Showing posts with tag teacher effectiveness Show all posts >
Tim Rasinski is on a mission to change minds and he shares that mission with us in his webinar, “Keys to Increasing Reading Comprehension in the Age of Common Core.”
What’s Hot, What’s Not
Rasinski laments the fact that reading fluency has been ranked “Not Hot” for years in the annual “What’s Hot, What’s Not Literacy Survey” in Reading Today. Worse, he says, is the fact that the reading experts surveyed said that fluency should not be hot.
Fluency is one of the key skills, says Rasinski, that increases comprehension, the real goal of reading. So he wrote an article called “Why Reading Fluency Should Be Hot!,” which was featured in last May’s Reading Teacher magazine.
Building a Bridge to Reading Comprehension
Rasinski likens reading fluency to a bridge that connects accuracy in word study (phonics, decoding, spelling, and vocabulary) to comprehension. When students do not pick up the connection intuitively, educators have to teach it. But, if educators do not see fluency as an important component of reading instruction, the bridge to comprehension may never be built.
Teaching fluency means developing automaticity in word recognition, so learners can devote their available cognitive energy to comprehension. When that limited energy is spent on word recognition, there’s often not enough left over for the difficult task of deriving meaning from the words that have been read.
Ways to Develop Fluency That Really Work
Rasinski outlines what he calls “the essentials” of developing reading fluency:
Anyone interested in helping students become eager and capable readers should take the time to watch the full webinar and hear Rasinski’s thoughts on these points in his own words. It’s a topic he’s thoroughly studied, and he brings his extensive knowledge and passion to the discussion.
The online Reading Assistant program, as Rasinski points out, supports classroom teachers by delivering these five essentials—including real-time corrective feedback—to any number of students simultaneously.
Reading comprehension all comes down to meaning, says Rasinski, and teaching reading fluency ultimately helps learners get better at deriving meaning from any text.
Doesn’t that sound “Hot!” to you?
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As spring begins to overtake winter, I’ve noticed an increasing number of children riding their bicycles in my neighborhood.
Seeing one father helping his daughter with her new two-wheeler reminded me of my own initial experience with my first bicycle. The bike I received for my birthday had no training wheels on it and so I floundered on my first attempts to ride it.
A Wobbly Start
My dad came home from his factory job one spring afternoon and saw me struggling to keep my balance as I rode. Getting out of the car, he walked over to me and had me get on the bike while he steadied it by grasping the seat.
As I pedaled and steered my bike, he ran next to me holding me up. When I turned, I usually leaned too much or too little into the curve; my dad gave me feedback (he’d say “lean the other way”) and supported me by tilting the bike in the opposite direction.
The Power of Supported Practice
After a few trips up and down the block he gave me a push, let go of the seat, and before I knew it, I was riding without his help. I could ride my bike! Later that afternoon my father gave me a few more tips on bike safety and expressed how proud he was of my accomplishment.
The experience of learning to ride my bike reminds me of what happens during assisted reading with feedback.
The Importance of Feedback in Learning to Read
A considerable body of theory and research in reading acquisition tell us that the foundational skills in reading (in the Common Core Standards, phonics, word recognition, and fluency) are best developed through instruction followed by practice with support and feedback.
When a struggling or developing reader reads a text while simultaneously hearing it read to them (either with a partner, a group, or a recorded reading) the developing reader will eventually be able to read that text (and others) without assistance.
An essential key to the assist, however, is to provide formative feedback to the reader in the same way that my father gave feedback to me. That feedback can take a variety of forms—emphasizing a word that was mispronounced, providing the definition to a word or phrase, or briefly discussing the reading after the reading and focusing on an area of need or areas in which the reader has improved.
Most learning, it seems, is facilitated by an assist, scaffold, or support provided by another. Learning to read and learning to ride a bike are no exception.
The Teacher’s Touch
As teachers, our role in reading acquisition is to find ways to support our students in their reading while providing formative feedback during and after their reading. When we do so we will find our students not only making great progress in their reading but also viewing themselves as competent and independent readers.
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As an educator I spend a considerable amount of time providing advice to parents whose children are finding it difficult to be inspired with reading! Parents will describe their child as “struggling,” “disinterested,” or ”anxious” about reading and are searching for ways to instill the love of reading, when it is such a tedious task for their child.
It’s really quite simple: Children who do not read well will not be inspired to read, or to practice reading more. So, how do we get our reluctant readers to find reading fun?
As the director of a school that specializes in working with students with reading disorders—and a parent of a youngster who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 3rd grade—I see this issue from both sides. Some suggestions that I share with our parents (and that I used with my own son) can create a safe haven for reading for the emerging reader, gifted reader, or a student who needs more direct instruction to improve reading skills.
The Practice of Reading Skills
Keep the work of developing reading skills separate from pleasure reading. Students who require reinforcement in their decoding or vocabulary should practice those tasks for a short time (15-20 minutes) several times per week. Use some of these ideas to make the reading fun!
Reading for Pleasure
Children who are behind in their reading abilities, such as decoding, vocabulary, or comprehension, may not always select independent reading material that “matches” their age and grade. In fact, many children who struggle with the mechanics of reading may be interested in topics that are way above their independent reading level. To meet their intellectual interests and instill the “habit” of reading for pleasure, consider these ideas:
Above all, BE PATIENT and ENCOURAGING with your child as they develop independent reading habits. The “art” of reading is quite complex. Some children will require more support, individualized instruction, and continued practice, and may benefit from the services of a reading specialist. Your positive influence, patience, and support can make your child feel safe to take the “risk” of reading new words or selecting more challenging material. Celebrate the small steps, and keep positive so your child will become more confident!
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After 17 years as a teacher and 8 as a researcher in education, I have become increasingly aware of a “gravitational force” pulling me to instruct with little attention to the most ambitious goal a teacher, parent, or administrator can aspire to—inciting curiosity. I say ‘incite’ because it seems counter-culture to do so. My goals here are to illustrate briefly this force and to provide one simple way we can begin to counteract its pull.
When I discuss the matter with colleagues, I see that we all feel the same way. Few of us seem to know why we’re teaching what we’re teaching, how to get students to be interested in it or what to do about it. After years of thinking about this, I’ve come to understand that confusion is often a precursor to learning.
Communication of ideas is a central part of learning. Language matters – especially in mathematics. So far, I’ve said nothing new. However, let’s examine a way in which typical instruction attempts to provide language for students. Even the very attempt to provide language for students can be misguided and can be seen as the source of many learning difficulties. I will attempt to illustrate with an example.
Consider a typical lesson from middle school pre-algebra classes—this is a scenario that plays out across grade levels and content areas. I have chosen this example to illustrate how a common, well-intended teaching practice (pre-teaching vocabulary) can squelch curiosity, contribute to anxiety in the learner, and ultimately turn students into what I call “Do-Monsters.” (Even if you feel anxious reading this and start to break out in math hives, I encourage you to persist!)
Teacher: Today we are going to learn about: like terms, monomials, binomials, trinomials, and ultimately polynomials. Please take out your notebook and write these terms down together with the definitions I will show you. (Definitions are copied…)
Teacher: Now I will show you an example of a polynomial. Please identify two like terms in this example. Example 1: 2x – 3 + x
Take a moment to remember a similar occasion in your learning experience (if you can): your lack of curiosity or need to think critically, and the aimless feeling of the activity. Remember the worksheet with 25 mindless problems you worked on for the rest of that class?
The situation I am referring to is, generally, one in which the topic is foreign to the students and the teacher. The reason for discussing the vocabulary (or even the concept) is that there is an impending test, a social contract that a teacher must cover the book, or a belief that knowing the vocabulary is crucial for critical thinking to begin. Learning vocabulary out of context becomes the purpose of the lesson rather than asking how these words can help us solve problems or think critically.
Questions, Problems, and Meaning
Consider an alternative. Instead of giving students meaningless terms upfront (pre-teaching vocabulary) so they can think about a question, why not give them the question first and deal with vocabulary within a context? I have found that the most meaningful lessons are those in which a student has something worth discussing; one in which there is a problem to solve. The problem with this is that the kinds of questions I have been trained to ask and those primarily found in textbooks are not really central to the topic I teach. They make language acquisition the end—instead of the means to an end.
I have also come to believe that imagination is a necessary ingredient in learning. Once it’s in play we can ask different kinds of questions that leverage existing language to create a need for new language. We might ask questions like, “Do we all imagine the same things happening in this situation? How do you see it? How do our images differ? How are they the same? What would happen next? Can we play out the scenario? What if we changed the situation?”
When a context is present, there is a chance that I can play! Playing is good. Unfortunately, in our desire to ease students’ frustrations/suffering in the learning process we (teachers/parents/administrators) often seek to give them the words they need before they need them, creating a situation in which students don’t know what to do with what has been given to them. We expect a child to wait patiently with a word for the right time to spring into action and use it.
So, what might a lesson look like in which we try to put students in a problematic situation before introducing the vocabulary necessary to describe the phenomena we want students to reason about? Consider a potential revision to the previous scenario in which the goal of the lesson was to teach students about: like terms, monomials, binomials, trinomials, and ultimately polynomials. Changing the goal from language acquisition to critical thinking might play out like this.
The Birth of Puzzlement
Teacher: I’m thinking of a number…so that 3 less than twice my number plus my number again equals 15. What number am I thinking of?
Did you find yourself trying to answer the question? Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. The point is that students have a starting point to imagine what could happen. A debate could break out about what that number is and students could talk to each other. The situation could be changed enough to make them think again until they are comfortable with the phenomenon – searching for an unknown number that satisfies the given condition.
Eventually, when the situation gets complicated enough, we might need the terms: like terms, monomials, binomials, trinomials, and ultimately polynomials. We know we are at that point when students see the need to refer to 3 less than twice my number as one entity instead of two. What would we call that thing? It is incumbent on us as teachers to bring students to this point through a careful selection of tasks. There is no algorithm other than asking the question, “How can I puzzle my students the right amount today?”
One argument to continue pre-teaching vocabulary is that a student (a second language learner in particular) might not know what a word means and might not have a sense of the question at hand. In that case, isn’t it better to pre-teach vocabulary?
There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes yes, but usually no. In fact, I have come to see that puzzlement goes hand in hand with confusion in the beginning and that this is a sign that learning can occur. It represents the possibility that something can be learned and this is what excites me most about teaching. I WANT students to raise questions about words they don’t understand and begin to ask questions about them spontaneously. I WANT students to play out the scenario under their own interpretations—whatever those interpretations are. I WANT debate.
Unfortunately, too often we see no possibility of debate because we spend far too much time focusing on the wrong lessons. The irony about language acquisition is that it happens best as we use the language we have, not when we are taught words out of context. To really learn a term, we must first have something to talk about that requires the new word itself. In short, here is where we lose our way. To quote a colleague, “We are so fearful we won’t cover the material, that we fail to uncover something meaningful.”
Many students enter our classrooms with limited vocabulary and loads of catching up to do. I’ve seen teachers discouraged by the challenge they are faced with, and yet doing valuable things in their classrooms everyday to not only meet challenges but to exceed expectations. The good news is that the little things we do everyday can have a great impact.
Why Modeled Reading Matters
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” - Emilie Buchwald
Our students have a wide range of lap hours logged. For some, the idea of climbing up to listen as someone reads to them is more natural than putting on a pair of socks, while for others it’s a rare event. In classrooms, all children benefit from listening as we read.
Modeling fluent reading in our classrooms and displaying our love for the written word benefits every student, but it is essential for those students who do not get this benefit at home.
Older students can benefit as well. On this topic, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “Every read-aloud is an advertisement for pleasure, every worksheet is an ad for pain. If the pain outweighs the pleasure, the customers go elsewhere.” When we read and showcase our love of reading we are advertising the very thing we want our students to buy.
Get Students Reading More, More, More (and More)
“There is ample evidence that one of the major differences between poor and good readers is the difference in the quantity of total time they spend reading.” - National Reading Panel, 2000
The best way to improve reading skill is through reading practice. If we’ve modeled fluent reading for students and chosen material that is a great fit for their ability and their interest, then we have set the stage for practice.
It’s no wonder that good readers read a lot and poor readers read little. If an activity is not pleasurable, devoting time to it is not desirable. However, as good readers read and poor readers do not, the gap in their ability grows. We must encourage all of our students to read. We must find ways to make reading pleasurable for all students.
*Note that I’ve indicated Children A, B & C are all reading at the same rate (100WPM). Though this scenario may be unlikely, it highlights the gains that are possible for all students. As their reading improves, their rate will increase along with more words devoured.
For those with poor skills, the need to practice is critical—not only to improve their reading ability, but also to open their world. These “words” represent new vocabulary, new ideas, new topics, and new learning. By getting students to read more we are expanding their imaginations and building their background. When students read little they miss out on so much more than slow-growing reading skills.
A Deep and Continuing Need
One final note on quality. To incent students to read and to help them read well, we must also focus on motivation and help students choose reading material that will be inspiring and well suited to them.
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ” - Maya Angelou
I’ve always been struck by some of the reading material we put in front of our struggling readers. As I’ve worked with students on their assigned texts, I can’t help but find myself bored and listless. How can we expect students to develop a fondness for reading if what we’re asking them to read is not particularly good? Think about why you read and what you like to read. I’ve yet to find the well-read adult who chooses reading material based on their ability level alone. Instead, they read to gather information, to soak up a genre they are especially fond of, to escape and to dream. To foster this ‘deep and continuing need’, we need to provide our students with delicious, fantastic literature. They need rich vocabulary, exotic stories and variety. At times this beautiful content is beyond the reach of our students’ ability, but we are wise to help them reach, to scaffold, to encourage and to make every attempt to give them the good stuff.
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” - Katherine Patterson
For many educators, summer school planning is in full gear! Districts are determining the who, the what and the how, and all with limited resources.
When I was working in the school system, summer school left something to be desired. The students were doing the same activities from the school year (and were still bored by them), and the teachers were working with students they didn’t know, struggling to individualize instruction. Making an effective summer learning program isn't easy; I appreciate the work that goes into making any instructional plan effective. Educating our students, during the year or summer, is not for the faint of heart. It takes an enormous amount of collaboration, planning, expertise, creativity and energy (lots of energy!) to be done well.
The Rand Corporation’s 2011 report on summer school effectiveness makes many recommendations; here are just a few:
After all is said and done, it’s important to know whether your summer school program was effective. Did all the work you put in lead to improved reading scores, for example? For schools that used Reading Assistant in their summer school programs, the answer was a resounding yes:
Is your district on track to make this the best summer school yet? If there were two recommendations I’d make, I’d say:
For further reading:
Results on Reading Assistant:
Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Burns presented a webinar titled “What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum.” One of the exciting new changes that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) bring is a great deal more emphasis on how students learn rather than focusing solely on what they learn. The emphasis of previous standards have focused more on memorization of facts rather than on higher order thinking skills. In this webinar, Dr. Burns reviews the learning capacities spelled out in the CCSS and describes the skills that students need to be successful as lifelong learners, e.g., the ability to evaluate, to adapt, adjust and critique, etc. At the foundation of these higher order abilities lie the foundational skills below. Together, these skills can be termed the “process of learning.”
· Executive control or self-control
Students with deficiencies in these foundational skills may be labeled as “trouble makers” or “at risk” and have difficulty keeping up in today’s growing classroom. Experienced educators have always recognized the importance of these skills, but the idea that they can be specifically addressed and improved is relatively new. Without the ability to remember the details of a non-fiction text, how would a student be able to evaluate and critique it?
Dr. Burns describes new insights in neuroscience that are contributing to our understanding of the process of learning and what can be done to strengthen these skills in all learners, even those with learning disabilities and other challenges. The idea that these skills are inherent in students and cannot be changed is simply untrue. With the right training, all students can become stronger, more capable learners.
One efficient way for students to practice the skills needed to meet the rigor of the Common Core Standards is through the research-based learning tools employed by Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs. Dr. Burns concluded her presentation with a walkthrough of the programs, highlighting the aspects of the programs that speak directly to the foundational skills needed to create college and career ready students. She also describes what happens in the student’s brain when they are engaged with the software and the results that can be expected.
This new approach by the Common Core State Standards to draw attention to the “process” of learning, rather than just content, is important for all stakeholders to understand. With this new understanding comes a greater importance to use all of the tools at our disposal to help all learners succeed.
In early elementary school, Louise was described as a sweet but somewhat passive child. She was an average student who never made trouble so her teachers did not worry about her, but at the same time she was rarely chosen for special duties or called on in class. When Louise's parents asked about her somewhat mediocre progress in school (given that her siblings were all excellent students), the school principal, Mr. Henry tried to reassure them that she was a bright little girl but would never get an ulcer worrying about school achievement; she just was not an "active learner". Often children like Louise are described as underachievers.
But for Louise, that description of her began to change in the third grade under Mr. Stevens. He was a teacher that some parents hoped their children could avoid because he was a stickler for neatness, organization, planning, paying attention and punctuality. He referred to himself as "Hurricane Stevens" for his proclivity, without warning, to check students' desks randomly for disarray or to confiscate items that might distract a student from getting work done. One day Louise succumbed to his watchful eye during class when she was admiring a yo-yo she had won during lunch recess. With one fell swoop the yo-yo became part of Mr. Stevens' "cyclone stash" of toys and comic books - all to be returned each Friday with a wry smile and gentle warning that sometimes objects get lost in cyclones. “Class time is your job," Mr. Stevens extolled her, "you can think about recess during recess, during class you need to focus on learning."
Mr. Stevens also had a memory game he called "fun facts", starting each day with a list of new history or science facts, vocabulary words, or current events details. They were always relevant to one of the class lessons, and during the day more information about the facts would be part of the daily lessons. Students were told to pay close attention to the list and knew they would need to apply the facts in a later lesson, but were not permitted to write anything down. Sometime during each day, never predictably, Mr. Stevens would quiz the class on a few of the morning's facts and how they applied to that day's lesson. At random and without warning (in case a student surreptitiously jotted a few notes somewhere) students were asked a question about one or more of the facts. The first student called on who answered correctly got to wear a prized star pin the entire day.
In September, Mr. Stevens began with five facts each morning. By October, none of the students missed any of the questions when called on so Mr. Stevens increased the list by one each month and the application of the facts became less predictable. When the list became longer and the application more subtle, Mr. Stevens would ask students how they were able to remember. Students told of using different strategies. One student said that since she was not allowed to write the facts down, she just pictured what they looked like if she did write them! Then she could recognize them if she saw them later or could read them back to herself in her mind. Another boy said when there were names, he tried to imagine how they looked. When he learned later about what they did in history he could see them doing it. Like most of the children, Louise figured out her own strategies to help remember the facts and tried to predict how they might apply to class or what kind of questions he might ask. She found herself listening carefully throughout the day for more information. And like most of the students in the class, she couldn't wait to be called on -- later in the year, she too won the star pin every time she was selected to answer one of Mr. Stevens' questions.
Mr. Stevens understood that children need to take an active role in the learning process. Some children are natural students; they focus easily on content, can stick to one task, and retain information without effort. Those students achieve easily so they are a joy to teach. But to other children like Louise the "how" of learning does not come naturally. Their mind wanders or they are easily distracted in class. They don't realize that they may need to "try to remember" information. They might seem lazy because they have trouble sticking with a task when it is repetitive or boring. Mr. Stevens understood that in addition to teaching information, he could also teach students how to learn. Louise and the other students learned to focus on relevant details in class, plan for how they were going to hold on to information during the day, and predict how they might apply to the lessons. After a year with Mr. Stevens, his students were not just better at reading, math, and writing, they were active learners.
Teaching approaches like those of Mr. Stevens may be thought of as emphasizing the process of learning as much as the content. His goal was not just that students acquire information but also apply it. In that regard he was years ahead of his time. The Common Core State Standards, that a majority of states have now adopted, emphasize application of knowledge. Key points of the Common Core State Standards for reading, for example, mandate that through reading students not only "build knowledge" but also "gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective*." To that end, Roger Schank at Northwestern University, author of "Teaching Minds" argues persuasively that there are twelve cognitive processes which underlie learning, including prediction and analytic processes like planning or judgment.
The problem of course is that today's teachers have been increasingly evaluated on their students' mastery of the curriculum, which might be considered the "what of teaching". With Common Core State Standards and educational research now emphasizing the learning process as well as mastery of content, teachers find gaps in the curriculum. Many state standards do include critical thinking skills like application of knowledge and drawing inferences. But, most state curriculum standards do not include underlying learning processes like teaching students how to attend better to relevant information, stick with a task to completion, or develop retention strategies.
Fortunately, neuroscience has been grappling with the learning process issues like focused attention, perseverance and memory enhancement for over a decade. As a result of neuroscience research, breakthrough technologies like the Fast ForWord brain fitness and reading products are now available to supplement classroom instruction through curriculum-based attentional and memory training. By supplementing classroom tasks with these types of technologies, teachers don't have to devote as much planning and instructional time to the kinds of activities "Hurricane Stevens" employed.
Breakthrough technologies are also available to free up classroom time so that teachers can focus instruction on Common Core State Standards like those for speaking and listening which "expect students [to] grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading*." With technologies like Reading Assistant, for example, students independently read aloud to a computer which corrects their errors through speech recognition software, provides vocabulary definitions on request, and quizzes for application of information at the same time as measuring reading fluency. These kinds of technologies in the classroom enable teachers to do what they love, impart content as well as encourage their students to think about how the content applies to other information they have learned and their daily lives. The Common Core State Standards can be a welcome contribution to classroom education with breakthrough technologies that enhance students' capacity to learn.
And by the way, with Mr. Stevens' help you might have expected that Louise eventually became a prodigious student and teacher herself. Perhaps you can guess who she was. (HINT: My full name is Martha Louise Stoner Burns - the teacher and principal's names were changed though.)
For further reading:
In a recent webinar for Scientific Learning titled “Teaching With the Brain In Mind”, Eric Jensen discussed the newest concepts in brain research and how they relate to teaching and classroom strategies. Jensen is the author of 24 books on brain research and is a former educator himself.
It turns out that almost everything that educators assume to be correct about the development of the brain in children and adolescents is mistaken. Mr. Jensen summarized what current research tells us about the childhood brain in three simple points:
1. Brains are far more variable than previously thought
It turns out that “normal, healthy brains” only exist in about 10% of the population. For the other 90%, plenty of internal and external factors have affected their development. This finding supports teachers’ intuition, that educational differentiation is just as important as they have always suspected.
2. Brains have the ability to change more than previously thought
An idea that gives hope to teachers everywhere, Mr. Jensen detailed research on brain plasticity, or a brain’s ability to change throughout life. A “plastic” brain thrives when in an optimal educational setting , but the converse is also true. High-performing students in the hands of low-performing teachers can and often do regress rapidly.
3. Every cognitive skill can be taught
Skills previously thought to be inherent or genetic, like attention span or capacity for responsibility, are actually teachable. This finding obviously has revolutionary implications for classroom management strategies. When paired with the previous two findings, one can conclude that every child has the ultimate potential for success when met with the proper strategies and support.
Throughout the webinar, Mr. Jensen tied the above guiding principles to real-world examples in a classroom. He touched on the efficacy of products like Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant, which are leaders in utilizing these guiding principles to make reading gains.
The professional educator leaves this talk not only with new insights into the workings of the childhood brain, but also with practical strategies that can be used the next day with students.
In my five years in the classroom, I was often the teacher who wrote the least amount of discipline referrals in the school. Some of my colleagues would say it was because of the students I taught (mostly advanced classes, with roughly half of the students being classified as gifted), to which I responded that talented kids are just as capable at problem behavior as traditional students. They just tend to misbehave in more creative ways.
The real reason for my lack of paperwork was that I could usually relate to why a particular student was acting out and tried to address the problem at the source. I credit that approach for a lot of the success I experienced in the classroom.
As anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a middle school student would tell you, the cause was usually a lack of self-discipline. I simply did not see how getting a student suspended from school would solve a student’s lack of self-control.
Why the traditional approach no longer works
To me, the traditional approach of working up a discipline ladder that usually ended with a suspension was contrary to what most of these children actually needed. Think about it. A kid lacks the social skills to be successful in a class group, so we’re going to make sure he gets less practice in working within the class by sending him home.
Let’s face it: society is providing us with more and more students that simply are not prepared socially to be successful in the traditional classroom setting. Debating the causes of this situation is outside the scope of this article, except to say that the role of the modern teacher is now equally defined by social as well as academic instruction.
The social skills that these students lack, and which we fail to address through traditional discipline, are skills that will haunt them throughout their lives. They will not “just grow out of it”. The same skill deficiencies that affect their success in school will affect their success in the workplace, if they make it that far.
So what do we do?
Instead of blaming society for forcing us to be parents to these children, we should embrace the role. Because, frankly, we don’t have a choice. It’s easier to change a classroom than change a society. We need to recommit ourselves to empowering students rather than entering in a power struggle with them.
Just as parents would, we should provide more social opportunities for students. The days of “sit down quietly and copy the notes on the board” are over. That approach just invites more anti-social behavior. Give them opportunities to help and be helped. Embrace a classroom culture of ideas and sharing. There are wonderful, restorative practice ideas on how to make this happen in the Further Reading section down below.
My most important tip: just listen. We all have our least-favorite students, and there are hundreds of things we would rather do than talk to them, which is where the majority of referrals come from. But just hearing their perspective on things could yield the largest return on investment of anything you do all year.