My main teaching goal at the start of last year was to have better classroom
discipline. The lack of discipline in my first year of teaching led to many
problems: the classroom was usually a mess at the end of the day; students spent
too much time talking to their neighbors about things that had nothing to do
with school; and I found myself constantly repeating myself because few students
were actually listening to me.

It was my intention to use some
newly-learned techniques to teach students what I expected from them. In
particular, I planned to use the technique of modeling the right way to do
something before we did it to head off problems.

Lining up
At
our school, students are expected to form lines outside classrooms and enter as
a group. At the beginning of each class on Day 1, I organized everyone into
proper lines, and we brainstormed the right way to line up and enter: facing
forward, close together but not touching anyone else, quiet voices, etc. Then I
showed students how to enter and how to quickly and quietly find a seat.

Taking notes
I began this modeling by displaying an overhead
of my rubric for math notebooks. After reviewing it with them, I asked for
volunteers to summarize what good notes should look like. Next, I showed them an
overhead I had made that had sample notes from an assignment, much of which came
from board work I had done with the students the day before. In short, I modeled
for them the right way to take math notes. Then we practiced. I walked them
through a brief note-taking session, stopping frequently to check for
understanding.

Individual/small group work time
Each day, I
try to give my students a significant amount of work time. To model how I
expected them to use this time, I had a volunteer sit with me while we modeled
working on math. The rest of the class was gathered around us, fishbowl style,
watching. After we modeled how to talk our way through a problem together and we
discussed it with the audience, I used the “what will it look like/sound
like/feel like” idea to get input from them about what the behavior expectations
for our work times should be. I asked, “What does it sound like when people are
working?” and “What does the classroom look like when people are working?” Then
we practiced by beginning work time for the day. I watched them
closely.

Participating appropriately
I modeled how I expected
students to behave while I was teaching a lesson. I had lots of trouble in my
first year because I let the kids yell out answers to my questions. Many kids
would respond at the same time, and even argue with each other over the right
answer. I was determined to make this year better, so I sat at one of their
desks-I temporarily became one of them-and we discussed what system we should
have in place for behavior during lessons. Together, we agreed that all of us
should listen attentively, take notes whenever it was appropriate, and raise our
hands before responding to a question. I had a student move to the front of the
room and model teaching, while asking the rest of the class to watch me. I
listened attentively, raised my hand, and waited for the “teacher” to call on me
before responding to him.

I modeled these routines and many others. But I
soon found that modeling wasn’t enough. Every time I modeled something, things
got better, but I realized I’d need to use other techniques to keep students
engaged over time.

Charts and partners
I used
looks-like/sounds-like/feels-like charts almost interchangeably with modeling.
As I asked questions, I recorded student answers under one of these categories
describing positive behavior. This gave us variety, and the end results were as
good as when I modeled.

Creating pairs using Clock-hour Partners was a
very useful strategy, for several reasons. First, it created work partners of
students who might not otherwise associate with each other, thereby helping to
build community. I found it also eliminated some of the problems group work can
cause, such as one person doing all the work for a group while the others remain
unproductive (pairs seemed to share the work more evenly than larger groups). My
students really liked working with partners, and I liked hearing them discuss
problem-solving approaches as they worked together. Physically separating the
pairs from each other was important, too. If I didn’t, pairs would merge (and
sometimes merge again and again!). Soon I’d be surrounded by off-task talking
all over again!

Developmental characteristics
Learning about
the norms of physical, social/emotional, and intellectual developmental growth
has helped my teaching practices greatly. After the school year started, I could
easily see many of the developmental characteristics I had learned about last
summer showing up in my students. For example, most of the sixth grade kids I
teach are not very adept at abstract thought, so I changed the lessons for them
to make them more concrete. My sixth graders responded better to the
straight-forward and well defined questions in my adjusted lessons. Also in
response to developmental needs, we occasionally took a brief break from our
lesson to play a quick movement game; my students really appreciated getting a
daily opportunity to do something kinesthetic. At this stage in their lives,
they absolutely need it.

As I compare the start-up of my second year
with my first, I see that the students were more engaged in their class work in
year two, and spent less time chatting. My supervisor remarked that my class had
improved compared to the previous year. Modeling taught students proper
behaviors, allowed me to more readily assess whether expectations were being
met, and made it easy to correct unacceptable behavior. In the end, this meant
that my students worked harder on their daily assignments, and their grades
improved.

Jeff Nesheim is a 6th-8th grade math teacher at Oaklawn
Academy in Edgerton WI.

This article first appeared in the Origins’
publication Developmental Designs: A Middle School Newsletter, Fall 2008

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