So, I'm torn. I was planning on implementing a new positive behavior reward system that included time reserved in class for "free time" like getting on the computer, playing games, and allowing time for fun "centers". (If you aren't and educator and don't understand what I mean by "center", it is simply a little station in the classroom where you have a display or some sort of activity for students to do. For example, one center I was going to put out is called "Make Your Own Origami" in which the student is provided with origami paper and an instructional book, and they can make their own origami shape or animal. (My students fold paper up in all weird ways as it is...may as well show them how to formally do it.) Centers are just supposed to be hands-on learning activities for students that would only take 5-10 minutes to complete. The idea is to have a few up around the classroom for a month or so at a time for students to visit.) So I have about four newly developed centers that I want to use. But the problem with implementing these fun centers and other fun free-time activities is that my students are just completely terrible and I don't think they deserve any of the fun stuff! They are completely out of control, and we are behind schedule already for this 9-weeks. So why should I (#1) take time out of my own schedule to develop these fun activities and (#2) reward these students with fun activities when I face extreme discipline and behavior problems every single day?
But then I think about this article that I read early this semester in my research class that talks about students' anxiety levels and how they influence their productivity levels. It seems like kind of a "well...duh" once you think about it, but the article goes much more into detail. This article really made me think about how I interact with the kids and if I increase or decrease their anxiety levels. I would say that I probably increase 98% of the time. Which is sad. A lot of these kids are anxious enough as it is without a teacher yelling at them for not bringing a pencil to class. So this is a big reason why I've been trying to yell less in class and have less of an attitude when interacting with the kids. (It's just so hard to find a balance because one the one hand, I want to say, "No, screw you guys, you're little jerks so why should I be nice to you?" but then, of course, on the other hand, I think "Wow, these kids have pretty rough lives, perhaps I should lighten up a little." But then I do, and they just walk all over me...)
So back to the center dilemma...I wasn't going to put the centers out until behavior improved and students deserved it. But then I think about the few (and I mean, few...) good students I have in each class who do deserve these fun activities. Why should they be hindered and punished because of their classmates' behavior? Therefore, I am going to put the centers out in the morning. BUT, only the well-behaved students are allowed to participate. The rest will have writing prompts to respond to or grammar work.
I truly believe that if I can make these students comfortable in my room and get through to each and every one of them, letting them know that I am here for them, I will see a major improvement. I've already had it happen to one girl. She and I got into it good the other day. We've really been going round and round since my first day, but it just exploded the other day. She was defiant and extremely disrespectful, so when she smarted off to me again after several warnings and other discipline actions, I had to follow through with my threats, so she got a referral and was sent to the vice principal. Her grandfather was called in the next morning for a parent conference, so I had to explain to him what she was doing wrong in class and why she got in trouble. Then she and I had a little talk, and I told her that I was here for her. I was teaching at this school to encourage her and help her succeed in life. I told her that I can only do so much and that when I am constantly confronted with defiance and disrespect from her, I can't help her. Then I told her I knew that deep down she was a good girl. She's actually an excellent writer, and I told her I thought so. By then she was crying (most do during parent conferences), and I had her look me in the eye and I told her that we were starting fresh. And she has been excellent in class since then. The past two days have been unreal. No defiance, no disrespect. She's even been participating in class. She's still a little rough on the edges, but I really think our talk had a good impact on her.
I hope to have more instances like this with my students. Well, maybe not the parent conference and crying part, but times where I can just get them away one-on-one and let them know that I care. And that I want to help. I've been thinking about incorporating conference time into this free time for centers and other activities. I could pull kids aside one at a time and discuss their grades and behavior with them. So we'll see. This is such a crazy learning experience and this whole thought process I just typed out in this post is what I go through every single day. I am constantly thinking about what I could do differently to improve my classroom. I try one strategy one day, and if it doesn't work, I think up something new for the next day. If it does work, I keep doing it and think about other similar things I could do that would work.
So tomorrow, I try the new strategy of learning centers, free-writing time, and student conferences. (Of course, that's if I can get them quiet...) I hope it goes over well. I'll keep you posted! :)