Archive for August, 2010

The Test

Beginning teachers, and some veterans, look back at the start of a new school year amazed at how quiet and orderly the class gad been. What happened? Simple! The teacher failed The Test. The test of who is in control. It is subtle and subversive. It is not a planned test- it just happens. The unwary teacher may not even be aware of it. It unfolds from the very moment the first pupils appear at the classroom door.

All teachers face this test each time a new group of learners arrive at the classroom door. The operative word here is “learners.” There are no adjectives, such as, potential, eager, dismayed, prospective, etc. Only the word learner is shown. Every child who walks through the door of the classroom is a learner. They will learn. It may not be what you want them to learn but they will learn. How effective a teacher is in getting them to learn what is expected is determined by the test.

In the previous post, it was stated that preparation is the stratagem for success. In order for this plan to work, it is necessary to have the appropriate tactics. These are your behavioral management skills. The battle for control of maintaining these particular skills is the subject of the test. The best laid plans of mice or men are useless without the power to put the plan into operation.

As the new pupils sit quietly hanging upon each word that is uttered or each activity engaged in, the test is in progress. A student speaks out. This may seem good but do should that pupil have raised their hand or not? To pass the test, identify the behavior and indicate the way it should be done in this classroom: “Thank you, Harry for supplying the answer but we need to raise our hands. Mary breaks her pencil point and quietly gets out of her seat to sharpen her pencil. “Mary, I see you broke your pencil and needs sharpening. But, in the future, Could you raise the pen and point so I know everything is ok.”  All of this constitutes a test. It is not a concerted affair but rather a series of events that is best identified by the teacher. If Harry can speak out, then Larry can shout out. The teacher must have made a decision about what is acceptable before it happens. It is in these first few days and weeks that the teacher creates the atmosphere that is part of the overall plan.

Explicit versus implicit curriculum. The explicit is all the nicely and painstakingly prepared. The implicit is the milieu in which it all happens.  The stage must be set before the play is performed.

How does a teacher pass the test? Like everything else in teaching, anticipate and plan. College teacher-preparation classes emphasize the word plan: plan the lesson, plan the curriculum, plan the holidays, plan the field trips, plan the testing activities, plan the potty trips, plan the party. Plan, plan, plan…. The previous post stressed the need to be prepared for the first day. To pass the test the teacher must have a plan of the overall behavioral management plan.

Review the behavioral classroom management plan each year. What is expected of the student in terms of their behavior? Raise hand? Freely leave seat? Noisily entering classroom? Talking to neighbors? Chewing gum or candy? Cell phones? Make a list. Expand each year. It is part of the overall plan.

The test is strongest in the first week or two. Vigilance and fairness are the keywords in putting the plan into operation. The overwhelming measure of a good teacher from the pupil viewpoint is fairness. What’s good for Larry better be good for Mary. If Harry is told not to talk out of turn and Barry has to be reminded as well. It important to be very cognizant of what is happening in the classroom. Omnipotent is the teacher attribute to exhibit these first few weeks.

How the teacher is perceived early on is vital to the effectiveness in accomplishing lessons later in the year. Children learn. It may not be what we intend them to learn  but they will learn something. The implicit teaching actions often have a greater impact on learning than what is given credit. Learning by example is the most effective approach to classroom activities. The teacher creates this world for children to learn in by example through behavioral management skills.

It’s the first day! Eyes open! Ears alert! Face friendly but businesslike! Mind set to the classroom as a place of learning! Watch for any activities that would make a good example of what or what not to do. Give them candy or a scowl. Establish the rules of this classroom. These are the days that may well result in a great learning experience for pupils and teacher the rest of a person’s life.

August 13, 2010 at 8:12 pm Leave a comment

Start the Year: It’s Only the First Day!

The first day of class is the most important day of the school year. You will have the greatest attention your students. Take advantage while you can. A good essay begins with a preview of what is to come. Start off with the most important things. Before you begin your first day, have your classroom ready. Desk alignment and necessary materials available and ready. Seating charts are important. The idea is to demonstrate that you are in command.

Before you begin this day, there are some things that need to be done. Consider the school’s overall goals, objectives, outcomes or standards. How does your class expectations fit into that projection. This is what needs to be addressed on day one. Your student will be a different person when they finish your class. The first day should project what your last day will be.  Show them what you expect of them. Start off with the most important things.

In order to achieve that end, there has to be a theater to provide an opportunity to learn. Like any theater there are rules to follow for everyone’s benefit. Classroom rules provide this environment. Have a poster that clearly offers your classroom rules. There are a variety of classroom management formats. Whatever plan you decide to follow, rules are usually a part of it. Remember KISS! The simpler the better.

Years ago a great workshop I attended helped me immensely: Lee Canter’s Assertive Disciple. Over time I modified some of the aspects but the general concepts have become a beacon for me to follow. He suggested no more than five rules. The last rule -Let’s call it Rule 5- is always: “Do what you are asked to do the first time.” It is a catch-all. If you ask a student to sit down and he/she fails to do so, they have broken a rule. If you ask them to stop talking and they fail to do so, they broke a rule. It covers all those nitty-gritty details of daily life.

What you chose as your rules need to be carefully considered. These are rules need to be enforceable, clear and important. (Remember Rule 5 covers all the minor details). My rules were:

  • You must be in your seat with requested materials (see board) on desk when class bell rings.
  • You are expected to have all the classroom materials as listed on first day handout.
  • Assigned class work (home work, library research, lab reports, etc) is due on day assigned.
  • You can expect to be treated fairly but you are expected to treat others fairly.
  • Do what you are asked to do the first time

First day handouts are vital in today’s world of “The teacher did” attitude. Teachers seem to be the blame for school systems going bankrupt, student’s not being motivated and low ability students failing high ability tests. Without a handout to list classroom supplies needed, homework policy and classroom rules, the teacher is susceptible to such statements as:

“I didn’t know!”

“You never told us!”

“My daughter never has homework!”

“You never told me that my kids needed pencils!”

“My daughter says you’re a dumb teacher!”

You may be accused of these things anyway but if you have it written down it helps when the administration is too willing to accept the pupil or kid’s word over yours. It might be a good idea to have a tear-off at the bottom to be signed by the parent and returned.

Other things for the first day that might be included:

  • Assign seats. (Do quickly and without fuss. I used to put cards on desk or a textbook with their name. Time consuming but helps with first day order).
  • Begin a learning lesson
  • Distribute texts
  • Have students write or draw something
    • I used to have them write a letter to themselves in May or next year. Amidst the moans ands groans, I pointed out that I expected them to be a different person nine months from now. The moans of August become smiles and tears in May.
  • Ice breakers to get kids to interact (Be careful, these can get out-of-hand. Your first day needs to establish order! I used to use these on second day)
  • Many kids are very excited about starting school, don’t leave them down.

Any movement exercises need to be planned carefully. Organization and no-nonsense need to be the projected to the pupils. The teacher is in command. Beware of falling into a trap that requires you to raise your voice or appear hassled. Watch the clock! Remember that attention levels are high but short! Keep your activities moving along. Avoid getting bogged down on one thing. There is always tomorrow. You got off to a good start. Now be sure to finish in style. Do not let the bell control your students. Before the end of class, take a few seconds or minute to thank you pupils and bid them farewell.

Go Home and have a nice glass of wine as you revise your lesson plan.. But smile there is only so long till a break!

August 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm Leave a comment


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