Tuesday, August 15, 2017

7 Ideas for Establishing Class Rules and Still be Nice

I had my first class with severe behavior issues this past semester. I've had individual behavior problems and small groups with attitudes and lack of motivation, but this was a classroom-wide issue, with just a few students who kept to themselves and away from the majority troublemakers.

I did a brave thing and asked a group of the troublemakers at the end of the semester what part of this was me. One student, in particular, was honest and said that I came off as "super nice" at the beginning, so they felt like they could run over me. When it turned out that I was actually strict about the rules, it was a surprise, and they pushed back. Everyone agreed. Another student piped in that most teachers come off as strict at the beginning, and then "turn nice," but I was the opposite. Although I was very glad that semester was over (it was so bad, I'd sit in the parking lot in my car beforehand and do breathing exercises), I was grateful that I got real feedback.

I've been teaching for eight years, so it's obviously not something that will happen with every class that views me as "super nice," but I never want to repeat last semester. So how do I temper "nice" with "strict" right from the beginning? Here's what I'm going to try:

1. Be consistent from day one with the rules. Always with a smile.

2. Involve the students more with class rule-making. This is something I always do, but I'll put a greater emphasis on it and even include a writing activity about it. Ownership in classroom management equals better behavior.

3. Talk personally with troublemakers right away and enlist their help.

4. Try not to joke about misbehaviors in class that are often humorous. This will be hard, but I'm committed. Sometimes the troublemakers are the cleverest humans.

5. Repeat the class policies and rules two weeks into the semester. Often students don't remember everything from the first day because of the amount of information they get from each class. I will also have students do a self-evaluation and quiz on the policies.

6. If a rule becomes an issue (cell phones, anyone?), post a countdown on the wall for motivation (5 days cell-phone free!) with a reward attached to a certain amount of days.

7. I learned long ago that students respect teachers who hold their ground. They also respect teachers who listen well. I am re-dedicated to letting students know they are heard, even if I don't deviate from policy. I will schedule more time for one-on-one instruction and conferencing.

I still want to be nice. I want to be perceived as nice. But I won't ever make the mistake of "super nice" again!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fidget Spinners in the Classroom

Fidget spinners are everywhere, but do they belong in the classroom? Some say yes, as they are thought to help students with ADHD, anxiety, stress, or autism focus better on their lessons. The hard evidence is purely anecdotal, however, and teachers are likely to say they have the opposite effect, creating distraction instead of concentration. 

There is evidence that fidget devices can help a certain population. Studies have been done that show positive results with small, hand-held items such as putty, stress balls, or even a smooth stone. It stands to reason that fidget spinners could have the same effect, but who is to judge who truly benefits, and who is just playing? A second problem is that unlike these other objects, fidget spinners have a visual component. The spinning, whirring, colorful device is hard not to watch, and that's compounded by the fact that they are excellent tools for doing tricks.

Almost 11 percent of kids ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, and many more are undiagnosed. Add to that the number of kids with anxiety, stress, or autism who could also benefit from a fidget item, it's hard to dismiss the possibilities of improved focus for this many kids. Some teachers, however, think they amount to nothing but trouble. One sixth grade teacher famously called them "helicopters of distraction" in a blog post that went viral.

Whether or not teachers allow fidget spinners or other fidget items in the classroom is becoming a school- and district-wide issue, with some banning fidget spinners outright. Other schools are leaving it up to each teacher to decide what's best for his or her classroom. 

If you want to put the question to your students, I've created two non-fiction articles, pro and con, along with reading comprehension, vocabulary, and writing assignments to help them come informed, reasoned opinions. The reading level is challenging fifth grade through standard seventh grade.