Thursday, August 30, 2012

Creating Community

More from ASCD Edge

Getting Ready for the Start of School Part III: How to Create Community and Bully-Proof Your Classroom

Do you ever wonder why the children in some classrooms work well together and show kindness to each other, while in other classrooms the children tattle, tease each other, and constantly seek teacher attention? One reason is community-building.Positive Attention

In an effective classroom, the children - and the teacher - feel safe, secure and part of a larger whole. The more the children care about each other, and know that they are cared for, the better they will behave. Here are some ways to ensure that you develop group cohesion and a positive climate from the very beginning of the school year.

1. Help Children Get to Know and Care About Each Other
         Starting the first day of school, plan activities that help the children get to know one another. Morning Meeting is a perfect time to build a sense of group cohesion. Here are a few examples of activities:
  • Classmate Scavenger Hunt. Make a BINGO game board. In each square put a description that might fit the children in your class, such as "Comes to School on the Bus." Children talk to each other, trying to find the child's name to match each square.
  • Classroom Family Book: Children each draw a self portrait, and depending on their age, either dictate or write something about themselves. The pages are laminated or covered in page protectors and put in a binder and become part of the classroom library. Read the book frequently to the children during the beginning of the school year.
  • Picture Name Cards.Take a digital picture of each child and laminate it on a small index card. Punch a hole through the cards and put them on a binder ring. Choose one child to start in the middle of the circle. That child looks at one of the cards, finds that child, says “good morning” and then takes that child’s place in the circle. The next child then turns over the next card and starts the process again.
  • Duck Duck Goose Name Chase . Play by the standard rules for Duck Duck Goose but instead the child who is "It" says the name of each child as he or she goes around the circle.
  • Who Am I? The children write or dictate something about themselves privately during the day. Then at group time, you read each description without telling the name. The children will play a guessing game to figure out who you are describing.
Here’s a video from the Responsive Classroom which shows a 1st grade classroom at Morning Meeting using picture greetings as a way of getting to know each other and build community:

In this video, kindergarteners learn more about each student in the class through "Star Student of the Day" writing activities.

2. Teach Children to Be Kind.       
          Bullying begins with small actions like weeds in a garden and the best approach is prevention. You want to create a healthy, caring environment where the weeds have no chance to grow. The goal is to get children into the habit of saying kind things - and know that teasing and cruelty are NOT acceptable. Have the children brainstorm kind words, put them on chart paper, and refer to them frequently the first few weeks of school. Be sure to acknowledge whenever you hear children using the words. After the children have gotten good at this, you can teach them how to do kind things for each other. The children can brainstorm ideas, then act out the scenarios for practice. Again, be sure to point out whenever you see children being kind. Here is a video of children giving suggestions for being kind:


Here is a kindness song you can use in your classroom:

3. Set Limits on Negative Behaviors
          Children will naturally test the limits on what they are allowed to say and do. This includes bullying, teasing and rejecting classmates. In order to create a healthy classroom community, it is critical to stop these behaviors immediately. If you let even the smallest negative comment go unchallenged, you will give the message to the children that being nasty to others is acceptable. It's not.
           For example, you might overhear children say something like: "You can't play with us." "Look at what she's wearing!" " You're stupid." "Oooh, he looks like a girl!" or "I don't like you." When you hear children say these types of things, you have a teaching opportunity.
          I recommend having a quiet, private talk with the child and say something like, "Jenna, I heard you tell Kayla that she's stupid. We don't use mean words in our classroom. I'd like to see you say something kind to make up for that" (See Apology-in-Action).  Later in the day, when I had the children at a group meeting, I would tell the children, "I've heard some unkind words today so I think we need to review how we talk to each other in our classroom." Then I would review the poster of kind words, talk about how it feels when others say mean things to us, and reaffirm how wonderful it is to have a place to work where everyone is treated kindly.
        After a few instances of this type of discussion, the children will come to an amazing realization: this classroom really is a safe place! This will help stop the anxiety, fear, and power-seeking that leads to bullying. In other words, if you can jump-start the kindness, it will take off and "go viral". The critical step is to intervene immediately and consistently when children are unkind.

4. Use Positive Teacher Language
          Your words and actions set the tone of the classroom. Notice when children are following procedures, demonstrating newly learned behaviors and showing kindness. This is the old adage of "catch them being good." In a positive, healthy classroom. children should receive many more times as many positive comments as negative ones. Find ways for children to see their strengths and the strengths of others. Children will follow your lead and watch you carefully, so remember you are always modeling. This is hard, so also find ways to stay calm when children push your buttons!
          Listen to how this teacher used Multiple Intelligences to help promote the idea that everyone has strengths:

Do you have other ideas for creating a positive community in your classroom? Please share your experiences in the comments!

This is the third part of a series on Getting Ready for the Start of School. See Part I here, and Part II here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Getting Ready for the Start of School Part II: Why Some Teachers Have Smooth Running Classrooms - Jersey City, NJ, United States, ASCD EDge Blog post - A Professional Networking Community for Educato

Getting Ready for the Start of School Part II: Why Some Teachers Have Smooth Running Classrooms

This is the first posting in a four-part series published by The Positive Classroom and sent to me via  ASCD Edge is a Professional Networking Community for Educators.  The set of postings are designed to help you think through getting ready for the new academic year. The good thing about the cycles we go through as teachers is that each year we get to start over again with a more-or-less clean slate. This is a great opportunity to reflect on what worked well that you want to repeat and what you want to change.

Getting Ready for the Start of School Part II: Why Some Teachers Have Smooth Running Classrooms

           I have observed many, many teachers in elementary and early childhood classrooms and the ones that have the smoothest-running classrooms all do the same thing: they teach procedures. Now only do they teach the procedures they need the children to follow, but they also have the children practice and they give them positive feedback until they become automatic routines. They make learning procedures the most important teaching priority in the first few weeks of school, even if it takes time away from other subjects. They more than make up for this time because their classrooms run so effectively.
          So the first step in getting ready is to plan what procedures to focus on. It’s helpful to think about them in three groups based on when you will teach them: The first day of school, the first week of school, and the first six weeks. Here are some suggestions:
  • First Day of School
               Quiet Signal
               Arrival: putting things away and getting started on “do now” work
               Lining Up
               Walking in the Hallway
               Using the Bathroom
               Talking during group lessons
               Dismissal: cleaning up desk and getting materials ready to go home
  • First Week of School
               Fire Drill or Other Emergency Procedures
               Morning Meeting
               Moving from group meeting area to centers and other transitions
               How to sit during group meeting or circle time
               Sharpening pencils, getting a drink
               Using learning centers
               Cleaning up after work time or center time
               What to do when you’re finished early
               How to say nice things to each other
               How to push in chairs
               How to hang up coats (this might have to wait for cold weather)
  • First Six Weeks of School
               Working with a partner
               Taking turns
               Turn-and-Talk or Think-Pair-Share
               Getting help when the teacher is working with a group
               What to do when the teacher has a phone call or must leave the room
               What to do when a visitor enters the classroom
               What to do when someone is hurt
               What to do when you need to calm down
               How to take care of materials
               How to take appropriate breaks

Teaching Procedures
               The Responsive Classroom has a wonderful strategy for teaching procedures called “Interactive Modeling.” This has four steps:
  1. Students learn why the procedure is important
  2. Students observe the model and create a picture in their mind of what it should look like
  3. Students do the noticing in describing what’s happening
  4. Students practice and get immediate feedback.

Here is a video that shows the process of Interactive Modeling in action:

You can also try the “I do, We do, You do” demonstrated in this video:

          Remember that children at all ages – from preschool to high school – need to be taught or reminded of how you want them to behave. Don’t be afraid to teach very minor procedures. It is better to err on the side of teaching too many than too few.          
Please share with us in the comments what procedures you think are most important in your classroom and how you teach them.

This is the second posting in a four-part series on getting ready for the start of school. See Part I here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Positive Classroom: Getting Ready for the Start of School, Part I: ...

The Positive Classroom: Getting Ready for the Start of School, Part I: ...: This is the first posting in a four-part series that is designed to help you think through getting ready for the new academic year. The...