7th Grade Issues

This is from Annemarie. We need to get some good responses to her asap. Middle school teachers please step up here:
Hi Ben, I am struggling so much with my 7th graders, especially one of the classes. They are 25 kids in each class, never enough chairs and some major behavior problems. I tried a few strategies to help kids not chat with their neighbor or blurt out, but on Halloween day it all went to hell (ha).  I decided to next day to take a break from CI and storytelling with them and do some grammar instead. They are bored and so am I but I won’t do the storytelling. Have you ever just done grammar and worksheets with a class because they can’t handle the openness of CI and PQA?  I’m at my wits end with them. And I’m giving detentions left and right, which I almost never do.  Is it damaging to do grammar for just a little while?  Any advice in terms of class management, because I know that discipline precedes instruction…
My response is that this is serious because those kids are so young. I’m not even sure that they can get their minds around the reasons for the rules. Therefore, if the rules are not working, I would make it a grammar fest for a few weeks at least. When they complain, and they will, you can just curtly explain that the other way of doing it is too messy and that they couldn’t step up to the plate because they couldn’t understand and make the rules work, and that you don’t want to do the other way because of that. Don’t tell them about the two weeks, make them think it is for good. Just tell them how you feel. Interestingly – not sure about this – but I believe that abstract reasoning kicks in right about now, in the 12th or 13th years. When I taught those 8 years in middle school, I was always struck by how much maturity happend so fast from their arrival as 12 year olds and their leaving as 14 year olds. Amazing. In fact, this is a question for a true expert like Carol Gaab. I will ask her. And, of course, you always have the phone, it is not an option, to call parents if you are able to identify the jerks who NEED, ARE ASKING FOR, your phone call home.



16 thoughts on “7th Grade Issues”

  1. I agree with Ben that you are right to shut things down. You should not feel guilty for boring them if they are not behaving. As I said to one of my 8th grade classes: “I’m sorry if you are bored, but I would rather have you bored and quiet than active and disrespectful.” They cannot handle the freedom that CI requires. At the same time, you want to avoid the perception that you are punishing everyone for the actions of a minority, so while you have things calm, you need to try different strategies to get them back on track, in whatever way they can handle. I think if you can pinpoint and isolate the real ringleaders, and address them either through parent calls, specific tasks and instructions (e.g. they must be silent observers or do worksheets to the side or back of the classroom during a fun activity), or specific rewards aimed at them. Then, slowly, you bring back stories, with silence as the rule. I would begin by writing a few stories yourself, easy stories that incorporate your target structures, and have them follow along with their pencils as you read and/ or translate. All questions/responses require a hand raised. Then, if that goes well, have them silently respond to your questions about your story, by raising hands or thumbs up/thumbs down for true/false. You could have a mini quiz at the end of each class (easy but every day), so they know their grade is on the line. Then you could give them their next story with blanks for specific details. Ask for their input, but again, very minimal at first. The kids who raise their hands and don’t talk out of turn will get to provide details. Slowly, incrementally, you can loosen up the reins, but always willing to go back to silence the moment things get out of hand. If you keep a few sets of worksheets on hand, you will always have a plan B to use in case the class gets out of hand. This kind of cautious encouragement, combined with dealing with individual troublemakers outside of class, will hopefully allow you to return to some CI, though to a limited degree, at least for the near future. This is what I would do. Good luck and stay strong.

  2. I have the same issues with some of my high school classes. I did the whole back-to-the-book-with-grammar thing but it bored all of us. Lunch detentions are my next move. I’d also like to ask one more issue to this big problem: What does a teacher do to get students to understand that they MUST NOT verbally translate something the teacher has said to another student in a one-on-one conversation? I have some very sharp students that understand something I’ve asked another student and when the kid looks confused (and even if that students signals to me he/she is confused) before I can even get to the board to translate in written form, another kid blurts it out! I keep reminding them how important it is that the only language heard in class is Spanish; that hearing English breaks the “flow”. They’re not getting it…..

    1. Bryce has this contract that he made called Alternative Plan for Disruptive or Underengaged Students. I have them in a folder pushpinned to the top of my white board. I shine my laser at it when I’m getting pissed off. If I’m feeling really irritated I take a contract out and hand it to the kid and say make a decision. The rest of the class stares at the kid as he read it. Someone asks what it says and I depending on how snarky I feel I’ll put it on the screen for everyone to read.
      I’m thinking this might work for you. I have the same problem with the translators. I think I am going to print up a statement and have them at my disposal.
      Hand them out and get back on track.
      “Your translating for the class hijacks the purpose of using Spanish as a means for communication. Although you clearly understand the language we are currently using, you are not above the rest of the students who are trying to acquire…
      … If you cannot follow rule number 3 we will have to speak privately about an alternative classroom solution or disciplinary procedure…
      …please have your parent sign this and I will be contacting them by phone today…”

      1. Great Drew. If a teacher handed me that in written form in the moment I was breaking a rule I would fix my behavior immediately. Then, why my parents heard exactly the same message that night in a phone call from my teacher, that would complete the deal.

  3. That’s rule #3 of the Finger Rules. They are breaking your rules. Take that seriously. Tell them in each instance that they are breaking your rules. Call the parent if a conversation with the kid doesn’t work. Deal with these kids one on one with each individual situation. When it happens, stop class – don’t ignore the behavior. Stop the class and ask them if they want the two minute lecture or the five minute lecture or the ten minute lecture on how to follow your rules. Then give the class a two or five or ten minute lecture – draw it out! – while looking at the offender and, at the end of the lecture, ask if they think that they understand now and won’t repeat the behavior. Don’t instruct if the behavior is present. Turn the entire class into one big lecture if you need to. If you ignore that behavior each time it occurs, you may just as well walk right out of your own classroom and keep on walking – it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to them.

  4. For tomorrow, I went to Kinkos and made a poster of my five finger rules that looks like a hand, then I am going to practice one rule per week, until they know them all by heart, then the interpersonal communication grade will be 20% of their grade at the beginning of the next trimester and they will be expected to practice all 5 rules.
    When I had a particularly difficult class at the Junior High, I had them all write about what they thought the class rules should be, then I took what they wrote and I made a poster of the rules and each rule didn’t count in the grade, but there were 3 steps, warning, phone call home and then detention. That group was very upset if I called home, so I did get an improvement in behavior. I think the poster really helped. I also gave them a quiz of the rules and had them sign that they knew what they were.
    I have also stopped in the middle of a story when there is too much talking. Took out the textbooks and gave them an assignment to work on on their own silently. They did not like this. The next day I asked them if they would rather just work out of the textbook every day, so they wouldn’t have to listen to me. They said no we want to listen.
    Also, I have tried the happy face/ sad face game from Power Teaching which I keep track with tally marks of wanted behaviors and unwanted with PAT time if there are more positive , and homework if there are more negative. This usually works instantly. I tell them if they waste time, in class they’ll have to make it up by working at home, but otherwise I give no homework.
    Another thing that I do is from Love and Logic. I give them two choices. You can either listen to the story and answer the questions, or you can take out a piece of paper and write down everything that I say. On rare occasions, I have had them take out the paper and start writing, but usually, they start listening.

  5. I teach 7th and 8th graders as well, and I have this problem. I will tell you what I have done and you can see what may fit your situation. In my 1st period class (28 students) I have several young men who feel the need to talk constantly. I always have a seating chart, and I separate the talkers from the non-talkers every time I change the seating chart. If kids are talking when they’re not supposed to be (interrupting me or others, yelling/blurting out in English or at inappropriate times) I lean toward them and make a no talking sign with my hands. If they continue, I have popsicle sticks that say 1 minute after class, 2 minutes after class, or lunch detention tomorrow. I put a 1 minute on their desk. Then they stay after class for 1 minute in silence with no tardy excuse to the next class. If they continue, 2 minutes. If they still continue, lunch detention. It’s not cumulative; when I give a lunch detention, it replaces the 2 minutes. Then I call parents. I had for the first time two boys push it until they got lunch detention–in one class period. So I called their parents. Then I talked to my principal who said the next time is an office referral. Now, having said that, you know your principal, your relationship with him/her, his/her understanding of and support for CI teaching….this may not be the best path for you. Then the two kids missed their lunch detention. Oops! Phone call home and an office referral for missing lunch detention, which was a 2 1/2 hour after school detention (not supervised by me!). High price to pay for talking in class. Those boys have made progress, but it’s only been 3 days since the incident, so I’ll keep you updated.
    However, I had a colleague who would often go to book-driven units, and she never did get the kids on board. I (and this is my personal belief in a place where the kids are generally well-behaved and I have support for CI teaching. I’ve never tried going to worksheets, so I don’t know.) just think that teaching with CI is so important that I have to keep going. But I have altered the way I do stories with this kind of class. Their input becomes much more limited. For example, asking what a character’s name is used to be a beginning question for me, but there were always so many choices (and a whole lot of non-French being spoken) that I either take the first answer, or I go with the kid’s French name and move on. That chaos early in the story often set a tone for the rest of the story. Then I don’t leave much wide open. I ask an either/or question: does he hit her or eat her? Do they fly or swim to Texas? Do they eat snails or monkey tails? OR I ask a series of yes/no questions: Do they like cheese? no Do they like apples? no Do they like blue cow feet? yes. I also have gone to stories like Bryce’s jokes or some non-fiction stories, so that the plot line is relatively set. Michelle Whaley in her blog mentioned altering Bryce’s prisoner story to two girls sneaking out to see a Justin Bieber concert (but if your kids are like mine, Justin Bieber is WAY TOO polarizing and kids like to make fun of him too much, so choose someone who does not promote controversy.) I recently heard a news story that I’m going to make into a story (man in Spain goes to the ATM to get money and a snake comes out…) It’s a ready made story; ask the kids yes or no questions about what will happen but you tell them what happened. I know it goes against the story-asking concept, but for me, it’s a modification for classes who can’t handle the freedom of story-asking, and it still provides CI.
    Bon courage,

  6. Dori,
    Your advice is interesting and I might give such modifications to story-asking a try with my most rowdy classes. I’d like to know what everyone else thinks on your process, too.

  7. Had to blow up my 7th grade class about a month ago. Some kids were just going off too much, just literally couldn’t control themselves. I had seven consistent troublemakers. Normally I can handle up to three, but seven just is too out of whack.
    I put everybody in rows and told them this was the only way they were allowing me to teach them. I didn’t do grammar, because I needed to still be me. To use a baseball phrase, I’m not going to give up a home run on my worst pitch; they have to beat my best stuff. We went really heavy on the Diktats, though, and the quizzes happened regularly, sometimes two a day. Things got tighter and they felt it.
    I made sure to put major offenders in the back doing worksheets rather than in class; if they couldn’t NOT be disruptive with the worksheet, I let them do the worksheet in the office. At least that’s what I told them; they never pushed me that far. Really bad offenders, I kept after class on days of infractions, called parents if necessary, etc.
    So after two weeks in rows and things much tighter I asked them how things were going, I led a class discussion on how things were, emphasizing what we weren’t able to get to. My stump speech was that I could only teach them what they were able to handle, and if they wanted change they needed to prove to me they could handle it.
    They surprised me. The vast majority wanted to go back and wanted to see the things in my playbook I had been saving (working with pictures, stories, etc.). It reminded me of how much of the class was actually doing alright, and the silent majority needs to be represented. Two of my offenders actually appreciated the stricter rules and liked me limiting their options; they were better in control on those days (!!!!). One of the real stinkers later opened up to me about talking about how his dad is gone all week driving truck to the Dakotas and back for an oil company. He is still a stinker and I have to put him in his place, but he expected no less and we get on okay. Other kids I had to rotate in and out of the worksheet stations, but they never want to stay longer than a day.
    Seventh graders understand fair, appreciate not being left to the mercy of yahoos, and want to be told they can do it. Keep that being your message, and even when you have to be tough, they need to feel the love behind it, especially when they don’t deserve it. They’ll come around to a version of normal that you can at least live with.

    1. Nathan, thank you for breaking down exactly what you do in a bad situation, and the positive things that do result. I really appreciate the thread and all the comments. Today I had a class sabotage itself. A majority of these kids have learning difficulties and therefore lack self esteem, and they are most comfortable when it’s: 1. goof off to get a rise from the teacher, 2. have the class stop for a reprimand, 3. class mopes silently/apologetically with a few of the perpetrators playing victim. 4. kids shut down for about 5 minutes until it begins again in a vicious cycle. But I know that in the background are all these struggles they are having at home, with pressure from family members, from peers, from their own sense of inadequacy. They NEED for us not to get sucked into the drama they try to create, but to stop the wheel and give them some relief from their buzzing anxiety. It’s that sweet spot of caring discipline–not too harsh, and not too lenient– that is different for every class, and for each student (talk about differentiated instruction!), and disaster awaits on either side.

  8. This is from Carol Gaab on this question:
    Hi Ben:
    Here are my brief suggestions:
    If you can’t do open PQA sessions, try OTHER forms of CI.
    a) giving mult choice options for every answer. You could use technology to create quiz-type activities or personal opinion. Photopeach is funny and easy. Upload a photo and ask questions students to read (get CI) and have to interact and answer questions… interact in class as a whole (hold up white board, hold up 1, 2 or 3 fingers for each option, etc.) It’s timed.
    b) Ask for post-it note responses. Ask a story-asking question or PQ and have students write their answers and their names on a post-it note. They place their post-its on the board you you discuss the most interesting answers.
    c) Do more reading. Have them read in small groups. (NOT trying to sell my webinar, but I’m addressing how to keep the reading process from getting monotonous.) Try grouping students in different ways. Have students begin the read with a “project” that must be completed by the end of class. (ie: students create some tech review… animoto, peach photo, makebeliefscomix, etc.) IF students have tech in the class or lab, they can create those things and turn them in by the end of class. If they don’t, they must submit 3 comments or questions about what they just read. YOU create the follow-up activity using THEIR responses.
    I’m not trying to tell her to steer away from TPRS, but I am suggesting that she try other types of input… novels, audio books, techie stuff that kids naturally engage in, etc. Brains Crave Novelty and bratty kids will eat a struggling TPRS teacher alive. If they don’t want PQ or a story, then resort to another form of CI – at least it’s a step up from a worksheet…

  9. This also from Carol on Photo Peach:
    cgaab invites you to watch ‘HoudiniQuiz1’ on PhotoPeach.
    From Carol:
    “This is the quick activity you can do with students. You can make it more educational, like put in photos of a culture description and ask questions about the culture: What do Peruvians typically eat? In what Mountains is Macchu Picchu located? What indigenous group of people built MP? etc. etc. Obvio– make it COMPREHENSIBLE and use compelling photos.”
    To watch the slideshow, please click the link below:
    We are sure cgaab would love it if you left a comment too.
    We look forward to your visit!
    The PhotoPeach Team

  10. I am teaching a 6th grade class after school for some kids who volunteered to take German twice a week for just 5 weeks. They are acting crazy. They scream and giggle and the attention span is so short. Then I ask them, “Do you want to learn German?” Then they stop and listen for a while. I was trying all different things with them, TPR, circling with name tags, learning some songs. Today I really caught their attention when I turned the TPR into a story. They were enthralled and were engaged up to the last minute of class. (The boy goes to the window. The boy looks out the window. He sees a small crocodile. The crocodile is called Schnappi. But the boy is afraid…)

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