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Teacher Observation & Collaboraton

Thanks to my principal and our staff being such huge supporters of teacher collaboration, I was able to spend half of my Friday observing another first grade teacher at a different school here in Austin. While I had taken time to observe other teachers at my own campus, I had never had the chance to see a first grade classroom at another school. It was a wonderful experience. I picked up a couple of new engaging ideas to try in my own classroom and most importantly, it reaffirmed for me that I am doing a good job with my own class of students. If you can ever find a way to participate in a similar observational experience on your campus or elsewhere, I highly recommend that you take the time to do so.

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Classroom Schedule

There are some things that I know about myself very well, and it is true that I am a systematic and organized individual. When considering what I should share next in my blog, I reviewed a list of ideas that I had jotted down over the past few weeks. It is definitely a fun list of topics to choose from, but instead of just selecting one at random, I decided to be a bit more methodical and share my daily schedule with you first. I remember being in my first year of teaching and feeling so overwhelmed with the thought of “How on earth am I going to fill almost 8 hours with my students every day…for months!” I thought that if I shared my schedule and then took the time to blog and show video from all of the things I teach to my students during these different times, we could find some common ground for exchange and hopefully glean some interesting new “field tested” ideas from each other in the process!

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Classroom Management Wrap-Up

Well week three for me is officially over! We survived Hurricane Ike here in Austin without a drop of rain and enjoyed an early release day on Friday! The powers that be wanted to make sure all the children were home safe before the traffic on our city streets became overcrowded and they needed to use some schools as shelters for families coming from Houston and surrounding areas. I managed to work in my classroom for several hours after the early dismissal. My wonderful principal, Valerie Galbraith, came marching down the hallway demanding that I and a few other diehards “Go home!” Ah, if only every Friday would be a half day, we would get so much done!

Our area superintendents are in the process of leveling classes and moving teachers across the district. Unfortunately, my team is one of the grade levels with lower numbers than usual. We have been waiting on pins and needles to hear if they are going to force a teacher to move either to another grade level or even possibly to another school or just leave us alone. Of course if that happens, my small class will suddenly become a class of 20 and I will be back to square one with classroom management. That fact, I can deal with, losing a colleague that I work so well with and have grown so close to, will be devastating. The stress of not knowing has been almost unbearable and the fact that teachers have absolutely no say in this process is regrettable.

So keep your fingers crossed for me that I won’t lose my partner in crime, and thanks for letting me share my worries. Because of the possible sudden changes my class might have to endure, I was taking time this past Friday to consider my classroom management; how it was going, what needed to be emphasized and what I might need to change if I suddenly had several new students come Monday morning.

Joey & Aaron in Workstations

I realized I had a few more quick ideas to offer you as I wrap-up our discussion on classroom management before I move on to sharing all of the fun and exciting learning activities that happen in my little part of the universe.

Whole Class Consequence: Occasionally, your entire class is out of whack and you are not able to give individual sticks. This is when I take out my clipboard that has a paper attached to it showing numbers from one to twenty five. I very calmly hold up the clipboard and begin marking off numbers, beginning at the number one, until the class is silent. And then I begin teaching again in a very soft, controlled voice.

The numbers represent how many minutes we have for recess. Each number I mark with an X is minutes I take from recess time. When this happens, I keep my students in the room at the beginning of recess. I ask them to think about why we have to take this time from recess and what we could do differently to solve the problem. I have them put their heads on their desk and consider solutions. After the time out, we take a few minutes to discuss what the students thought about and to discuss some solutions to our problem. As a class, we agree to a solution and then we head outside to play. I usually only have to pull out that clipboard a few times at the beginning of the year and the students never want to see it again. This week, my students were having difficulty maintaining listening ears during homework folder time at the end of the day. By Thursday, I just had to start to walk over to the clipboard and they all quieted down.

Make The Call: Now that I am coming into week four with my class, I will start to be much more strict about following through on student consequences. One of my consequences is to have the student call the parent to explain to them about their poor behavior choices for that day. I have to credit this idea to a former colleague, Janice Lowry, who told me that she has hardy ever had to use that tactic in all her many years of teaching because it was so effective. She was right. The few times I have had to do it in my own classroom, the students were so stunned that I would just hand them the phone and make them explain to their parent what he or she was doing that was disrupting the entire class, there was never a follow up phone call. And the parents appreciated knowing what was going on and were able to be an immediate help in solving the problem.

Time Out a Recess: I do not just have my students sit in time out at recess. That is unproductive and unhealthy. Luckily, we have a track on our school playground that I can have them walk. When a student does have a 5 or 10 minute, time out, I have them come to me first. We discuss why they received their sad sticks, and I ask them to think, while they walk, about what is causing the problem and what different and better choices they can make next time the problem arises. After their time out, they come back to me and we discuss the solutions they thought of and I praise them for their good ideas, we agree upon a solution together and promise to support them as they try to make better choices.

Questions About Stickers:
Do I give extra stickers to Ss who have gotten a sad stick? Yes. A student can make a poor choice and receive a sad stick, but he or she can show outstanding behavior or complete quality work after that and if you feel a sticker is deserved, then give it. Remember this system is about rewarding the positive and praising the good efforts. Mistakes will be made, but it should not be the main focus of your attention.

What if a student reaches 20 stickers before other students? This will happen all of the time. Remember, it is an individual reward, not a whole class reward. When a student reaches “the end”, as I call it, we give him or her a big “Yeeeehaw!” and I take their incentive chart down and choose a new one to hang up so they can start earning stickers immediately to work their way up to 20 stickers again.

Why do you use 20 stickers? I know not all incentive charts have 20 squares to fill in, I just thought 20 seemed like a reasonable number to achieve in a decent amount of time. Not to short, not to long. Plus, when I don’t use incentive charts, the students can easily practice counting their stickers in rows of five.

“Good Citizen” Bulletin Board: I prefer this title than to “Good Behavior” or something similar to that. After all, one of the things we are teaching our students is how to be a good citizen now and as an adult. It also gives me an excellent lead in to teaching students about American government. Having this connection to their classroom helps them to understand the bigger picture.

Incentive Charts: I have bought incentive charts from an educational catalog or teacher store. I have also used store bought die-cut colored notepads or paper shapes because sometimes I can find those cheaper or they have more pages to use. I have also made my own die-cut shapes using our school die-cut machines. And, I have cut out cool shapes myself from construction paper. I keep a box of these incentive charts by the Good Citizen Board, and I usually ask the students input on what chart they would like next. For example, Joey was the first to fill up his Texas shape this past Monday and the class chose the cowboy boot to be next. We have a western/cowboy/cowgirl theme in our room this year, so the boot was a big hit!

Sad Sticks: A sad stick is just a small craft stick that I have drawn a sad face on. One year, a student asked me if they could get happy sticks instead of stickers. He was very concerned that the sad sticks were so sad and lonely looking. When I explained that the little pocket with his name couldn’t hold 20 happy sticks, we compromised and added a few huge sized, happy-face, craft sticks in the holding container to look over the little sad sticks and cheer them up.

Nice Notes: My students love to get “nice notes” and I love giving them! I have a clipboard with a class list attached and some kind of cute teacher notepad or decorative post-it note pad. At the end of each day, during homework folders, I chose one or two students to receive a nice note. I place a check by there name so I can keep track of who has already received a nice note. I want to be sure that everyone has received a nice note before I start all over again! These notes can be as simple as “Emery has been such a good friend by teaching everyone how to tie their shoe.” Or “Nathan is working so hard on improving his handwriting, I am so proud of his efforts.” They take only a minute to write, and make students and parents feel so happy and proud.

Red Notes: One of my classroom management plan consequences is for students to receive a “red note”. This note lists as many rules as I could think of (talking while the teacher is talking, keeping hands to yourself etc.) so I can just check off the infraction, add a short comment if need be and send the note home for parents to sign. This saves me time in filling out information and lets the parents clearly see what areas their children need to work on and helps parents to support the classroom discipline plan. When the red note is returned, I file it to use at parent conference, IMPACT meetings or to create an individual student behavior plan if need be.

Download red_note_behavior_notice.doc

Treasure Box: For the longest time, my “treasure box” used to be a drawer in my file cabinet! I finally found a nice sized wooden chest that I now use. Wrapping paper and or stickers can brighten up any cardboard box for you to use! Over the years I have filled my treasure box with my son’s unwanted toys (McDonald items, Hot Wheel cars and the like), and then I moved on to my friends children’s unwanted trinkets as they grew up. Garage sales can be a great place to find cheap, small items if that is your thing. If you tell them you are a teacher and it is for your classroom, they practically give it to you! I also add books to the treasure box; my classroom books I don’t use anymore, library discards and more.

Of course there is Oriental Trading Co., and Hobby Lobby has a section of little trinkets (microscopes, musical instruments etc), 6 for $1, in their party section. Target also has a great little $1 section with many of the items having several to a set so you can break them apart. I have also asked my student’s parents to pick stuff up for donations to the treasure box, and I gave them all of the same ideas as I am giving you above. Of course you can make “no cost student incentives”; coupons for lunch with the teacher, no homework pass, drop one assignment pass, extra computer time etc. The students love these, too!

“It is better to build children than to repair adults.”
Quote from the wall of fellow colleague Monica Clark our instructional specialist at Metz.

Eliah & Nathan at Workstations

Documenting Student Behavior

One of the easiest and hardest things to do is to document student behavior. In the moment, you always believe you will remember exactly what the student was doing to disrupt the class or the flow of learning, but I promise you that you will forget. Teachers already have to hold so much information in their head, it is much more efficient to write it down and leave that brain space available for other things.

I do this by keeping a large spiral notebook right next to my Good Citizen bulletin board. Any time a student receives a sad stick I write what happened in this notebook. These are not always detailed explanations, I have come up with my own short hand over the years: TWTWT is “taking while the teacher was talking” and NFD is “not following directions”. The point is to write down, as quickly as possible, the date, the rule broken and if need be, anyone involved with an incident and the follow-up that was given for more serious infractions.

Writing down, even small infractions, is important. This could help you recognize if there are patterns in a student’s behavior: Do they only seem to have trouble the day after they spent the night with mom? Are they always misbehaving with the same student? Is it random rule breaking or always the same rule?

Having this documentation available during Parent Conference’s will also help support a discussion on what can be done, as a team, to help the student stay on course with their behavior. At our school, we have a referral process called IMPACT. This is a group of educators and specialist on our campus who come together to support the student and teacher with academic or behavior issues. Hopefully, you have some similar support system on your campus.

If I have a child who is very disruptive and having continuous problems even after interventions, I have to be able to show when and what misbehavior occurred and how I addressed it. Because I always have this written documentation, it is easy for me to formulate a plan of action with the student and bring the information of what was and what wasn’t successful to the IMPACT team so we can decide which further steps to take in helping this student achieve success.

If you had a student that was always yelling out in class, not respecting others personal space etc., when you sought support of a behavior specialist or the IMPACT team they would ask what negative behavior the child engaging in and what interventions were tried.

It is so much better to be prepared and be able to report: “On 8/25, 9/1 and 9/2, this child grabbed and shook another student by the shoulders. The first time, I spoke with the student we reviewed the rules and role-played how to interact with friends. The second time reviewed expectations again and sent a note home to his parents. The third time I reviewed expectations again and I made a phone call to the parents. We came up with a signal and verbal reminder we would both use if the child was becoming too aggressive and agreed to talk every few days to touch base. The parent also agreed to discuss being gentle with others at home. Unfortunately, the child is still having problems a month later. I have documented an incident with nine different students, so this doesn’t seem to be a problem with only one child. I would really appreciate some more suggestions to try.”

As opposed to saying “This child is very disruptive and often grabs on other children. I have talked to mom, but he is still hurting other students in my class.”

Once you get in the habit of using the notebook for documentation, it will be quick and easy. For behavior that doesn’t need to be addressed immediately, I often continue the lesson, walk over and place a sad stick in a student’s card, write the rule that was broken and go on teaching. By doing this, the student is made aware of what they were doing and you can address it a few minutes later without taking learning time away from the entire class.

My behavior documentation notebook has been a lifesaver in helping me address unwanted behavior in my classroom and is an integral part of my classroom management system. No one has to look at it but me, so I am never worried about neatness or being exact in everything I write. As long as I keep track of important information in a way that I can understand, then this information can be used to promote positive outcomes for all students in my class.

“A teacher's constant task is to take a room full of live wires and see to it that they are grounded.” EC McKenzie

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Inside Jennifer's 1st Grade Classroom are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.