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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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!

 

 

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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How to adjust your worksheets for effective differentiation

All teachers use worksheets.  While we know that using worksheets all the time is not the best teaching practice; we also know that a well constructed worksheet, used purposefully, can be a great tool for independent or scaffolded practice.  Worksheets can also be a valuable formative assessment tool.

Unfortunately, some worksheets involve so much reading (deciphering instructions) that some students are unable to complete them accurately.  Sometimes the worksheet you choose is only appropriate for students who are accomplished readers. Students may give up as they see the task as being “too hard” or teachers see the results and assume that the students do not understand the concept.

How do you adjust worksheets so students with learning difficulties are able to participate and show what they know just like everyone else? Here are some tips!

  1. Blow the photocopy budget

    The size of text on worksheets seems to get smaller every year and students with reading difficulties, dyslexia or vision impairments, are immediately behind the eight ball.  Increase the font and line spacing to make reading instructions and questions as easy as possible.  If supervisors are questioning the amount of photocopying you are doing, tell them it is due to an important strategy for differentiation in your classroom.

  2. Use Different Fonts

    basic fontsInstructions should always be in a bold font while example responses (see tip 3) can be put in italics. This makes it easier to access the text on the worksheet.  Changes to font help students to separate different types of text.  Be warned: too many changes in font type can become very confusing, so ensure that each time the font modulates, from one type/ size to another, it has a clear purpose.

  3. Lead by Example

    Sentence Starters, Modelled Responses and Examples all point students in the right direction.  Students who struggle with receptive and expressive language often don’t know exactly how to put their answer/ knowledge into a format that makes sense to others. Don’t leave them guessing about what you want from them.  Don’t let them use “I didn’t know how to start!” as an excuse for not attempting a task.

    workshet with example

    While this is a worksheet for early years, it is a perfect example of showing students how to complete the tasks.

  4. Use Visual Supports

    Icons for types of questions, small images of required materials and diagrams are all good examples of this.  When appropriate, allow students to draw/ sketch their answers as this will invite reluctant writers to provide an answer.  Your visual learners will thank you too!  Check out my recent post about visuals.

    ten types of visuals

  5.  Don’t use 10 words when 2 will do.

    writer breeds more words than he needsStudents with poor working memory, receptive language difficulties and reading difficulties will struggle to read long directions and questions.  So keep it brief and clear.  A great way to check if your directions are clear is to ask a friend to read it and see if they know what to do.  A friend who isn’t a teacher is the best person to ask.  This ties in well with the Rule of 7 Lesson Planning Challenge!

Admittedly, it is difficult to make all of these adjustments to every worksheet you use in a week.  This is especially true if you are teaching a course you have taught before and you are hoping to re-use the resources.  Each week, I aim to adjust one worksheet/ activity for each class that I teach.  By the end of the semester I have at least 20 modified worksheets that I can use next semester.  I can adjust one worksheet a week next time I teach the course as well.  Every semester the students in my class have different needs so it makes sense that some of the materials will need to be adapted to accommodate them.

There is so much you can do to support the diverse needs in your class.  The ones above will make written materials so much easier to access for most of the students in your class whether their specific needs are related to difficulties with vision, reading, comprehension or even intellectual disability.

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Rule of Seven: Lesson Planning Challenge

What if your struggling students actually managed to write all the notes quickly and remembered the main idea of your lesson?  What if students re-read their notes when it was time to study? What if they were able to explain concepts simply without misconceptions!

The rule of 7 is simple.  Seven words, steps or points are the maximum for optimal memory retention.  That means, quick definitions of vocabulary words need to have 7 words or less. Wilfong (2012) states that truncated definitions should be limited to 3-5 words.

cant explain dont understand

Here’s the challenge…

Choose one lesson this week and apply the Rule of Seven. 

 Here are some steps to follow.

  1. Read and (if possible) re-write the lesson goal so it has 7 words or less.  When doing this, consider the main idea of your lesson and what you want your students to remember next lesson.
  2. Review the learning activities that you have planned. How long will each activity last? 5-7 minutes of instructional time (that’s teacher talk) also applies. If you are planning to chalk and talk for 15 minutes you need to rethink how you are going to sequence the lesson.  Split that 15 minutes into three 5 minute blocks or five 3 minute blocks or don’t divide it evenly at all.
  3. Last, but not least, review how much writing you are expecting your students to do.  If you are asking students to copy notes in their books, keep it to 7 or less dot points.  That doesn’t mean that each dot point can be a paragraph! If asking your students to write their own summary of the lesson, limit them to 7 words or less.  It will challenge them.

There it is.  The rule of 7 challenge. It is hard, but you can do it. I know you can.  I would love to hear how you go.  Let us know in the comments.   How does this rule change how you plan? What happens in the classroom when you plan your lessons this way? Is it worth the extra effort?  Is it easy or difficult for you? How do you make this challenge work for you and your students?

I can’t wait to hear from you!

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