Classroom Discipline

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9 thoughts on “Classroom Discipline”

  1. Stephen – Thank you so much for the courage and vulnerability in your initial post. I am in my third year of teaching (2nd TPRSing), yet I often feel the same way that you described – going into battle with some of my students.
    I know that a lot of the discipline problems in my classroom stem from not establishing strong enough relationships with my students and not setting my boundaries well enough at the beginning of the school year. I want to do better, but I have some questions for Ben or other experienced “disciplinarians.” (Most of these questions have to do with Fred Jones-style classroom management.)
    -I haven’t used any PAT activities yet, but if I were to adopt that procedure, what do I do if the kids are brats during the PAT activities?
    -I can’t quite figure out “staring kids down” (my term) from Fred Jones. It seems like an excellent idea, but if I take the time to “stare a kid down,” the rest of the class gets restless and starts chatting or making comments – what then?
    -How do I enforce the rules, other than by pointing to them? Where’s the “hammer,” so to speak? Phone calls home? My school doesn’t/won’t do after-school detentions. The other option is for me to run my own lunch hour detention, but we have two lunch periods, and I am teaching during one of them.
    -Would you actually call a parent on the first day of class? (I’ve always been told to try to make the first parent contact a positive one.)
    – Ben, I know that you have started using a few minutes of SSR as your “bell-ringer” each day. I would like to do that, as well, but I am concerned that it will just prolong the “settling in” time of each class. All I can imagine are students milling around, talking about the weekend, searching through the books, ha-ha I love Corduroy, what’s this?, I can’t find anything to read… finally settling down, and then it’s time to put the books away. We have four minutes of passing time between classes, and I guess I’m feeling that it is a bit unreasonable to expect my students to be seated and reading when the bell rings. Am I wrong?
    Well, I’m sure I have more questions, but this is all for now. Thank you!

  2. Toni, Bryce is of a nature, if you saw him, that you would not want to cross him. So PAT activities to start class will never see bratty behavior in his class. I tried it for a month, and, I am not Byrce, and it didn’t work for me – too many side conversations. I stopped PAT for a few months, and then in December gave them (another Bryce idea) ten minutes of SSR – Silent Sustained Reading – to start class. It works for me. No talking, reading in a Blaine book at their own pace, writing words they don’t know in their composition books. I call roll and set things up and it is very pleasant. If a kid were to talk during that time I give them one warning only and then make the parent call. I fairly spit like a viper, not a mean viper but a viper who is serious about the message he wants to convey, if they as much as lean over to talk to another kid during SSR. They know that I mean it, and that the parent call will be made. As I explained before, they know that they will get a point per minute on this daily SSR quiz grade. All they have to do is read in silence for ten minutes and they earn a ten of ten in the gradebook on the quiz. Walk in five minutes late with no excuse and it’s a failed quiz, a five. I thought of this out of desperation bc my school has a culture of kids sliding into class late. So this is my report on the idea – it works. If a kids comes in ten minutes late or more, they fail the quiz and soon their grade is a big problem even if they are really good in class. But, to answer your question, I simply DO NOT TOLERATE any talking during SSR to start class.
    Second question, I could never get with the staredown. I’m not a Fred Jones guy at all, although a lot of TPRSers are. My rules work well enough that I don’t need to lock eyes with a kid. I don’t see how that can work at all, honestly. The entire secret to TPRS is in right relationship to and with our kids, not in power and confrontation, which smacks of the old ways.
    Third question, no detentions. Again, in my way of thinking, that is old way of discipline. It makes the kid not like you. Instead, I enforce my rules directly, aggressively, and with love. I single kids out and have no problem embarrassing them. This does not contradict in any way my desire to be in right relationship with the kid – calling attention to the fact that a kid is doing something wrong and for some reason (weak parents, no parents, whatever) can’t even get how deadly serious I am about my rules, which I MUST HAVE for TPRS to work for me, is an act of loving kindness. Where is the hammer on the rules? Inside of me. If a kid puts a head down, that is an emergency for me. I walk to the kid, get them to look at me, and show them the hammer inside of me. All they have to do is look behind my smile to see it. I think Diana once asked me about kids who can pay attention while doodling and with heads down, and I said that doesn’t work for me. It may work for other teachers, but not for me. We all follow rules and there are no exceptions to that. They “feel” the hammer inside of me. I’m not their friend, but their teacher. I like them but don’t care if they like me. Mike, I know without having visited his school, is the same way. He is very kind, but you wouldn’t cross him. I don’t know why TPRS teachers think that they have to be all funny and lovey-dovey with those kids. Those kids have chewed up and spit out a lot of potentially great TPRSers just because the teacher couldn’t find the internal hammer I am talking about. These are children and must be told how to behave. Oh, and do I do all of the above perfectly every day? No. But some day I hope to.
    Fourth question, I make calls on the first day. Hell yes. Those first few days are invisible battle grounds. The quieter kids watch the louder kids try out what has actually worked in other classrooms, as the louder kids try to piss on the teacher. Sorry about the image, but that’s what they try to do. Ain’t gonna happen in my classroom. A call on the first day of class that your child is an asshole is a very positive call. It allows the parent and the child both to understand that you care enough about the child to instruct them in the best way for them to succeed in your class. That is positive communication with the parent to me. In the same way, if a person crosses me in any way in life, I will make sure that they understand, in whatever way necessary, that you don’t do that. To state that again, telling kids that their behavior will not be tolerated, letting them experience that invisible hammer that manifests in my eyes, but not a Fred Jones stare, is a very positive thing to do. The most powerful teacher I have seen in that way is Susan Gross. I was lucky enough to see her in her classroom in 2001 and dude it was HER ROOM, no ’bout a doubt it. See the connection? – a totally positive teacher and a totally powerful teacher. No negativity, no shitty stern attitude from her, just loving hammering.
    Last question I discussed above. They come in and by the end of the tardy bell start earning one point per minute that they are reading. I stand there with my blank spreadsheet (on verso is my seating chart so I can call roll real fast and spend the rest of the time simply looking at them). Kids talking for the first two minutes? No problem. I just write 8 in the box for that day. Kid five minutes late with no note? Fine, I just put a T5 in the box next to their name. They get the tardy in the attendance part of the computer later and a five in the gradebook. Kid ten minutes or more late? O.K.- they can be late. But they also have to see, next time they or a parent goes online to see their grade, the SSR quiz for that date, a 0 on that ten point reading quiz (one point per minutes, as I said). Kid has to walk around and talk for four mintutes before settling in? In that case I don’t put a T6 in the book bc they werent’ tardy, I just put the 6 for the SSR grade in the book. That’s a failed quiz.
    Funny thing, my tardies have cleared up a lot, even first period. The kids are on time to class. They sit down and read. That is because, and last point to make here, they know that I will go to the trouble to enter every detail in the gradebook. I’m always perfectly accurate, but they don’t know that. If I do it for the first two weeks of each term or after a vacation, they fall in line just fine for the rest of the term without my having to be so intense about it after the first two weeks. Do I do it every day? No, but as often as I can. They never know which SSR grade is going in the book. If I had the time I would do it very day.
    One more detail, and this is kicker because it address kids who ditch class. They get a circle around the absent A mark in the roll. (note that the paper copy of the blank spreadsheet allows me to do this – I have to use it for these notations because the computer won’t let me do it – plus I don’t have my own classroom so I have to do that anyway with no computer access in my classrooms). The circle is really a big zero around the A. Guess what I do? Right! I go to the SSR column next to their name and put that big fat zero in the gradebook. They bitch the next day and I say, “Oh I am so glad that you gave me this excused absence slip. Now I can go take that zero out of the book!”
    Is this a lot of trouble for those first ten minutes of silent reading? Yes. But not as much trouble as having rude kids walking around my room flaunting their rude selves. I, not they, am in charge of my room, and if they want to pass my class (because six SSR 0’s or 3’s can kill a term grade) they darn well better do it my way by respecting the SSR daily quiz.

  3. This helpful. an invisible hammer… I need to grow in this area. I’ve noticed that really good teachers put a wall between acceptable and unacceptable behavior that kids find difficult to cross. I would like to know about the invisible hammer look in your eyes. What does it look like, what heart does it come from and what does it communicate?
    to Toni: As far as Fred Jones, after reading the book, I understood him to say that the look /turn is just for communicating that you mean business. It’s not a mean look. It’s not to shame them or to force them to change their behavior (although they often do change without the teacher having to go further.) The details of it are hard to get from a distance… I’ve been caught looking totally ridiculous trying to figure it out… The main point is to slow down instead of speeding up in the excitement and let them know that you see what is happening and that you refuse to let up until their behavior changes. Taking a few breaths and slowing down keeps keeps an adrenaline rush from downshifting your brain to lizard brain brain and really messing things up.
    As for the other kids chiming in, I think the FJ answer would be to take them one at a time and give equal time to each offender so that no one feels l they have gotten away with something… kids are gamblers, according to FJ, and when they see the stakes go up (because you are taking the behavior seriously and you follow through with not accepting it), many of them will decide that it’s too risky and give up. This could totally backfire, if they think you can’t follow through with all the talkers. Whatever way you decide to handle it, remember to stay calm and slow and mean business. Thanks Ben, for such a clear picture of of the details of how you hand things and ‘mean business.’ That would make a useful video! 🙂

  4. Ben,
    You are so kind to respond to my questions… and so quickly! I particularly appreciate your candidness. The language you use makes me feel like I am having a crab-fest with colleagues in the faculty lounge… It lets me know that you haven’t deluded yourself into loving a roomful of angels, but that you really are a hot-blooded American teacher. The best part is, though, that I don’t leave the faculty lounge wondering, “Why did I go into teaching?” Instead, I walk out, considering the best ways to improve my classroom teaching. Thank you so much for the service you provide to all of us who read your blog.

  5. Phoebe Abrahamsen

    Hi Ben, I’m interested in the SSR @ the beginning of class. I’ve been doing the PAT and that has been very useful, but I would like to maybe change it up a bit. And, the students can now read well enough to handle the SSR. My question is this: What materials do you use for the SSR? I have a small classroom library which I could use for this and in addition, we are reading Pobre Ana. Do you think SSR in Pobre Ana would be appropriate?
    Thanks! Phoebe

  6. I started out with Pauvre Anne – some are still on it but others are on Presque Mort. Skipped Fama. Our school has a lot of Blaine’s readers and they are fine for SSR. I remind the kids that they are not reading to be entertained but to learn the language, and Blaine put some serious expertise into choice of structures, reps, etc.
    A small point to make is that they read at their own rates of speed in SSR.
    On block days we do Read and Discuss, usually from the Mon/Tues story or from a Blaine book if I don’t get the story written up. Written stories based on our own stories are far superior, because they can be about the kids in the class and I can control any influx of information that is new to them as I wish. If I take time to write up a class story, the class when we read it is always good – the choral reading, the little pop up grammar, it’s all real good and I can see the axons and dendrites going nuts up there.
    I’m not in the group who say Blaine’s books are boring, however. They get the job done. They are well written re language – that’s all I care about. Like so many do, we just create parallel stuff in Read and Discuss and it all works out.
    I was talking to Diana tonight, and she said that we should never forget FVR in this entire process, so I thought I’d mention it here as well.

  7. Ben,
    I guess I was understanding SSR as a synonym for FVR, but as I am reading your post more closely, I’m seeing that your students spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each hour, each of them reading from their own copy of the same book – a selected novel, right? That would definitely eliminate the, “OMGoodness, what am I going to read today!” time-suck that I so fear from my students. Maybe I could save FVR for Fridays and do SSR the rest of the week.
    Do you make any effort to match up their SSR with whole-class novel-reading time? I suppose it just counts as more reps, whether students are ahead or behind, huh?

  8. I once heard that even ten min. of FVR is enough per week, given how limited our time is for all the other TPRS stuff available to us. But that the FVR, not done (heard this from Diana Noonan last night), keeps them from getting texts in tenses other than the present, which is necessary in our own district since we have adopted new standards (knowledge of past and future time as well as present time in level 1).
    Re: SSR, they have to be in their seats at the tardy bell reading or lose that first minute/quiz point. I generally keep the class as a whole behind the kids as individuals, who read further and even move to another book. When we do Read and Discuss, usually on our block day (we have one block class per week), we are generally aligned with the slower readers. There is a real pride thing in all of this silent reading, I have noticed. The kids are proud that they can sit there and read French without a dictionary, and it kind of spurs them on to want to be better readers . In the Power of Reading, Krashen talks about how great this free form reading is, just quiet uninterrupted reading. Of course, the “When You Read In French” poster in front of them on the wall gives them clues as to how to read most efficiently (see resource/posters page on this site). I highly recommend SSR to start a class. With all the nutty stuff going on in a class of 35, I need those ten minutes, plus, since I grade it, it sends the message that this is a very important activity, which reading certainly is and always will be.

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