than done, I know!).  You can also start new topics with a quick brainstorming activity that allows students to share what they already know about a topic.  If they don’t know much, discuss why this might be and reassure students that by the end of the unit they will know much more!  Ask questions and create activities that build confidence and allow students to experience success.  Of course, there will be quizzes and questions and tasks that are more difficult and struggle is important to learning.  You need to find a balance.

 

As the Aussie Teachers start a new school year this week, I am thinking of ways to engage my students from the start.  In other countries, students have returned from Winter breaks and teachers might be worried about recapturing that beginning of the year excitement that students seem to have lost by now.  If you are thinking about engagement, remember that it is more than getting the students in the classroom and it is more than a fancy lesson plan.  Ensure that you are consistent with your expectations and students know that participating is easier than not!

Best of Everything.

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A Good Reason for Absence

I am caring for my terminally ill father.  It is a full time job at the moment and so, I am not teaching.  I haven’t had time to even think about this blog let alone log in and post on it.  My mind is filled with other things.

While I am here, I want to draw your attention to a particular type of student that you might just have in your classroom.  This student is a “student carer”.  It isn’t what it sounds like.  This student cares for, or contributes to the care of, a parent or sibling.

This student’s day starts very differently to her peers.  Where most students wake up and gets themselves organised, leaves the house and attends school; this student wakes up and before thinking of themselves they are engaged in caring for another.  They wake up their parent or sibling, assist with meal preparation and feeding, administer medications, and contribute to household chores.

Their home is not designed around the student, but the person this student cares for. There might be a padlock on the fridge, rails in the bathroom, walking aids in the corner, a hospital bed in the living room.  The other adults in the house (if there is one) are not focused on your student, they are focused on the sick or injured person.  The Student Carer may spend school nights sitting in emergency rooms, or wake up to an empty house and a note telling them that the adults are at the hospital.  It might be hard to launder their uniform because their are too many sheets, towels and clothes belonging to the unwell person that need to be cleaned. School work and school rules are not a priority in their home.

The parent might do the best they can to fulfil the role of parent, however this is hard when so much responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of the child.  Freedom is a dream in this home.  The rules of adult/child relationships are turned upside down.  Nothing in this student’s world works the way you might expect.

Often, these students are strong, and you might not know what is really happening at home.  Often, caring for the sibling and parent is not acknowledged in the home or in the world outside the home.  It might be that the adult doesn’t want to admit that they need help, or that life has been this way for so long that the student doesn’t know that life could be different.  It’s just the way it is.

As a teacher, how do you support this student in your classroom?

  • Acknowledge that life at home is challenging.
  • Discuss the situation with the student in private, be open and honest.  Negotiate deadlines for assessment and homework assignments.
  • Be sensitive to the difficulties that the adults in the situation are facing.
  • Remember that you are not a counsellor or doctor.
  • Seek help from relevant people in the school and refer the family to community services that can assist them.
  • Set clear boundaries and reduce responsibilities of the student where you can.
  • Remember that relationships with adults are very different for this student and adjust accordingly.

Do you have one of these students in your classroom?

How do you adjust to support them?

 

 

I believe that the SHIFT ELearning blog might just be finding inspiration from me!  Here is a recent post from SHIFT which explains some brilliant statistics about the wonders of micro learning  which is taking the corporate world of staff development by storm.  Enjoy reading more reasons why I’m right!

 

 

Chunking for Learning and Differentiation

Chunking is a simple idea.  The teacher breaks information and processes into smaller chunks that are easier for students to digest.  Reviewing each chunk before moving on to the next, also helps students to both remember and connect various chunks, eventually forming a big picture concept or entire process. This fits into Design Question 2 in the Art and Science of Teaching (click here to read more about this).

The curriculum documents we use already has chunks within subjects, concepts and processes.  When a teacher does their own planning s/he chunk the curriculum into units, weeks and lessons.  The best teachers chunk their lessons into manageable portions as well.  This chunking is a simple idea but a difficult skill to master.

Chunking is also an important teaching strategy for differentiating instruction.  Some students need to work on larger chunks while others need to work on smaller ones.  Some students may need to revise some chunks more than others.  Some students need more opportunities to rehearse a skill or steps in a process.

When assigning tasks for students (whether it’s a practice task, informal note taking or assessment task) chunking makes the task more accessible and achievable.  This is especially true for students with special learning needs.  Michelle from Teach 123 posted about an easy strategy for chunking assignments, click here to check out all the details.

folder cut in sections

Cut flaps in the front of a manilla folder so the student can see only one section of the task sheet at one time.

 

 

I love this folder idea and I know I will be using it in the next few weeks with my students.   Closing the flaps over completed work allows the student to focus only on the work at hand.  For some students this would minimise distractions and help them focus.  Other students may benefit from being able to see how much work or how many chunks they have already completed.  It gives them a sense of achievement and the confidence to continue.  A piece of card moved down the page to reveal one question at a time could work just as well as a folder with several flaps.

exam

Exams spilt into separate pages.

 

A colleague of mine gave her students in a secondary maths class one page of the exam booklet at a time.  Instead of students being presented with a 5 page booklet with an overwhelming number of questions, students worked through 2-5 questions and had a short break before moving to the next page.  Students were also allowed extra time to complete exams and dividing the exam into smaller sections helped them to better manage their time.

Chunking new information into smaller pieces is “just good teaching” and many pedagogical frameworks include this facet of teaching.  This “good teaching” is even more important when working with students who have learning difficulties.  Students who experience any of the following difficulties will benefit from chunking strategies in teaching and modifying tasks.

  • Working Memory Difficulties
  • Executive Function Deficits or Delays
  • ADHD/ADD
  • Receptive Language Difficulties/ impairments
  • Intellectual Impairments/ Disabilities
  • ASD

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Tips for Improving your Visuals

Today I’m sharing an excellent article from Shift E Learning.  This particular article is about Maintaining Visual Consistency in eLearning materials however, you can certainly apply these principles when creating materials for your classes.  Whether constructing a single worksheet or an entire workbook, keeping these principles in mind will improve the overall look of your materials.  Consistency in these things helps students to navigate class materials quickly and easily.  Students with learning difficulties that affect executive function will benefit from consistent class materials.  Students with autism wll also appreciate visually consistent materials as they will know what to expect.  Check out the article to see how you can achieve a visually consistent format for your course materials AND how this will help you to highlight important information effectively.

Reading this article can definitely count for 30 minutes of professional reading time!

Happy Teaching

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