Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Advice from my advisor.

I wasn't sure whether I liked my advisor when I first met her in the fall, but now she is one of my favorite people. In fact, she is the ONLY person who has given me any good advice about classroom management. Everyone else said, "Remember that you're the one in charge and it will be fine." I'm sorry, but in my experience I need to prove to the kids that I'm in charge; despite my own self-confidence, the yoots do not accept teacher authority as a given.

Bless my advisor and her work in the Boston public schools. Here are her tips, which I'm recording for my own reference as much as anything:

1. "You need to step on them a little." (The most helpful advice ever, especially coming from my radical, liberal, feminist advisor. I hear her saying it in her melodious Haitian accent.)
2. Create a classroom routine and never, ever deter from it.
3. Time-on-task (in other words, maximize active learning time. This is my least favorite mantra of the bunch, because it apparently presupposes that the students want to learn. Ha, and again, ha.)
4. Build a learning community before you attempt group work. (Damn, I wish I'd heard this one before I attempted group work. They so drill group work, group work, group work into us in grad school that I assumed it was a panacea.)

Here's what I've learned myself:
1. To expand on #2 above, create a routine for EVERYTHING. Leave nothing up to the kids. A routine for how to enter class. A routine for how to seat themselves during group work. A routine for when they may ask to use the bathroom and how they sign out.
1a. Create systems to support the routines. The kids never remembered what they needed for class. I now make them check that they have what they need BEFORE they enter class. I also provide a box for each group to keep any small things (notes, drafts) they are likely to forget to bring.
2. The Personal Invitation: Get the misbehaving kid in the hallway and, depending on his/her personality, either flatter the kid and ask for his help as a class role model; or intimidate the punk so that he/she is afraid to so much as breathe wrong in your classroom. This requires a decent reading of students' personalities before proceeding.
3. Things go better if you assume the students are monkeys. Monkeys need plenty of structure, reinforcement, and wrangling to attain a baseline level of acceptable behavior. Moreover, one may become frustrated with the behavior of a roomful of monkeys, but at the end of the day, one might remember that, "oh, well, they're monkeys," which creates a certain peace of mind.


Ann Forstie said...

OMG you said "yoots"!! I only recently saw "My Cousin Vinny" for the first time, and I love it to pieces.

Not that that has anything whatsoever to do with your post, of course. Carry on!

Bill Stankus said...

Add a whip, chair and a taser and it would be a perfect place. Oh yes, the occasional food pellet can help. And turn them against each other, that's alway a good thing.

kStyle said...

Ann, I LOVE that movie! I think I'll cue it up on the Netflix, now that you mention it.

Bill, I know, it's like we need B. F. Skinner and Pavlov in there. Maybe I'll hold a seance.

Narya said...

Best line in the movie? "Oh, and you blend."

Even more amusing is listening to Friend, who is from Cheeseland, trying to imitate the accent. FAIL!

Narya said...

Also, I hate "group work." The adult version is the "breakout" session into small groups. What a total waste of my time. Annoys the fuck out of me every fucking time.

As you can probably tell.

kStyle said...

I was not a fan of group work as a kid. I appreciate it more now. Thing is, there are kids (and adults!) who can't stand individual work--they thrive on talking & interacting. That's one reason that the classroom needs a balance of different groupings: individual, pair, small group, whole class. There should be some activities in all of those.

Also, here's the thing. What's the (primary) purpose of language? To communicate with other people. Therefore, language is best practiced by communicating. Buzzwords: Vygotsky, ZPD, comprehensible input.

Ann Forstie said...

It took me until grad school to realize that I rather enjoy group work -- when everyone else is moderately enthusiastic about it, too.

It's not so fun when it's a bunch of people just sitting together, twiddling their thumbs, making small talk. But when everyone's engaged, brainstorming together, actually interested in the outcome...suddenly a good time is had by all.

Alas, it's difficult to get children or adults to be that involved in a discussion. Apparently enthusiasm is uncool or something.