Teaching kids to coexist

With the comments on here and on FB on my post Are we asking kids to sublimate their feelings?  I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about this.  Something new occurred to me during these discussions.  While I don’t want to ever “force” kids to play with someone they don’t get along with they do need to learn to coexist.

My first summer home from college I followed a friend to working at a local day care.  We both worked in the school age room.  The school age kiddos had one lead teacher and the kindergartners had a different lead teacher and the two did not get along at all!!!  It was miserable, between that and I’m sure some of the other issues regarding the way the center was run my friend left partway through the summer and got a different job, more power to her.  I didn’t necessarily like the job and it got worse for me after she left because then I went on all field trips and was subjected to the whining, moaning, and complaining by one teacher about the other, I didn’t want to find another job, honestly it for me was a fear that future employers wouldn’t look kindly on my leaving and the fact that while it was stressful the hours weren’t all that bad M-F day time only.

I ended that summer really glad to go back to school;) and feeling like I’d learned something.  I’d learned to tough out a bad situation, I’d learned to coexist, to make do.  Now looking back it would have been nice if I’d learned to speak up and gone to the director to explain the situation.  Apparently some parents had picked up on it and complained as well as the director’s son being in the room and my last week all of us (the teachers in the room) got called on the carpet in the director’s office.  It sucked.

Now though in my classroom I use the Kagan Cooperative Learning structures and my students work in teams.  I’ve had students complain about their teammates and I use it as a learning experience.  Sometimes you have the option of leaving and finding a new team/job/situation other times you have to stick it out.  I know there have been teachers I’ve worked with that I didn’t get along with but we had all signed contracts and were stuck with each other for a year so we learned to coexist.

I think this is an important skill for kids to learn.  Yes it’s ok to be mad, it’s even ok to not like a person sometimes personalities just simply do not mesh, but you must be able to work in the same environment and coexist.  Mind you I’m not saying that kids have to do this with bullies, but simply with kids that aren’t their best friends.  They still need to report and stand up to bullies whenever possible.

Bullying prevention: are we taking it too far?

My son’s school has a policy that requires all yearbook comments to be preapproved.  As in the class generates a list of comments that the kids may then write in other’s yearbooks.  If they write a comment to one student they must write a comment to all students, they can’t simply sign their name for some kids and write comments in others.

No one can write: Your BFF _________ because if someone else sees it and thinks they were ___________’s BFF it may hurt their feelings.  Personal messages might leave someone feeling left out and we all know exclusion is bullying or at least that’s what our kids are being taught.

While I understand the character lesson here of teaching kids to be aware of others’ feelings don’t they also need to be aware that some people are better friends with one person than another, this is life.  I have three best friends and you know what throughout the past 20 years there have been times when I’ve been closer to one of them than the other two, and I know there have been times when two of them have been closer to each other than they are to me.  This is not a problem.

I’m just wondering if we’ve gone too far.

Maybe it’s time to bring back multiple recesses

I had a few classes this past year with students that were particularly active.   There were days where it was a struggle to get much done.  Then one day one of these classes was suddenly worlds better, out of the blue it seemed they were sitting still, paying attention, participating.  It was amazing.  I asked the teacher what had changed.  She said she took them out for a short 15 min extra recess.  See they needed to run off some energy.

I remember when I was in elementary school we had three recesses a day and PE.  Now most schools kids have one and PE.  This just isn’t enough for some kids, and short classroom movement interspersed throughout the day may not be enough either.  Maybe it’s time to start considering adding back in short recesses, just one on the opposite side of the day from their PE class might make worlds of difference in their learning abilities, their ability to pay attention.  I know teachers have more and more to teach and it seems we never have enough time so taking away time seems to be the worst idea, but if we spend 15 min a day getting kids back on task, maybe that 15 min would be better spent letting them run and play.

Are we asking kids to sublimate their feelings to be kind?

Last school year I had a kindergarten student come to me and complain that two of the others were ignoring him, that they had told him he wasn’t their friend anymore.  I decided to do a little “digging” I spoke to both of the other boys, they told me the first child had pushed one of them down and hurt him.  This was a pattern for this child, he would push, hit, otherwise hurt a classmate then say it was an accident.  He had apologized to the boy he pushed but the two boys were mad and you know what I couldn’t blame them as the first child had done this before and wasn’t changing his behavior I’d be mad too.

It made me begin to wonder when we require kids to include all others are we doing the right thing?  Those boys had a right to feel angry and to use words to express those feelings to the first child.  Is it right for us to then tell them because he apologized they have to play with him???  Are we not providing proper feedback to the child who pushed by letting them think an apology excuses all behavior, we all know sometimes an apology just isn’t enough!  By not allowing those kids to refuse to play with this other child are we asking them to sublimate their feelings, are we telling them their feelings aren’t valid?

There has to be a middle ground here and we need to find it.

Kagan Cooperative Learning

Several years ago the district I was teaching in at the time sent three other teachers and myself to a week long workshop.  I was dreading it.  I had just finished my Master’s degree and during that time I had quickly realized I don’t do well on the other side of the desk and here I was going to be sitting in a room six hours a day for five days.  I just knew I was going to be bored out of my mind.  I could not have been more wrong!

Kagan Cooperative Learning is the brain child of Dr. Spencer Kagan.  Unlike what many of us experienced in schools that was supposed to be cooperative learning and was in reality group work where one or two people did all of the work this is truly cooperative, everyone takes a turn, everyone participates.  I LOVE IT!

Walking into the large ballroom where the conference was being held we were met with music, food, a little shop, posters, just a fun atmosphere.  It was that first step through the door that began changing my mind.  We didn’t just get lectured to, we weren’t just given a list of pre-generated ideas, we weren’t bored to tears.  We were first put into teams just as students are put into teams for Kagan structures.  Now they didn’t team us the exact same way rather we were in teams of teachers with similar disciplines and grade levels the first day or two.  As each new structure or bit of information was introduced we tried it ourselves, there was a slide show of ways other teachers had used it, and then we were given time to brainstorm with our team other ways we might use it.  From the first day I couldn’t wait to get home to start planning and get school started so I could use the structures.  My team the first few days got along so well that we were rather disappointed when we had to switch teams, fortunately near the end of the conference we switched again and managed to meet up, which gave me a hint of something to watch for in my students LOL.

When we got back home my co-teacher and I began planning and looking at how we would use the structures in class.  While I was excited about the prospect of what might happen when utilizing these structures I was still nervous and wondering if it would work for my kids.  We teamed our kids and routinely did class building and team building activities but it was the first time we used a structure in class rather than the typical teacher ask a question and wait for kids to answer that convinced that this was the best thing I’d ever come across, and five years later I’m still convinced, every time I use a structure it just reaffirms for me this is a great program.

Let me share with you that first experience, well as much as I can remember as some details are lost from the excitement :).  We were reading The Outsiders with our eighth grade classes always a good book to get discussion from but in the traditional classroom style we had used previously there were still kids that were able to just sit back and let others do the talking.  We read a chapter and stopped to ask a question as we normally did, however this time we asked all the kids to first think. *Think time is one of my favorite parts of the Kagan structures as it requires me to stop and allow all kids enough time to think, we all know not every kid comes up with answers right away and yet often in our effort to keep class going and get everything covered we call on that first hand or two before all the kids have even had a chance to think.  I actually count slowly with my fingers to ten before giving further instructions with Think Time, and have found that when I do pose a question in the traditional style I allow more time between asking the question and calling on someone.  I also don’t allow my kids to raise their hands during think time, I don’t want slower thinkers/processors to become discouraged because others already know what they want to say* OK back to the scene: Kids are thinking and no I don’t remember the question I wish I did, finally we explain they will be doing a Round Robin, each student will answer the question they are allowed to pass once but when the others are done sharing they have to share something.  Students are also not allowed to just say “I agree with Robin.” they must give a reason why they agree.  We told them the person closest to the door would go first and they would share clockwise around the table.  Nervously I said “Go” and then we just grinned at each other as the kids started talking, 25% talking at once and almost everyone else engaged and listening.  The comments were insightful, kids felt safer knowing they only had to share with three others rather than with the whole class.  We grinned at each other, I know I for one quite literally began jumping for joy which did not distract the kids at all as they were quite used to my strangeness 🙂  Even better after the Round Robin we chose one student from each team to share something said in their group, it did not have to be their own idea just something heard.  one particularly quiet girl turned red but smiled when her teammate shared what she had said and others in the class reacted positively.  We began to use this follow-up each time we did a reading response RR.  Kids came out of their shells more and more, that quiet girl began raising her hand on those occasions where we did ask questions more traditionally.  It was just so exhilarating, I can’t stop smiling now remembering it and thinking about how it works in my room right now.  

If you ever have a chance to go to a Kagan training GO, GO, GO!!!  Find a way and go!  I attended another one day workshop and can’t wait to go back for more!

My new favorite classroom management tool

So it’s states standardized testing time here in Missouri.  Our 3rd-5th grade students are testing in the mornings which has caused a bit of a switch for us as they normally have morning specials.  While it’s kind of fun to see my K-2 kiddos in the morning rather than the afternoon they’re a bit wound and excited at the change.  This wouldn’t be a problem except my room has doors into two other rooms that are both being used for testing so the noise level has to stay low.  After several reminders Monday and clapping for attention several times I had to find a new way to handle the noise level, then I remembered something I had pinned a while back: Bouncy Balls just plug in your microphone (and turn off your speakers) and watch the balls bounce the louder it gets.  I think I’d like to start with this earlier in the year next time and actually let them play one day to see how loud it gets.  It worked really well yesterday when I tried it out and continued to work well today.  I drew a line across the board about halfway up and told the kids we needed to keep the balls below the line.  I was also able to have the page open on half of my screen while having a word document open for them to refer to on the other half.

As the library is the room next door I also wanted to do this with my fourth and fifth grade classes that can get quite loud sometimes but I wanted something more delineated for them and found the Calm Counter, with the levels on the gauge I can mark what is acceptable and what is not, with certain consequences to follow certain levels.

This has turned out to be a great way to handle the noise, all I have to do is tap students on the shoulder and point to the board and they quiet down, they really do want to see just how still they can keep the balls.