Monday, September 29, 2008

What Do I Do With These Kids?

“Johnny and Gina are troublemakers and Betty and Frank won’t talk!” In Can We Reach Every Student, Joel asks, “What are some of the most effective techniques you have found to reach these (the troublemakers and the quiet ones)? This made me think of ways that I try to engage all of the learners in my class.

At the beginning of the year I like for my students to fill out a survey which serves many purposes throughout the year. It is an introduction at the beginning, it tells me their learning styles, and things that motivate them. I ask questions like:
· Do you like to: hear new information or read new information?
· Do you like to: take written tests, give an oral report, or make things to show you understood the material?
· Which of these rewards would you rather have: break pass (3 min. to get water or take a break out in the hall) or library pass when work is done or candy
· Would you like to: lead a group discussion or write notes for a group?
· Do you like: learning as a big group or prefer a small group?
· Do you feel better: sitting at your desk quietly working or like to move around when working?
These are just a few examples of what I ask the kids and they are pretty honest about answering them. I tell them that this will help me tailor lessons so that they can be more successful. Many of them have told me that they have had this discussion with other teachers and nothing ever comes out of it and so I have to convince them that I am different.

I like to look at my “troublemakers” and decide what motivates them to make trouble. Are they bored? Are they overwhelmed? Are they frustrated? I like to meet with the student and explain that we have a problem and I know they want to be successful so I want to help them be this way. We talk about behaviors that are disrupting the class and I try to focus on specific behaviors so that I don’t put the student on the defensive. Then I ask what is causing the student to behave this way? What does the student get out of acting this way? At first they will deny or shrug it off, but when I offer ideas, they usually see that I’m not going to go away. Sometimes we make a chart with cause and effect. I put the behavior in the effect and we try to figure out the cause. This helps them visualize what is happening. After we figure out the cause, we need to come up with a solution together. I also like for us to come up with a way to self monitor the behavior because when the student has to take ownership of the behavior, it helps to change the behavior. The “troublemakers” also like this attention which can lead to more positive attention.

Sometimes my “troublemakers” just can’t sit still. They may have been diagnosed with ADHD or they may not but you know the ones that I’m talking about. Sometimes if they are high functioning students, I ask them to help me with a unit. I will teach the unit but I will let them lead in the review. This means they have to pay extra attention and we decide together the important points for the class to know. They can decide if they want to make flash cards, a game, or have a discussion. This trust really helps their self esteem and it helps them focus more on the lesson if they know beforehand that they will take an active role. I usually make them the helpers with passing out papers or helping students who are struggling. If we get into groups, I let them help move around to different groups and help the discussion.

Now my quiet ones tend to blend in the woodwork if I’m not careful. These are the ones that hope you don’t call on them or never raise their hand for help. First of all I meet with them and confront their fears. I ask them if they are afraid to ask a question or answer in front of the whole class and the answer is usually yes. I also ask if they are afraid that I will ask them to perform in front of the class for a project. I can really relate because I felt like this as a student and the fear overwhelmed the actually learning. I made these 4” square foam blocks for all of the students to use. One side was red and the other was green. If they had a question, they turned it over to red on their desk and I would help them. If they had it on green, I knew they didn’t need any help. This actually kept kids from raising hands forever and getting impatient when I was helping others. I used the blocks also when we had a class discussion. If I asked a question and they knew the answer, I asked the students to turn it to green and write their answer down on paper. I then would pick a student and look at their paper. If the answer was right I would say it out loud and praise them. If it was wrong, I would tell them to check their answer. If they didn’t know the answer, they turned the block to red. It really worked well with discussions. Eventually when the quiet students started to see they had a lot of right answers, they started to participate more.

I really try to look beyond the behaviors to see what the motivation is for this. If I can find the key to what works for the student, they usually have a successful time in my class. I hope they learn skills that they take to other classes. This takes a lot of extra time and investigating but I really think it is worth it. It also builds a level of trust between student and teacher that helps with learning.


Kobus van Wyk said...

This posting supports the notion that, in education, one size does not fit all. A teacher who fails to customize teaching to the needs of each learner, also failes in the task of educating the learner.

Thanks for sharing your experience and good advice with teachers.

Clix said...

I have a start-of-term survey that I give to the students, but I may want to swipe some of your questions to add to it!

loonyhiker said...

Kobus: I really like using the Universal Design for Learning. It makes so much sense to me. My husband was one of the ones that didn't fit the mold and luckily through self-motivation, he made something of his life. I worry about the ones who don't have that self motivation.

loonyhiker said...

Clix: I love for you to share your survey some time. You might have some questions that I never thought of.

OKP said...

Thanks for the post! It was a good read.

Sally said...

I think this is a great post. I especially like how you sat down with the students who were considered "troublemakers" to figure out what you could do to help them learn. By looking beyond the behaviors to the motivation behind them, I think you've found the key!

loonyhiker said...

okp: Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

loonyhiker said...

sally: I tend to see "troublemakers" as survivors. If I can find a way to reach them, I feel they will have a better chance.