Home > Reflection, Teaching > A series of small successes

A series of small successes

My class has been much quieter, much more respectful, and much more productive lately.  I’d say we’ve been doing better every day since winter break, but especially, every day of the last two weeks.

Before the successes, first, a confession: a lot of the behavior change has been achieved by yelling.  It feels so wrong to me, but it’s the one strategy that seems to be consistently effective with my class.  And I suppose that makes sense – I’ve heard about their home lives, I’ve seen them interact with each other, and I’m pretty sure the one form of discipline that makes sense to all members of my class is the yell.  So I’ve used it, and it works.  I do make sure to follow each yell up with praise for changed choices and lots of other specific, positive feedback, so I suppose that makes it kind of okay…?

So, the successes.  We’ve been working hard on our Morning Meeting, especially the greeting in which we shake hands around the circle and greet each other by name.  It’s taken a few weeks, but today my class nailed it.  They turned knee to knee, looked each other in the eye, used clear, respectful voices, and gave each other firm handshakes — and the rest of the kids in the circle watched and listened quietly.  My county instructional coach came in today to watch our Morning Meeting and was blown away by the change in the kids and the classroom climate (and the class beamed when I passed along the compliment after she left).  (One child asked, “did we makes your heart swell with pride?”)

As part of our new morning routine, the kids answer a question on our white board easel as they come in.  The questions are things like “What is your favorite pattern?  ABAB, ABC, ABBA”  The kids have started coming up with question ideas themselves, which is awesome.  (Recent ideas include “what is your favorite doubles fact?”  “what is your favorite thing to do in school?” and “what is your favorite shape?”)  We tally up the student responses and then I ask for two observations about the chart.  It’s been a great way of reviewing tally marks, comparison language (more/less), and stretching kids’ reading (since they’re highly motivated to figure out how to read the day’s question).

We’ve also had about two weeks of morning messages, in which we read a message (from me) together, then take turns filling in missing letters to complete the words.  My class has particular trouble with blends (think sh, ch, cl, str, etc.), so my challenge each morning when writing the message is to include as many words with blends as possible (“Dear class, Today we will work with shapes in math.  Can we get a star in art?  That would be great.”).  We start by getting our mouths ready to read together (a very silly ritual), then we read it through once, I call on a kid to start filling in the words, and they take over from there, choosing the next kid in a boy-girl pattern.  [An aside: my county coach cracked up today when one of the girls picked H to go next (who is technically a girl). A boy muttered “H isn’t a boy” but one of the girls responded “H is kind of a boy and kind of a girl.  He’s a tomboy, like me.”  The coach said later that she loves the matter of fact way my class deals with H’s uncommon gender preferences.]

So back to the morning successes.  After we fill in all of the blanks, we circle any of the “in a snap” words in the message – the words that we should be able to read and write “in a snap.”  (This weeks snap words are this, with and that.)  We’re also practicing using whisper voices (a skill my class sorely lacks) by whispering the spelling of each snap word while I cover it up on the chart.  The kids are pretty cute doing this, and have started asking for it if I happen to forget it.  Plus, it gives me a very easy way to hold them accountable for common sight words.  “Hey, that’s one of our in a snap words – you know how to spell that!”

Skipping to the afternoon, the class did a phenomenal job using their geoboards in math today.  For those who don’t know or who haven’t been in elementary school in awhile, geoboards are plastic squares with pegs on them onto which students stretch rubberbands to make shapes.  In the fall I would have said rubber bands + my class = disaster, but today they were so responsible.  I did read them the riot act beforehand and stressed that we would only get to use fun math tools if they treated them with respect and made good choices – and said that anyone spinning the boards, flicking the rubber bands, or otherwise playing around would get their geoboard taken away have to do a really, really boring activity instead.  Not a single kid even came close to giving up their board – even the most crazy of my kids needed just a small reminder to get back on track.  I was SO proud of them (and of me).

I’m hoping that we keep building on each day’s successes, as we have over the last few weeks, so that pretty soon we’ll have strung together whole months of great behavior and awesome learning.  That would definitely make me more inclined to keep doing this next year.

  1. February 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    I have the loudest voice around and when I started teaching I yelled till I lost my voice. Since then I do two other things: (1) I will yell and then instantly change my voice to very reasonable and calm (sometimes kids laugh at this change, but they have to know I yelled to get their attention and not because I lost control of myself); (2) I speak in a soft voice and get increasingly quiet saying things like “I think you’ll be interested because this is about your grades…” until some of the kids in the room start to shush their classmates and they get the room quiet.

    I wish you strength. And joy.

  2. Hilary
    February 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks for the good wishes! They are much appreciated.

    I am a HUGE fan of the yell/sweet voice switch, especially if I’m only targeting the behavior of a few kids. And yes, my kids have sometimes laughed too at the abrupt change. :)

    My kids are too young to really care about their grades, but the whisper is definitely an effective attention-getting strategy. I’ve also found (mostly when I’ve done it as a last resort on crazy days) that completely giving up on getting their attention really gets their attention. Enough kids in my class notice – and are concerned by – my total silence that they do a very effective job of hushing their classmates.

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