Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why We're Not on Task

I just finished typing up all the notes I've taken documenting student behavior since the beginning of the year.  What's interesting is during the process, I started to feel like a big tattletale who was being very redundant.  The behaviors I'm specifically thinking of are things like, "talking while I'm teaching," and "off task during writing/reading/math time".  Things like that make me feel like a whiny teacher because kids do that all the time in every classroom.  Even I was one of those kids who talked too much and passed notes during class.  But there's a vast difference between the kind of student I was and the kind of students I teach: I still got my work done and understood most of the material.  With my students, they'll talk and play around but won't get the work done and don't understand the material.  This is what underlies my frustration with their behavior.

I've been trying to force myself to lay off a bit and let the kids be kids, understanding that it's hard for them to sit still and be quiet multiple times during the day.  But I really struggle with a child who doesn't pay attention during the lesson and as soon as it's over will come to me saying, "what are we supposed to do right now?" so then I have to re-explain what I just said during the time that I'm supposed to be conferencing with students or pulling a small group.  I haven't started a single small group during reading or writing yet this year! 

Now, I don't want you to think I am this ogre of a teacher who has no heart and doesn't try to see things from my students' point of view, because I'm not.  I was told by an instructional coach to "be curious about them" because there is always a reason why they aren't paying attention or why they aren't on task.  So the other day we had a class discussion where I asked them why they talk while I'm teaching and why they aren't doing their work.  These are the responses I got:

-kids just want to do what they want to do and not what others tell them to do
-distracted easily
-spoiled and can do what they want at home
-bored and zoning out
-I don't move their color enough (meaning I don't dish out enough consequences/give too many chances)
-don't know what to do because they weren't paying attention
-going to bed too late
-think school is time to play
-I'm talking too much during the lesson
-don't know how to ignore others
-can't help themselves
-people talk about them and they get mad
-don't like learning
-lazy at home
-hyper and have ADHD
-like to play a lot instead of learning
-feel special for getting prizes & teacher likes them more (I think they meant some of the same kids get more prizes than others)
-think it's play time
-didn't have fun during the lesson so not interested in doing the work
-think they're too cool
-asking for books & pencils is distracting
-kids can't have conversations but grown ups can - not fair

I realized that there were some things I couldn't control, but some things I could.  I was especially interested in hearing more about the being bored part, so I asked them for ideas on how I could make the lessons more fun and this is what they said:

-ask questions (I do ask them lots of questions, so I'm not sure why this was suggested)
-give us a break
-give out a treat for good behavior
-calm down from recess
-more action in lesson
-play games
-say something like, "hello kids, are you ready to write?"
-act and use expression
-give stickers for being good during the lessons

This list was much shorter but there were some good ideas.  I tried using more expression and action this week, and will continue to work in that area.  I wouldn't mind giving out stickers for good behavior during the lesson, but it's hard to concentrate on that while I'm teaching at the same time, especially when I can't catch every single student who is behaving well.  I may see a few but someone always says, "but I was being good too!" so then I'm stuck.  Ideally, I would like to believe every student who told me that but the reality is that I have quite a few liars and sneaky children in my classroom (just being honest).  As for playing games, I'm a bit stuck there too.  We play games during math centers but not during reading and writing.  That's basically because the Balanced Literacy model isn't designed for playing games, so I'm not quite sure what playing games during those subjects could look like.  The only time we will have centers then is during Word Study, but we haven't started word study yet.  Are any of you skilled in Balanced Literacy and have incorporated games into the workshops?

I've also been observing things on my own and have come to the conclusion that some of my students just don't learn well in a whole group setting.  They need that small group or one-on-one attention.  I also have many kids who are not on grade level (example: 12 out of my 23 third graders read below a third grade reading level).  So the struggle then becomes, how do I meet every one's needs by myself when about half of the class is not paying attention during a whole group lesson?  Do I cut out whole group entirely and just do small group lessons for everyone?  If so, how do I manage that when students are still off task, disruptive others who are trying to work, or need my help while I'm with the small group?  I've been trying to let the off task behaviors go and continue trucking through the lesson, but I am constantly bothered by the fact that I know those students didn't get it, thus they won't fully master the material, which means they won't be fully prepared for 4th grade and they'll still be reading below grade level, and the cycle continues.  I teach in Washington DC, and any of you who follow education in the nation's capitol knows that we can't afford to keep passing kids on who aren't grasping grade level concepts.  We're in a state of urgency but I feel like I can't win here. 

Right now I'm going to brainstorm the needs of each of my kids and see if I can come up with some ideas to incorporate more learning styles in the lessons and address their learning needs.  I wish I had some help though because the clock is ticking away and Monday will be here in the blink of an eye.

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