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Thanks to Student Teachers

If you have never had the pleasure of opening up your classroom to a student teacher, I highly recommend that you consider doing so. I just finished my tenth year in the same first grade classroom and I had never had a student teacher until last year. I had considered opening my classroom doors to a college student many times before but I worried that I wasn't good enough, I didn't know if what I had to share would be helpful to someone, if I could give up control of my students, if I could dole out constructive criticism without feeling like a jerk, if I could relax and still be my goofy self with someone in the room? I still wonder if I would have ever made the choice to ask for a student teacher- so lucky for me, I had my first one sort of end up in my doorway without even having to make that decision for myself. 

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Do Your Homework! (and read up on the latest ideas)

Even though we are a couple of months into the school year, I wanted to give you some link to some informative articles and ideas about using homework in the classroom. It is never to late to add some new twists in your own homework assignments for your students. These recent articles might just give you some ideas to make the ordinary, extraordinary!

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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

Discipline with Reasonable and Logical Consequences

Another important part of a successful classroom management program is being able to discipline with reasonable and logical consequences. I do not believe that disciplining is synonymous with punishment. Students must have structure so they can learn how to impose limits on their own behavior. Having just finished my first week with my new class of first graders, I have been busy putting my classroom management plan in action.

On day one, we discussed why we have rules (to keep us safe, to understand what behavior is expected of us) and who has to follow rules (students and adults). My students and I wrote our own class rules together.

They are as follows:
1. Be nice.
2. Keep your hands to yourself.
3. Do your best work.
4. No Talking when the teacher is talking.
5. Follow directions the first time.

Inevitably, when I ask students to share with me what rules we should have, they always come up with some extreme answers such as no biting, no spitting, no throwing chairs etc. I fake a horrified expression and tell them that I hope that never happened in their kindergarten classroom and I know it will not happen in mine. And then I go on to explain how those actions would fit under the umbrella of “being nice” to one another, which is rule number one!

Every day this past week, a few times a day, we reviewed our class rules and consequences. I did have to give out several sad sticks for rules that were broken, but I took time to explain why a sad stick was earned and we discussed what could be done differently next time. When we wrote our class rules, students also agreed to our consequences. Slowly but surely, students are beginning to understand that it is they who are choosing the consequence when they chose to break a rule. On the other hand, if they are choosing to follow the class rules that they helped to write, they are rewarded with praise and stickers galore on their incentive chart.

We did do quite a bit of role-playing about how to solve behavior problems this week. There were also many interesting behavior solving situations that came up naturally. I always take the time these first several weeks of school to begin to lay the groundwork of teaching my students how to problem solve on their own. This following course of action can be used between a teacher and student or with two or more students. After a problem arises, I ask the student to use their words to describe the problem, what caused it and how they feel about it. I model active listening and train others to do the same, restating what the upset student has said. I then ask for solutions to the problem and have the student choose one. Finally, it is agreed that the solution will be given a try to see if it worked. If not, we will offer up more solutions and try again.

Remember, if a student misbehaves they are only repeating behavior, that in the past gained them attention, gave them power or masked an inadequate feeling. In my classroom, it is my job to praise the positive and give matter of fact, non-emotional attention to the negative. The consequences have already been laid out and agreed to, there is no worth to getting angry or showing disapproval, a student must learn that they are responsible for their choices and the rewards or consequences that come with those choices. Setting up the rules and reasonable consequences takes away the opportunity for arbitrarily imposed discipline and allows your students to feel they are in a safe, fair learning environment. Teaching your students to choose between acceptable and unacceptable actions is a skill they will use for a lifetime.

"Experience is a great teacher and sometimes a pretty teacher is a great experience." Evan Esar

Dr. Haim Ginott


After one week of 12 hour plus days in staff development and setting up my classroom, I would like to share a favorite quote with you on the day before my first, and maybe your first day, with new students.

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
Dr. Haim Ginott

I have seen this quote used in so many different situations, it is a testament to the power of the message. I believe it is a comment that all adults should consider. I have had it displayed in my classroom since the very first day of my teaching career, and I read it often as a gentle reminder of my ability to bring joy and courage to my students. To all those who begin a new school year tomorrow, or within the next few weeks, or maybe you have already started! I wish you the best year, with many successes, smiles and some strategically chosen mental health days!

"It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others-and less trouble." Mark Twain


Rewarding Positive Behavior

In my previous blog, I took time to discuss using effective praise with your students. I want to continue that area of thought and connect it to my discipline plan that I shared in my blog “Classroom Management That Works”. Since we are dealing with young children, I do motivate them with a combination of intrinsic awards (motivating from within and modeling that with effective praise) and extrinsic awards, which I will discuss here.

On my “Good Citizen” bulletin board, each student has two places where their name is placed. I can fit two student names sideways on a library card and once on their own incentive chart. The library pocket houses sad sticks, a craft stick with a sad face drawn on it. A student only receives a sad stick when they chose not to follow a class rule. Otherwise the sad sticks sit in a little container by my “Good Citizen” board.

The incentive chart is where the student receives stickers to reward positive behavior. The incentive chart does not need to be a fancy store bought chart. I have used die-cuts, notepad pages, and construction paper cut into shapes. No matter what I use, the amount of stickers a student has to earn to fill their chart up is 20. Once a student has 20 stickers, they get to pick out of the treasure box.

Each morning, I give every student who did not receive a sad stick a sticker. I make a big deal when someone reaches 20 stickers and I place their incentive chart by the homework folders to remind me to let them pick out of the treasure box that afternoon. I put a new incentive chart up and students get to take the old one home to save. If a student did have a sad stick, I simply remove it and remind everyone that today is a brand new day and everyone gets to start with the ability to earn a stickers by making good choices for their behavior.

The beauty of this system is that I can give as many stickers as I want to whomever I choose. Yes, the student is guaranteed to receive one sticker each morning for following the class rules, but students can earn many more stickers throughout the day to reward positive behavior. This works especially well at the beginning of the year when excellent behavior and classroom routines need to be reinforced. It just takes ten seconds to say, “I just love the way Erryka is helping Catarina tie her shoe. She took the time to help a friend, how nice. I am going to give her a sticker for that!” and to place a sticker on that child’s chart. By doing this you are using effective praise and rewarding positive behavior simultaneously.

I do not keep it a secret that I give extra stickers out to reward positive behavior. I even have a chart on my “Good Citizen” board that is titled “How can you earn extra stars?” I will share that list with you. Download how_can_you_earn_extra_stars.doc Of course there are many things I give stickers for that are not on that list, so feel free to reward any positive behavior that you want to reinforce. The spontaneity of your sticker giving will keep your students on your toes and will give you a reason to use effective praise on a regular basis!

"Build slowly, joyfully, sequentially…always taking care of the human soul." Zoltan Kodoly

Effective Praise

One of the most integral parts of any classroom management program is the use of effective praise. Children know when you are being sincere and when you are just placating them. You want to get into the habit of using praise with your students that motivates them to continue to exhibit positive behavior and productive work effort.

Effective Praise…
• provides information
• specifies commendable aspects of the task
• attributes success to effort and ability
• implies that similar successes can be expected in the future
• encourages student appreciation for their effort
• is expressed sincerely, showing spontaneity, variety and other non-verbal signs of recognition

Let’s take the previous information just a step further. When you give effective praise…
⇒ Identify a specific accomplishment:
“Sizzling was an excellent choice of adjective that you used to describe the sun.”
⇒ Give a particular student attention:
“Jason, I really like the way you got right to work on your journaling, you must have some interesting things to share today.”
⇒ Focus the student on their positive behavior:
“You should be proud of the way you are sitting quietly and following directions.”
⇒ Help the student to understand the value of his or her accomplishments:
“Your explanation of how you answered that word problem helped your classmates to see a new way that they might want to use to try to solve a similar problem.”
⇒ Be constructive in your praise.
“I like how Monique is waiting so patiently for her turn to drink.”
⇒ Help the student appreciate their own progress:
“I am so impressed how you leave such clear spaces between your words, you don’t even need to use your finger to remind you anymore!”
⇒ Recognize old and new accomplishments:
“First you learned to count to ten and now you can add numbers that are more then ten.”
⇒ Credit the student’s effort to succeed:
“I see that you are working hard to improve your spelling, you spelled more words correctly this week then you did last week.”
⇒ Show the student you focused on their work because you could see that they were enjoying their learning process.
“I admire how you added some amazing details to your illustration. You looked like you were really enjoying what you were doing.”

Encourage your students to strive for improvement, NOT perfection, in personal as well as academic areas. Recognize effort and accomplishments, even the small ones. Emphasize strengths and minimize weaknesses. Teach students to learn from their mistakes, and to understand that mistakes are not failures. Promote motivation from within and let students know that you have faith in their abilities. Finally, have faith in yourself to work on your own self-improvements and praise your own accomplishments small and large.

Please note that the information in this blog was modified from “Teacher Praise: A Functional Analysis” by JE Brophy. A similar article you might be interested in reading is "Effective Praise" by Leah Davies, M.Ed.

"In elementary school, many a true word is spoken in guess." Harry Youngman

Classroom Management That Works

This year I will be in my second year of online mentoring through the University of Texas WINGS program with Jenny, a second year teacher here in Austin. I am also in my second year of mentoring my colleague, Jennifer Moody, who teaches first grade with me at Metz. Yes, that is three Jennifer’s between us! Thank goodness my apprentice teacher for this upcoming fall semester is named Molly or else I might have had to assign everyone a number like Christina did for her interns on Grey’s Anatomy!

I have a passion for working with new teachers and enjoy helping to guide them towards their own teaching style. I strive to give them a safe, relaxed place to learn and to ask any question they need answered. I show that I am also trying to acquire new skills, just like they are, and that the art of being a good teacher is that you learn from your mistakes.

Inevitably, new teachers are most worried about classroom management and I believe they have good reason to be. If you do not take the time to put a class management system in place from day one, you are setting yourself up for a very difficult nine months. I find that most first year teachers’ worry that they are behind their colleagues in lesson plans or that they aren’t teaching enough “important stuff”. They fail to understand that using the first several weeks of school to continuously review and reinforce their rules for respect, productive work and general “how to’s” is the most important thing they should be teaching during this time! By working on this with students, they are setting up a system that will allow the rest of their lessons to run smoothly and with maximum absorption of knowledge.

Expert teachers should have a classroom management plan that works for them, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. My management plan took a couple of years to perfect, but once I had it worked out, I have never changed it and I recommend it to all first year teachers I have worked with. I tell them to try it, use what they can from it and adapt it for their own teaching style. My plan doesn’t take away from teaching time, it lays the responsibility on the student in a constructive manner and it gets the teacher in the habit of recording infractions so they have a back-up reference if any one student shows a pattern of poor choices. Most importantly, it rewards positive behavior, because this is where your focus should be in the first place.

I am posting a copy of the discipline letter that I send home to my student’s parents on the first day of school. Please feel free to use it and modify it in any way that you would like. I also discuss and show photos of my “Good Citizen” bulletin board on my Scholastic classroom video tour, so I highly recommend that you watch that so you can get a visual image along with the written description.

Check back throughout this month to find my follow up blogs to “Classroom Management”:
• Effective Praise
• Rewarding Positive Behavior: How can students earn extra stars?
• Discipline with Reasonable and Logical Consequences
• Documenting Student Infractions
• Nice Notes and Red Notes
• Making the Call: Have a student call a parent to report their behavior
• Quick Q&A (What are sad sticks, what is in your treasure box, what are some alternatives to incentive charts etc?)
• More Classroom Management Ideas

Download ms. Atkinson's Discipline Plan.doc


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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.