Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Productive Ways to Respond When a Student Refuses to Leave the Classroom

The recent Spring Valley High School incident has made me reflect on what I would have done if a student using a cell phone refused to put it away and refused to leave class.  Like many teachers, I have been faced with similar (if not exactly the same) situations. I never once thought to force the student out of his/her seat.

I have had to learn over time how to react and control my emotions when a student is defiant.  Early in my teaching, my anger would boil up when a student openly defied me. Over time, however, I have learned that reacting with anger and yelling is unproductive.

Steps to Handle Defiance:


  1. Move On (Secretly Wait & Take Deep Breaths)

    After asking a student to do something, such as leave the room, I don't stand there stopping the whole class in a stalemate. I move on with the lesson. Now really I am giving some wait time to the situation. Some students need more time to process what is happening and comply to the directive. I also am calming myself down. No matter how many times a student is defiant to me in front of a class, it triggers a fight or flight mechanism in me, and usually the "fight" mechanism. If I give in to anger, then I've lost control of myself and the class. I will get nowhere with the student and will most likely lose respect from the class. One way I've learned to pacify this response is to meditate or breath. I have gotten to the point where I don't even try to hide it in front of students--I hope they see it as a positive way to regain control.

  2.  Think

    While I'm continuing with class, I am really trying to figure out what happened and decide how necessary it is to follow through with a class removal. If a student has done something very disruptive and the student's presence is still a disruption to the learning environment (and all my other management tricks are not working), I may call the Dean's office or principal and ask for an administrator to come get the student. However, if it is something like a student refusing to put away his/her phone and he/she is sitting quietly in class, there is no need for class removal. After nine years in the classroom, I have seen plenty of disruption. I have seen many students storm out of the classroom and many others refuse to leave their seat. I have never seen a student refuse to leave their seat and continue to disrupt the class. Although the defiance is something that needs to be discussed eventually, there is no need to remove a student by force if he/she is not disrupting the class or causing harm to themselves or others.

  3.  Discuss Privately

    If it seems as though the student has calmed down and there is a moment where students are working and I can talk to the defiant student privately, I may go over to discuss the issue with him/her. It is often the case that the student is not ready to talk to me. I may write a note or give distance until the next class period (if someone is too angry to talk to me later in the class period, they will probably not be calmed down for a while). If they refuse to interact with me and sit quietly for the rest of class, even if they continue to disobey the cell phone rule, I let it go. I have confidence that my other students know that I will work with that student and that using your phone in class is not acceptable.

    When I do talk to the student, I do not discuss the incident right away or speak to them with anger in my voice. I ask them how they are doing, if they've had a bad day or if something has gone on that upset them. If a student is furious because you want them to put away their phone, there's probably a deeper issue going on.
  4.  Think Again and Investigate

    After my class has ended, I'll have more time to try to better understand what happened. I'll check in with the student's advisor, other teachers (particularly those right before my class) and the Dean. I may or may not contact the student's parents that night--depending on how that would make the student react. I also may email the student. A lot of what I do depends on what I think will work with that individual student--getting to know students ahead of time, therefore, is key!
  5. Make a Plan

    Typically by the next day, the student has calmed down and can talk. Again, I don't address the situation in terms of what the student has done wrong, but more about what is going on and why the student was so upset. If the problem is something that re-occurs, I would work out a system so the student and I can deal with the issues in a proactive manner. 

    For example, I once had a student who would storm out of class angrily, yelling at me and the co-teacher. After eating lunch with her and talking, it became clear that sometimes she had a bad day and my redirection was the last straw. We came up with a plan that when she felt like storming out, she would ask permission and I would always say yes. We continued to develop a plan where she would go visit the Dean and give her a candy or cookie (yes, this was our plan--I was pregnant and always had cookies at my desk!). Over time, the student gained control of her reactions and our relationship improved instead of deteriorated.
The big point I want to make here is to not respond immediately with anger. Losing control in front of the class is bound to happen, but using strategies like cooling down (yes, you too!), meditating and trying to understand the trigger for the behavior is far more productive than proving your power in front of the class.

Read Your Students

A recent New York Times article mirrors many of the ideas above. The teacher interviewed also brings up an important preventative measure: read the students as they enter the class.  Pedro Noguera, author of "The Trouble with Black Boys:...And Other Reflections of Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education", discusses the importance of understanding the root of the defiance. Next time a student is defiant in your class, pause and remember how easily things can escalate into a situation you didn't intend for. De-escalating situations should be at the forefront, which may mean letting something go until everyone is calmed down.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tips for Handling Tough Middle Schoolers

Every teacher has their own philosophies and strategies for classroom management. Some say not to smile until January, others insist that engaging lessons curtail any misbehavior. When managing students, teachers need to find a management systems that align to their own philosophies and personalities. That being said, it never hurts to hear tricks other teachers use to build relationships and keep class focused on learning.

Below are some of the ways I stay ahead of mutiny in the classroom and work with individual students who might need a little extra TLC.

Class Roles

It may feel scary to put a student who typically disrupts class or barely keeps his/her head up in a classroom leadership role, but I have found this to be exactly what some students need (note: I said some, this might not work for every student!). It is important to say, I NEVER force a student to participate in a role--it is strictly voluntary. I do try to persuade them to try it out first. Also, I make sure it doesn't go against any IEPs. Here are some classroom roles and the students I have found they are best suited for:

Document Camera Worker

I often flip between a document camera and powerpoint slides while teaching.  The document camera is at the front of the room, with a desk area and seat next to it. I especially like to put students who have low self-esteem about learning science in this role. These students take notes under the document camera or record answers as they are reviewed with the class. If possible, I also have them model how to record entries in the science notebook. Many students are afraid they will make a mistake in this role at first. To help boost confidence, I initially give the student a cheat sheet with the correct notes or composition book entry or answers. I have noticed students change their demeanor in the class as they begin to be an expert and leader.

Powerpoint/Computer Worker

I like to use powerpoint slides to stay on task and organize lessons. I put my computer near a student's desk and when we use powerpoint slides, I have the student closest to the computer forward slides for me, change to videos, and do other work. I intentionally seat a student who I think needs a positive role in class to the spot closest to the computer. Often times there are students who are hard to keep on task in class. For some of these students, the powerpoint role works great. For others, it may exacerbate them (especially if they have ADHD). I also like to teach the student hotkey tricks (e.g., ALT or Command  and Tab let you quickly switch to another app), so they move fast and learn something new.

Lights & Doors Worker

I always have a few antsy students who just can't stay in their seats. For these students, I have standing tables at the back of the room. When it is time to shut the door, turn on or off lights, or do anything near the back of the room, I ask them to do it.  The standing tables have been an amazing improvement for the focus and behavior management of some of my students!  It is important not to use standing tables at the back of the room as a punishment. I never force a student to work there--it is voluntary. If my room has little space, I'll put taller stools there, so there's an option of sitting.  Also, it's important to check IEPs and make sure students who need this accommodation are not required to be at the front of the room.

Building Strong Relationships

Many teachers will tell you that the students they know the best were once their toughest. When you start to clash with a student and find that he/she is pushing your buttons, although it is the one person you may not want to interact with, that is the best solution. Getting to know tough students is often the solution to their disruption in your class. Here are some ways I've gotten closer to students who need a stronger relationship:

Buy a Book

First talk to the student--what are their hobbies? What do they want to do when they grow up? Once you know an interest, hobby or future career that a student has, buy them a book on the topic. I like to write a note on the inside. If it starts to get expensive or you want to maximize the effort, I often keep the book in my library and lend the student the book, with a note inside.  If it's hard to get a conversation off the ground, you can always lend them a book that other students like. For example, "Wonder" is a great book, so is "The Hunger Games" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid." I write my name on the bottom of the book to ensure it gets returned. Not only does it show the student you care about him/her, but it also starts a conversation. You can ask if they liked the book or if they've read it yet!

Start with a Positive

Some students seek out negative attention because they simply want attention. When co-teachers and I believe a student has this tendency, we try to counter-act it by giving them positive attention from the start. This often requires two teachers in the room. When that student comes in and starts class, one of us will sit with him/her and check in with them about their day (or other interests) while they work on the Do Now.  Throughout class we sit down and check in, giving them positive attention before they seek out negative attention.

Lunch Buddy

When a tough student is really tough and has me completely stuck in building a relationship, I will resort to buying them lunch--or atleast a snack.  I'll ask them what they like to eat for lunch (trying to stay on the healthy side of options) and invite them to join me for lunch one day in my room (NOTE: Keep doors open and have a colleague somewhere in the room. You should never be alone with a student with the doors closed) or in the cafeteria. If they refuse because they want to eat with a certain friend, I'll invite that person too (or if there is a group of students I'm really struggling with, I'll invite 2 - 3 of them). When they come to eat, I do not address any of the misbehaviors that I'm frustrated with. Instead we play UNO or talk about stuff that is positive. Playing UNO (or another game) has been especially helpful. Students often will open up to me and share personal stories that help me better understand their situation and reasons for misbehavior. Often once I know their story, it is a lot easier to conference with them when misbehavior occurs later in class.

Managing Meltdowns

If you are like me, despite every attempt to run a smooth class, you will have students with meltdowns in your room which completely disrupt your lesson plans. We often forget that students have lives outside of our class--if a student loses his/her cool in class, it's important to remember that you don't know what triggered it. The sooner that student can be calmed down, the less time your class can be derailed. Never argue with a student in class and call for assistance if the situation is serious.

What may start as a minor disturbance can escalate into a meltdown if you are not careful. When a misbehavior disrupts class and a warning doesn't change anything, I like to conference with a student privately. Here are some tips I use when conferencing with a student.

Be Random and Be Kind

When you walk outside or to the back of a room with a student, they are expecting you to talk about their misbehavior. They may be embarrassed of being singled out and your redirection speech could trigger a bigger outburst. I've noticed that not starting with the behavior works best. I like to start with a random observation or by saying something nice to the student.

Take a walk

If there is a co-teacher in my classroom who can take over, I often like to do a little loop around the building with the student. If I can't leave the area, I like to stand or sit next to the student, looking outward and not at them. I've found that not forcing a student to look at you while you discuss behavior works best for many.

Anger Workbook Book for Teens

Some of my students have so much anger that despite my best strategies, they still have to get their anger out. I like to have copies of the Anger Workbook for Teens in my classroom for students to work through. One strategy is to write out what is bothering you and then rip it out. If an outburst is due to an incident outside my class, I'll often have a student write out what they're feeling and rip it up, so they can get back to class.

The Takeaway: Respect Them

In the end, if you want to work well with students, respect them as people. Do not humiliate them. Do not make them feel ashamed or point out their weaknesses in front of the class. Do not assume you know why they are acting the way they are--in fact, assume the best. I truly believe that every child wants to succeed in my class and some of them have just lost their way at some point (often because of how a teacher had made them feel.)

What are your management strategies? Please share below!

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Connect Your Students to Polar Science

Send Me Your Penguins

Here is a fun way to connect your class to Antarctica: decorate the flat penguin template, decorate it however you like, and send it to the address in the directions by October 23rd, 2015. I will be joining a team of scientists on November 1st to study human impacts at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Aside from posting journals about the science and life in Antarctica on my PolarTREC page, I will also take photos of your flat penguins at the station and email them back to you!

Adaptation Lesson: Blubber Gloves

While you wait for your flat penguin to make it to Antarctica, you can teach students about the interesting life at the bottom of the world, and the adaptations they have to keep warm.  My favorite fun hands-on activity is Blubber Gloves.  Here is a sample lesson using the Blubber Gloves.

Making Your Own Blubber Gloves

You may feel overwhelmed by the process of making blubber gloves, but it's really quite simple. To start you need Crisco (or any kind of shortening), freezer bags and duct tape.  A 48 ounce canister of Crisco typically makes 3 gallon-size gloves.

  1. Lay out 2 freezer bags.  Turn one of them inside out and fit it inside the other one.
  2.  Scoop Crisco in between the freezer bag layers on one side.  I typically use 10-12 spoonfuls, about 1/3rd of the container.
  3.  Seal the inner bag to the outer bag on that side. Turn the bags over.
  4. Put 2 - 3 scoops of Crisco in between the outer and inner bags on the second side.  Seal the bags together.
  5. You  now should have lots of Crisco between the bags on one side, and a little bit of Crisco on the other side.  Keeping most of the Crisco on one side, smooth out the lumps so that the sides are smooth.
  6. Place the bag on the table so the thicker side is facing down.  Place your hand in the "glove" and fold over the bag so that the thick layer covers most if not all of your hand.  Crease or leave the bag folded.

  7. Making sure the bag is completely sealed, tape along the outer edges and down the crease of the fold. I also tape the very end of the "glove".
  8. Lastly, create a similar glove using just one plastic bag.  This can be a control to compare the blubber glove with.  

You now have blubber gloves!  I like to have students make hypotheses, then use them in ice water to make observations, and lastly inferences about penguins!

I will be posting pictures of the day and journals/videos about life and science in Antarctica on my PolarTREC page. I am happy to make connections between what you are learning and life at the bottom of the world, so stay tuned!

You can also stay updated from my facebook page or on twitter (@MsBrownTeacher)

I'll resume posts about general science teaching when I return in December.