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.

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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.

Repair Kit Fix 2: Late Work

On to fix 2: Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late, provide support for the learner.

Ok first impression on this fix is why is work in quotations?  That may seem like a nitpicky thing but I am a detail person.  Next thought is “but that’s not fair to kids who do the work on time, there has to be a consequence!”  Maybe that consequence needs to be something else.  After reading through Fix 1 and the vignette I’m beginning to see that maybe I need to consider the tardiness of a student to class a behavior that needs to be addressed.  I do believe there has to be a consequence.  I mean if you pay your bill late you pay a penalty.  The question is what kind of consequence should result from this behavior?  Maybe the book will have some suggestions.  See my mind is already changing…interesting.

On page 24 The following caught my attention “Many teachers believe they need a policy with penalties to attempt to ensure that students turn in work on time so the teacher can maintain the pace of instruction necessary to meet tight curriculum requirements.”

Yes exactly! So many subjects scaffold, each topic builds on the one before it and if kids miss or don’t understand a lesson it can cause trouble later on.  This is actually why I started grading papers in class with the students.  I have heard people say that teachers who do this are lazy, making their students do their work for them, this statement irritates me because I have a good reason for having my students grade their own work in class.  My first year I graded everything myself and yes it was time consuming and stressful but I did it.  During my second year of teaching while grading I began to notice that students were making the same mistakes over and over again after they should have learned the topic.  When grading papers for students in multiple subject areas or a hundred plus students in just one subject area you sometimes fall behind no matter how hard you try to stay caught up.  I switched to having my students grading in class and when we came across  an item several students missed I could go to the board and immediately reteach the concept.  This resulted in fewer questions missed later on.  Yes grading this way saved some time but as I collected the work to look through and record it in my grade book it didn’t save as much time as you would think.

OK that was way off track wasn’t it but the concern stands if students turn in work late it makes it difficult for teachers to assess their skill and knowledge to make sure they don’t get lost as we keep teaching.

“The same student who is late with work in week 2 is frequently late in weeks 18 and 36.” (page 25)  This is so true and taking points away from the score does not change the result in most students.  Yes there are students who are conscientious enough that losing points for one late score is enough that it never happens again.  On the whole though, those students who chronically turn in late work don’t change their habits because they receive a lower grade.  So why keep doing it.  There’s a quote “Keep doing what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”  I think that applies here.

My main argument for late grade penalties has always been that it prepares kids for the real world, life as an adult where deadlines are deadlines and there are consequences if you don’t meet them.  The book points out however that responsible adults “communicate with the person or institution to whom we are responsible to arrange a new mutual agreement and then work to meet it.” (page 25)  I like the idea of having a mix of deadlines some hard and fast while others are flexible and teaching students how to approach a teacher respectfully to request an extension.  Though this still leaves me wondering about consequences for the behavior.

“Students who are late with important assessment evidence could be required to come in before school, at lunchtime, or after school where they will receive both the assistance and time they need.” (page 26)  I’m all for this approach but it does require parental backing and support which is not there in students with this problem about half of the time in my experience, may be more or less for other teachers.

Student Involvement:

“Teacher…should encourage the student to acknowledge the lateness and request an extension and/or suggest other appropriate consequences.” (page 27)

This feels like it would need to be something we would train students to do.  Maybe offer forms or form notes to fill out at the younger grades or simply at the beginning of the year shifting to the student taking more responsibility for the request.  You could also sit down with the class and brainstorm a list of possible consequences, this could be done in conjunction with the setting of class rules and writing of class constitution that is done in so many elementary school classrooms.  For middle school or high school it may need to be a school wide policy or set by teacher if only in that teacher’s classroom.

Vignette:

“Students were told that if they submitted on or before due date we would return the project by the next class and provide extensive feedback…Students could revise up to the date of the final exam.” (page 28)

I really like this idea but I wonder how that would work logistically.  This is for college classes and I wonder how many students they had, how many took advantage of this, then I wonder how would this transfer to elementary, middle or high school?  Maybe only allow redo on certain assignments/projects?

Policy Example:

I like the specific example of policy given in the book.  Some of the consequences are ones I have used before in conjunction with points penalties: call home, students come before or after school, missing/late work sheet filled out (though not a contract as in this policy). I like the possibility of students being pulled from co-curricular/extra-curricular commitments until work is complete.

Ok time for my final thoughts on this fix.  Obviously I had a lot more to say because this was a fix I was skeptical about when I first heard it.  I’m now convinced late assignments should be graded as normal to provide the most accurate picture of the student’s learning while the behavior receives a consequence.  When I get into a classroom position again I will create flexible deadlines for some assignments and firm deadlines for others with plenty of advanced warning on those.  I will also teach my students how to ask for an extension should they need one.

So what do you think?  Have you changed your mind?  Are you curious to learn more and maybe read this fix yourself?

Repair Kit Fix 1: Student behavior counted in grades

Fix 1: Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc.) in grades include only achievement.

I agree with this fix.  I don’t need to be convinced on this one but I’m going to read it anyway.

On page 16 I found the following “To make grades as pure a measure as possible of student achievement…make them (grades) reflect only student performance in mastering the public, published learning goals of the state/province/district/school.”  I think I may be a bit biased when it comes to this fix.  I am loud and talkative socially, just ask anyone who knows me they’ll tell you, as a teacher I can be the same way but not so much as a student.  I was shy and quiet in class rarely raising my hand unless I was sure I had the answer and preferring to ask questions of the teacher without the whole class listening in.  As you can imagine I lost a lot of points for lack of participation.  It drove me crazy but at the time I was just uncomfortable speaking up. (I know hard to imagine.)

I would argue in the case of foreign language classes though that participation might need to be part of the grade.  Not every teacher has time to give each student individually an oral exam, they need other opportunities to hear their students speak.

Two examples are given of grades being inflated due to the inclusion of behavior indicators in final grades through these grades do not match state/province exams.

The point is made that grades are being used to control student behavior.  I was fortunate in my first year of teaching that we assigned separate effort and conduct scores.  Grades were to be solely academic though they did include late grades and zeroes for cheating (addressed in a later fix).  I think the suggestions made that an expanded format report card be used is an excellent suggestion.  A rubric/scoring guide through which each teacher provides scores for organizational skills, homework assignments, citizenship, teamwork, and interpersonal skill is in the book, it comes from the Winnipeg School District.  I love it!  I could see adding this to my quarterly student reflection sheets as additional materials for conferences.

I know my students’ scores on projects are better when given a scoring guide.  For a few years during the state testing we assessed students effort and conduct during testing time with a scoring guide.  Students were given a copy of the guide and so they knew what I was looking for.  Why not do the same thing for year long effort and conduct?

Student Involvement: on page 20 I found this statement “Students often hear that they need to improve their effort, effort may seem a vague concept.” Oh yeah I’m guilty of this, I have my students complete a reflection sheet at the end of each quarter (a result of having student-led conferences as the norm my first year of teaching.)  I use just the word effort on my reflection sheet and have students rate their effort, now when I talk through the reflection sheet with students as they complete it I give a more detailed description but why not create a rubric for this section to make it easier for students to self-assess?  I think I will be making a change or several changes to my reflection sheets.

Teacher Vignette – This vignette is about a student with high grades in some subject areas while failing other areas due to not completing homework.

The argument is that the child was not being graded solely on academic achievement but rather on teacher’s expectations of behaviors.  While this may be true this example bothers me.  Yes homework is a behavior expectation, it is also a formative assessment.  As a teacher I use homework to help me gauge that a student is learning, gaining knowledge.  Then again I would not wait until a conference over bad grades to reveal homework not being done.  I would contact parents, explain my concern and try to remedy the situation that way arranging a time before, after or during school to get the work done so that I can be sure I get the information I need so I know before a unit assessment that the student is acquiring the knowledge I am trying to help them acquire.  Now that may have happened but with the way this vignette is told I doubt it.

So what do you think of fix 1?  Do you include behavior expectations in your academic grades or does your school have a separate system for that?

What you focus on you get more of!

This statement was part of my training in the Conscious Discipline program by Dr. Becky Bailey.  It was pointed out to us that if you focus on the negative, if you frequently nag, berate, point out the negative behaviors in your classroom or your own kids, those are the behaviors you will see more often.  Though this wasn’t discussed I think there are two reasons for this: the first being when you are focused on one thing that is what you actually notice, you don’t notice other things, the second reason I think it works this way is that when kids  see others getting attention for negative behaviors they may begin to act out to get attention themselves.  Not every child will do this but some will.  I’ve seen it year after year a student desperately wants attention and they try to get it any way they can which includes acting out in class.

Conversely if you focus on the positive behaviors you see, compliment students for doing good things, have students recognize each other for random acts of kindness you create a positive environment and what you will see/notice is more positive behavior.  Those students who are seeking attention will see that doing kind things, being respectful, following directions are the way to get that attention.

So keep this saying in mind at home or in the classroom:

 

My love hate relationship with snow and snow days

I’ve had enough snow for this year thank you very much!!!  Father Winter and Mother Nature please get it together I just can’t take it anymore!!!  Yes the snow day we had yesterday was a freebie but still it’s just too much!   Ok now that I’ve gotten that out of the way LOL, this has been an unusual winter.  So far more snow that I can recall since 2011, and that was the most snow since I can’t even tell you when.

I know everyone loves snow days right?  Yeah maybe not so much.  Every school/district handles snow days differently.  My current district builds the required six snow make up days into the calendar for the year and we attend on those days whether we have snow days or not.  So basically in a year with no snow days we attend school six days more than the state requirement, not necessarily a bad thing.  I remember in high school if we didn’t use snow days we got those days taken off the end of the school year.  In my last district, a small rural district, we had random days throughout the year built in as snow make-up days including MLK Jr Day and President’s Day.  My last year in that district we started school late due to construction then had so many snow days that to be able to get school and summer school in during the fiscal year (the only way it worked financially) we had make-up days on four Saturdays.  Yep, we came to school for half days on four Saturdays.  The first was well attended by students, as they went attendance did drop even though students knew they had to make up any work missed.  We had a large number of students on sports teams outside of school though and they had tournaments and games they just couldn’t miss.

We are at ten snow days and counting, which means we have used all of our built in days and two of the extra labeled snow days on our school calendar.  The last day of school is now a half day the Tuesday after Memorial Day.  UGH!!!  Ok so there’s one “hate” about snow days.  I don’t think a single teacher in the district is happy about this, even though it would not have been safe for us to come in on the snow days.

Snow days are not all bad, I enjoy the occasional day, the occasional unexpected day to sleep in, well when I can get back to sleep after the phone rings at some crazy time in the morning, or if we’re fortunate enough to have it called off the night before as we have had a few times so far this year.  When I say this year I don’t just mean this school year, I also mean this year you know 2014, we didn’t even get to come back to school when we were supposed to after winter break.  Winter break this year was extended by a week from snow days.  Coming back we had to almost completely start over with routines, another “hate” about snow days.  What’s worse is when snow days happen in the middle of a unit.  If it’s one day you can usually get the kids back but as Tony Danza noted in his book I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High, (I was just rereading this on a snow day coincidentally) if you lose several days you often lose momentum that you’ve worked so hard to build. Invariably it also seems that you end up with the same day of the week as a snow day time after time, this often puts one class or several classes (if you’re a specials teacher) behind the others, then it’s a struggle to somehow find a way to get them caught up so that all of your students get the information they need.

I guess I really haven’t mentioned many things I love other than sleeping in, I do enjoy the bonus day home with my son and occasionally also my husband.  I enjoy the break that I can use to catch up on work for school or maybe read that book I’ve been wanting to read.  Not having to nag the kiddo to get up and get dressed so we can head out to school is always a bonus.  Shoveling snow can be a great workout, but it can also eat up the whole day sometimes.

So how about you?  What do you love or not about snow days?

High chool student suspended for accidentally bringing beer in lunch

Here is another recent news story that leaves me wondering.  Zero tolerance policies that are completely strictly enforced always seem to end up in the news.  One of the things that parents and teachers tell kids frequently is “life’s not fair”.   Most children when asked feel that fair means treating every kid the same but that’s not fair.  You have to look beyond, you have to look at more than just the behavior before assigning consequences.

I know that I worked with an assistant principal that did just that.  When two students were in a fight they didn’t necessarily receive the same consequence.  The person that started the fight be it physically or verbally often had a harsher punishment.  He made an effort to make the punishment fit the “crime”.  I really respected this.

My first year teaching I had a student with a sore leg, he had hurt it the previous weekend he told us all about it at the beginning of class.  Towards the end of class as students were packing up to leave another student came up behind him and kicked him in the sore leg.  His response was to curse “Sh*t!” came out of his mouth and my heart sunk, I knew I had to write him up because that language is not allowed and other students had heard him.  I also wrote up the student that kicked him.  I hand delivered the office referrals to the assistant principal and explained to her what had happened trying to emphasize that while the language was inappropriate it was at least in my point of view understandable that it slipped out considering the situation.

Another time I had a female student in class call me a witch except with a B, you know.  No sooner had the word left her mouth than her hands flew up over it and her eyes got huge.  She then immediately apologized.  Again I had to write her up but when I turned in the referral I spoke the principal and shared her reaction and that she had already apologized profusely.

I looked on the school website to find the student handbook to find their policy on alcohol at school.  Under the heading Mandatory Placement: Misconduct that Requires DAEP (Disciplinary Alternative Education Program) Placement is this bullet point

  • Sells, gives, or delivers to another person an alcoholic beverage; commits a serious act or offense while under the influence of alcohol; or possesses, uses, or is under the influence of alcohol, if the conduct is not punishable as a felony offense.

This is I’m sure the basis for the student’s 3 day suspension and 60 day placement at the alternative education center.  From what I can tell 60 days is the maximum the student could be given for this particular offense.  But why when the student realized the mistake and essentially turned himself in would you give the maximum rather than allow some leniency to recognize that he took responsibility for his actions.  What are we teaching the other kids in that school but to lie and keep things like this to themselves.  If their punishment will be the same whether they turn themselves in or get caught what’s the point in telling the truth, being forthcoming?  Not the message I want to send to my students I know.

What do you think?  Did the school do what it should or did they go too far?