Do you assign class jobs to your students? The presenter we had yesterday said that it was a good idea because it helps to make students more responsible.
I am in complete agreement with the idea that teachers need to help students become more responsible. I just don't think forced labor is the way to go. And forced labor it will be whenever a student is assigned a classroom job he didn't ask for.
Most job assignment procedures follow the same basic format.
Either it's the big job wheel--with job titles written like spokes and student names written around the outside of the wheel--that rotates once a week or it's the pocket chart--with job title cards and student name cards--that is used to keep track of which student is doing which job. Regardless of the actual device used to assign jobs, there are two big issues every teacher using this time-honored strategy is going to have to confront.
What do you do when a student doesn't want to do the job he's been assigned for the week?
Requiring a student to perform a job he either didn't ask for or feels incapable of doing is going to be counter-productive to the original goal of building responsibility. What will most likely occur in this situation is that the student will try to ignore the job as much as possible. He won't do it voluntarily. He won't do it on his own. He's going to wait for a verbal reminder from the teacher before he does anything. And if the teacher is doing all of the reminding about the completion of classroom jobs, the development of responsibility is mere lip service.
How well will a student perform his job-related duties if the job only lasts a week?
It takes time to develop job skills. (Just think about your own teaching career.) There's a lot of trial-and-error. There's also a lot of problem solving that occurs as the student figures out how best to do the job. At the same time, you need to factor in the time needed for a student to develop a "job memory" or, the automaticity of completing the job without the need for any kind of reminder from someone else. Put those things together and it's not too surprising to see a student finally getting good at a job just a day or so before he's assigned a different job. And then, of course, the whole job-learning process will have to be repeated.
But what if we went a different way? What if we just asked students to help out--allow them to volunteer for a job--and then let them keep their jobs for as long as they wish?
That's what I've always done and it's worked great. In fact, there are several advantages to handling classroom jobs in this fashion.
For one, the feeling of being forced into a job is forever eliminated. And since safety is a student need, a policy of a volunteer work force will be a big step in the year-long journey of making that need a reality. Want a job? We can use you. Don't want a job? That's okay. After all, your main job is being the best student you can be. Take care of that obligation and there's no real need for you to do anything else.
Note: I personally feel that the great majority of students truly want to help in the classroom. A student's contribution to making the whole classroom a happier, more productive place fills the need for belonging, the new sixth student need identified by William Glasser. More than the responsibility building is the bond being established between the teacher and the student worker not to mention all of the student-to-student connections being made.
Another huge advantage is that the students actually get good at their jobs. Keeping a job for more than a week enables them to figure out the best way to complete the job in addition to the opportunity to expand the job duties.
Case in point...
We used numbered clothespins clipped to a box lid--the kind from a case of xerox paper--and an empty coffee can as a way for the students to hand in their Daily Oral Language assignment. The student placed his assignment in the box lid, removed his clothespin, and dropped it in the coffee can that was sitting next to the box lid. A quick glance at the box lid provided me with the identities of the students who had yet to finish their DOL.
Anyway, in order to be used for the next day's assignment, the clothespins needed to be reset around the box lid. That was a job ideally suited for a student to complete and, within a week or two, was being handled quite well.
One year, the student worker wrote the numbers around the outside of the box lid so that the placement of clothespins was easier to do. He always knew right where to put them since they come out of the coffee can in a random fashion. That's problem solving, baby; one of the six Core Principles of Effective Teaching.
And, now, we begin to glimpse the true benefit of allowing students to keep jobs for longer than a week: the opportunity to take the job to a new level. I'm able to meet with the student whose job it is to reset the clothespins and suggest he take on a new duty.
Speaking privately with the DOL worker:
Hey, I've got an idea. You know how there always seems be a student or four who are not done with DOL before lunch? I was wondering if you could check the box lid at the beginning of Op Time (the ten minutes before lunch my students are given to choose an activity) and remind everyone whose clothespins are still clipped to the box that they need to work on DOL during Op Time. I'm thinking that with you reminding them, more students would be able to complete it and turn it in. What do you think?
Thinking for just a second:
Sure, Mr. Morris. You want me to start doing that today?
Sounds good to me.
Note: If he didn't want the promotion, I would just find another student to do the follow-up portion of the job. And now I've got two students taking care of one job which means that the likelihood of the job being completed will increase since the two students connected to the same job could actually serve as reminders for each other.
The only challenge to running a voluntary jobs program is coming up with enough jobs for everyone. This will be especially true for your underachievers who won't volunteer at first. They're going to need to spend a month or two feeling safe in your classroom before they'll venture forth and seek out a job. Unfortunately, most of the typical classroom jobs have already been taken. Problem or opportunity? Well, what I tell the job seekers is this:
If you can think of a job that will help to make this a happier, more productive classroom, I'll hire you.
The reality, though, is that not everyone has a job. And, again, that's okay. Nonetheless, I can always ask these students to collate assignments, file papers, transfer scores from assignments to a grade sheet, or any of a number of simple tasks that need to be completed on a daily basis. With so many things needing attention, it's tough for anyone to miss out on an opportunity to help.
At the beginning of the third trimester, I would officially lay off all of our workers. Job Application forms were handed out. Anyone wishing to have a job was asked to apply for one by filling out a job app. In addition to the novelty of handling classroom jobs in a more sophisticated manner, this layoff/new hire process created an opportunity for a student to get a job that had been taken since the beginning of the year. Also, I'm going to start paying them credits and take the whole shebang to a totally new level. (Download the eBook, Credit Cards, Level Two, for more information.)
But, as I've stated on other entries, this is just my opinion regarding the whole classroom jobs thing. You might have a different take. As always, whatever works for you AND your students is the bottom line.
I was thinking about the noise makers that are associated with a desired action and realized there could be many. In the case of a substitute, would you advise and encourage a sub to use all of these noise makers to keep it consistent for your students?
Regarding the sound makers and the substitute teacher, I'd probably just have the sub use the desk bell for passing out material. This one is easy to use and should produce the desired result: a team rep coming up from each team to request materials. The bell produces such an automatic response that the students won't have time to think about resistance or non-compliance.
The dog squeak toy--as a "stop, look, and listen" signal--might cause frustration for the sub as the students could use the situation to ignore the message by not coming to attention. The potential for that kind of conflict is not worth the slight advantage of initiating procedures without words. After all, the sub's voice will be different from their teacher's voice and, as such, should produce enough distinction to cause the words being spoken to stand out and be heard.
Is it too late to start over with my class? I'm going crazy and so are they.
If you mean change some of your classroom procedures, it's never too late to start over. This is especially true if what you're doing in your classroom right now is not working. It would actually be crazy to not start over. As much as I'm all for consistency, being consistently frustrated is never good.
Mentally regroup over the weekend, think seriously about what changes you want to make, and then share your thoughts and feelings with the students Monday morning. Just be prepared for them to test your new resolve. They may have seen this kind of "fresh start" attempted by previous teachers which means they might expect you to fall back into your old patterns of behavior. But be brave, keep your eyes on the horizon, and anticipate a better future for you and your students. If you can stay the course for a month or so, they'll eventually quit waiting for you to crack and actually adjust to your expectations.
Although it won't be easy--good teaching never is at first--it will definitely be worth every ounce of energy and resolve you put into it.
I teach a 5-6 Special Day Class. Will your strategies work with my students?
Absolutely. The ideas I've created are designed to help foster a classroom environment in which the students are doing a lot of the management work while the teacher acts as a facilitator. And for students who find themselves, for whatever reason, in an SDC class, this change in overall operating principle can be liberating. No longer mere subjects in the realm, the students take on roles of power and autonomy that can be as real and meaningful as the academic lessons being taught.
So, don't hesitate to give the ideas a shot. And as you do, keep these thoughts in mind.
With a bit of dedication and persistence, you'll soon find your students thoroughly engaged in the day-to-day operations of running a successful classroom.
I'm wondering if the Class Chart you talked about could be used as an attendance taker? You know, the students would come in the room, flip their name cards over so that the names were showing, and then take a seat.
Great idea. I'm all for procedures that are student-driven and teacher supportive. There are a couple of issues, though, that you'll need to problem-solve.
The Traffic Jam
If your students all enter the classroom at the same time, you might experience a bit of craziness as some of your students take advantage of the crowded conditions to act out or push and shove. If this is the case, make sure you are honoring Core Principle #4 (Focus your attention) by calling just the knuckleheads over to see you and leaving the others to calmly flip their cards.
The traffic jam is going to take patience on your part as the students learn how to do it correctly. By patience, I don't mean that you allow misbehavior to occur. Misbehavior ignored only gets worse. What I mean by patience is that it takes time for the knuckleheads to realize that you're serious about flipping cards without any pushing or shoving or being loud. Anything other than just flipping the cards and moving on to your seats is not okay.
Big Picture: The traffic jam can actually provide your students with an opportunity to engage in problem-solving, self-control, and interpersonal relations. The Old School solution to the traffic jam would be for the teacher to stand at the doorway and only allow a few students to enter at a time in an effort to establish control. But if you engage in that kind of teacher control, what are the students learning? Truthfully, not much other than the teacher doesn't trust us to flip cards on our own.
Trust. It's a big part of the relationship you want to create with your students and the self-control you want them to develop.
Students Who Forget to Flip Their Cards
Accept it. Not every student is going to flip his card to let you know that he is present. (What would you expect? One hundred percent compliance? Maybe if you're teaching in some kind of TV sit-com where you've got 12 smarmy students who love to please their teacher. If not, you're going to have students who forget. It's just how it goes.)
Since forgetting to turn a card is going to be an ongoing issue, it would be best to insulate yourself from this annoyance. Assign a student to be your Attendance Clerk. (See "Do you assign classroom jobs?" posted below.) Your Student Clerk will be the one to check the Class Chart to make sure that the cards that haven't been turned truly represent students who are absent. Anyone who had forgotten will be the recipient of a polite, but pointed, reminder from the Attendance Clerk about being more responsible.
You'll be able to avoid the nuisance of worrying about the flip-your-card process while at the same time end up with a report from your Attendance Clerk that you can trust.
I've been using a digital timer lately and really like how it helps me to keep everything on schedule. What do you do, though, when the time you allowed for an activity is not sufficient for the students to complete the task? Is it okay to give students more time?
Well, yes and no.
Being flexible is critical to our success as teachers. We need to be the willow tree that is able to bend against the strong wind and so remain standing when the storm has passed. Not that teaching should be likened unto a storm, mind you. It's just that there are so many variables in our day that an inability to make changes on-the-fly is going to wear us out and beat us down.
So, flexibility is a good thing. Just watch out for the unintended consequences of too much flexibility. And when it comes to being flexible about time frames, one of those consequences is that you are in violation of Core Principle #2: Your words equal your actions.
Announcing to your students that you're going to add 10 minutes to what you had said would be a 15-minute time frame is not bad in itself. After all, it's tough to accurately predict how much time your students are going to need in order to complete an independent activity. However, if you persist in adding time on a consistent basis, you're setting yourself up for failure.
If you say that your students have 15 minutes in which to complete an assignment but, in reality, it turned out to be 25 minutes--because of the extra 10 minutes you tacked on--you will eventually create a situation in which your students disregard your initial time frame announcements. Your spoken words would begin to lose any meaning--15 minutes is not always 15 minutes--and, thus, could be ignored.
And as well-intentioned as your flexibility was, this lack of credibility would ramp up to the point whereby your students would begin to disregard everything you say. This is a function of what I call the Ripple Effect: One message triggering other, unintended messages.
Thinking about what he just heard:
--Hmmmm. My teacher said that we had 15 minutes to finish the assignment but then she gave us an extra ten minutes. I guess she wasn't serious about the 15 minute thing. Gee, I wonder if she's serious about homework? I wonder if she's serious about the reading log I'm supposed to be doing at home. She said she was but now I'm not so sure. Hmmmm.--
But, again, if you feel that more time is needed, you should act on that. Just make sure that you adjust the time before the beeper is sounding. (This issue was addressed in the New Management Handbook. Here are a couple of pages from Lesson 5.)
This is going to require that you are "working the room" and assessing both the quality of their on-task behavior and the progress they are making at completing the assignment. And if your assessment leads you to believe that they deserve more time, make that announcement well before the end of the time frame.
Getting their attention with some kind of a sound maker midway through the time frame:
I've been walking around the room watching you work. And as hard as you all have been working, I don't think you're going to be able to finish before the timer beeps. So, I'm going to add ten minutes to the time. This extra time will enable everyone to finish before the timer beeps. If you finish early, please come let me know. I have a few jobs that need to be done.
Pausing to check for questions or concerns:
Back on task, please.
Being able to set reasonable time frames so that you can adhere to them requires experience. The more you use a timer, the more experience you gain. The more experience you gain, the better you are setting time frames. The better you are at setting time frames, the more likely it is your students will respond successfully to those time frames. The more they respond, the more you use a timer. The more you use a timer, the more experience you gain.
It's the Circle of Life on a small scale.
How do you deal with having to send a student to the restroom when they need another student to accompany him? I hate to have a student interrupted from what he was doing only to walk with another to the restroom. Any suggestions?
We talked about it during the break and came up with this idea: create buddy groups so that every student has several students he can ask to accompany him to the restroom. By doing that, you'll be providing your students with a choice--a form of freedom, which is one of the basic needs--when choosing a bathroom buddy. This should help to reduce the number of times students are pulled away from important tasks or activities.
My students need to be in alphabetical order when they enter the cafeteria for lunch. Should I assign student numbers by the alphabetical order of their last names so that getting in line for lunch is an easy procedure?
Uh, no. You only go to lunch once a day. However, you'll be using student numbers dozens of times in your classroom during the course of that same day. Consequently, you shouldn't allow the needs of the lunch room to supersede the needs of your own room.
I recommend assigning numbers based on the alphabetical order of your students' first names. After all, these are the names you actually use during the course of the day. So, build your system according to your needs and not the needs or requirements of the cafeteria.
To make the lunch line procedure manageable, though, a teacher offered the following suggestion:
Post a list of numbers--visualize a skinny scroll--near the door of your room that, if the students line up according to the list of numbers, will create alphabetical order by last name. Now that's problem solving the way it's meant to be done.
I had such a hard time last year trying to manage my first graders and their use of the bathroom. It seemed as if I had some students who wanted to go all of the time and some who would abide by my request that students should use the restroom during recess or lunch. And it didn't do me any good to ask a student if he could wait because I almost always heard, 'I really have to go.' What should I do?
Yeah, the restroom thing can be a killer. As much as we would like our students to exercise some self-discipline, we certainly don't want to have someone who was denied permission to end up wetting his pants in the classroom. That would be a bit of a PR nightmare. (PR = parent relations) Nor does it make sense to try to take class-wide restroom breaks. I can't imagine anyone would be happy listening to ten variations of "But I don't have to go!"
My first suggestion was to issue each student two coupons. These would be redeemed for permission to use the restroom. Out of coupons? Out of luck. Unless, of course, you could cadge one from a buddy. To curb that, the coupons would have to have some value and so I suggested that students be allowed to deposit unused coupons in a container for a drawing. (The kind of coupons I use, as described in the Tools & Toys book, have a six-digit number on each end. Students tear the coupons in half, drop one half in a container, and keep the other end. Coupons are then drawn from the container and the number is announced. The student who has the matching half is the winner.)
Then I realized that you would be running through a massive amount of coupons. So I suggested using numbered clothespins clipped to a length of wide ribbon. Each student begins the day with two clothespins. Whenever a student needs to use the restroom, he merely removes a clothespin and takes it to the teacher. (Another option would be to drop the clothespin in a little box.) All clothespins still attached to the ribbon at the end of the day are placed in a drawing container.
The next morning, the teacher could hold the drawing container aloft and pull out two clothespins. The winners would receive some small prize or privilege for the day. A student would then reclip all of the clothespins--the ones still in the drawing container and the ones that were dropped in the restroom box--to the ribbon so that everything is reset for the day.
Note: Having the drawing the next morning will act as a reminder for the day that self-control is a good thing. Just ask the two winners. That effect would be diminished, however, if the drawing had already taken place at the end of the previous day.