Often, we conflate completion of work with perseverance. Sometimes students complete work but did not have to persevere as the work was easy. Sometimes students do not complete work but they persevered. If students are given mostly or only work that is easy to complete, they do not learn to persevere and becoming accustomed to work that they know how to do makes it harder to learn to persevere.
To shape the behavior, I present students with tasks for which they can come up with some answer, albeit not the correct answer. For example, the image below shows a problem of counting up squares (including bigger squares made up of the smaller squares). When they come up with an answer, I praise them for the attempt and following directions, then explain that there are more (no one has come up with the answer on the first attempt). They have hit a road block and are now prompted to continue their effort. That is perseverance on a smaller scale with prompting. This is an entry point.
In this task, the students have multiple criteria to address. Often, students will shut down and immediately respond with that they don’t know what to do. I will prompt them to try something and many will simply fill in the boxes in order with 1, 2…9. Some will simply write in 9 in each box. I explain that they met the first criteria or partially met it, then ask them to try to meet the next criteria. As in the checkerboard activity, I am guiding them through the process for perseverance. The handouts for these activities are located here.
Perseverance is essential for not academic situations as well. For example, if a student counts out the incorrect amount of money at a grocery store in a post-secondary situation he or she will need to try again – to persevere. If they are reliant on educators or parents to fix this situation they will be reliant when the parents and educators are not around. Try to mimic real life problem situations with scenarios which allow shaping. For example, a student in class learns to pay a price with dollars and cents. Create a purchase scenario but don’t provide them with coins and do not explain what to do. That can be a first step in shaping perseverance.
This post was inspired by some posts on teacher Facebook pages by new teachers asking for ideas. Classroom management is a common, if not the most common, issue that arises among teacher candidates and new teacher. It is challenging to some degree for almost all teachers. As a long time teacher trainer for the states of Connecticut and South Carolina, I had compiled presentation ideas about classroom management I used to share with the candidates I was helping. I hope this post can serve as a cheat sheet for new teachers.
First, I identify 3 stages of classroom management:
Prevention – actions taken to avoid common undesired behaviors, and shaping desired behaviors
Intervention – actions taken to address problems as soon as they arise
Remediation – actions taken to address full blown problems.
The use of the image below left was inspired by a teacher candidate who lamented that during a school observation of a class there were no behavioral issues that would allow her to see classroom management in action. I explained that in fact she saw effective classroom management because of a preventative process implemented. Similarly, there are a couple retail chain stores I have observed with parallel issues with some process, such as how used dishes are cleared out or how bathrooms are maintained (at least the men’s rooms).
I will focus on prevention, which involves being proactive as opposed to being reactive. Like the man waiting for the leaf to fall, some teachers fall into the trap of waiting for a problem to occur. There are two books I recommend that help with being proactive: The First Days of School and Every Minute Counts.
Being proactive involves helping students understand what they are to do. This involves creating positive “Norms!” which is short for what normally happens in class. These can be positive or negative (often assumed to be positive). An example of a negative norm could be students standing at the door the last couple minutes waiting to leave. To establish positive norms, a teacher can set expectations and procedures for various situations in daily class functioning: how to enter and leave the classroom, ask a question, sharpen a pencil, work through problems in classwork etc. For example, when asking a question, are students allowed to blurt out answers or do they raise their hand and wait to be called upon?
Norms will NOT be established by simply posting rules or by verbally explaining our beloved syllabi. Posting rules (bottom left) is akin to a speed limit sign. Many if not most cars routinely drive over the speed limit on an interstate. The drivers do not respect the sign because they know there is an unwritten actual limit that one must cross before getting a ticket. Similarly, students know that often classroom rules are malleable as well.
Here is an example. Years ago, during the first day of class for my freshmen, one student was barely doing any work, despite my prompts. I pulled him aside to ask why he wasn’t working. He replied, “If I do all of my work now, you will expect me to do all my work all year.” He understood that often classroom expectations are conditional.
This Garfield cartoon (below) speaks to such expectations. Most students will toe the line once they understand what the line is. Again, not by what is posted but the teacher’s actions, day in and day out. In other words, their behaviors are shaped.
The image, bottom left, shows one of my classes at the start of a class during a first week. I was projecting a daily point sheet I use to provide them immediate feedback on how they are meeting expectations. The first expectation is that they are to work on the Do Now within 2 minutes of the bell. I have that part enlarged on the projection in the photo. To help shape behavior, I use a “Gotcha” ticket in which I am catching students doing something right. I do this to provide feedback on my 3 classroom expectations by writing a short blurb about what they did RIGHT. Every Monday I would start class by collecting the tickets I gave them and conduct a lottery with a handful of small prizes from Dollar Tree type stores. Some students would not turn in their tickets because the written praise was reward enough!
An organized classroom can support establishing norms. The images below are examples from my classrooms. (Elementary school teachers are routinely doing this!)
Left: I color code each course (e.g., green for Algebra 2). Each class has a file box in which each student has a folder in which I return papers and share individual information as necessary. (e.g., I researched some content on welding for a student interested in that vocation.) The white paper next to some file boxes is the Do Now for the day.
Middle: Each student is assigned a number and I use a shoe caddie to keep track of their respective calculators.
Right: This is a learning wall with notes for the current topics. When students would ask a question about a problem, I would direct them to find the matching problem on the wall and explain the first step (8th grade is coded red and 7th grade was coded blue.)
Bottom: On the right is a board with the daily objective and do now for each class – again, color coded. The posted photos of leaders like MLK Jr. are representations of my expectations: Responsible, Respectful, Resourceful as seen in the Gotcha Ticket. They learn these expectations by our daily activities and feedback – shaping.
As a complement to a set of classroom norms for effective classroom management is engaging instruction. Math teachers are often guilty of standing in front of the class going through multiple examples. To many students, this sounds like the teachers in the Peanuts cartoons, “wah waaah wah ….” Oral communication of information is far less effective than student centered learning. If students are not engaged by your instruction they will find something else to engage them – often an undesired behavior.
It is very challenging to differentiate while standing at the front of the room. Engage students with hands on work and walk around to differentiate. Parents do this with their children. Below my son is having a snack and watching a fire truck parade on YouTube and I was free to attend to other matters, like helping his brother.
Also, make the initial instruction accessible to all students using a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The cartoon explains this approach. I use scaffolded handouts, color coding, manipulatives, meaning making strategies, and multiple representations. I refer to this as reverse differentiation. In lieu of waiting to provide specialized instructional strategies after an issue arises, I provide the strategies to all in the initial instruction and allow them to opt out, e.g., one student would repeatedly tell me, “Mr. E, you know I don’t use highlighters.” and he didn’t need them. An example is a lesson on perimeter and area (below) I taught to a group of elementary students (image below). I started the lesson with them building a rectangular pen for their animals and then they counted the number of pieces to determine perimeter. The formula was the LAST thing I showed them.
Finally, we can be responsive to student needs. In the image below, the female circled in red was having serious family issues. She could not focus so I offered her an alternative of playing math games on the computer instead. Often, I hear teachers warn that other students will complain about different treatment. I have almost never encountered this (see all the students on task in the photo). If the students see a teacher differentiating and attempting to meet a variety of needs for all students, they are very accepting.
Often we view disabilities in the context of the individual as a student, or a child or adolescent. The long term effects may be had to understand or extrapolate based on what we see at the younger ages.
There was teacher candidate whom I trained who had ADHD and struggled in the program in which we worked. He shared his struggles to keep up with the programming, organization, and in general, keeping up with the demands placed upon him.
I asked him to write a statement explaining his challenges that I could share with others. The statement is shared below. I hope this can help parent and educators make a more refined connection between the setting at an earlier age with the settings and outcomes the individual will face later in life. I explain to sped teacher candidates whom I train that we have an awesome responsibility and opportunity in how we can impact young lives…when they are no longer young.
Perhaps the vast majority of students with disabilities need support with math. Their challenges with math can be directly related to their disability or can be the result the effects of an ongoing struggle with math. The later results in what is termed secondary characteristics.
When I work with students with a disability, I first seek out background information about the student to identify what interests them, what reinforcers (rewards) can be used to enhance their performance, and what challenges and behaviors need to be addressed. Upon gather this information, I often decide to use a token sheet that is personalized for each student.
Below is an image of such a token sheet. At the start of our work together I felt the student in question needed immediate reinforcement for work completed to get him into a groove. I was also targeting a behavior in which he would draw dots on each digit he wrote, which slowed him down considerably. He would earn a Scooby (I would circle it) in the middle column for completing his work and an extra Scooby in the right column if he wrote digits appropriately (no dots). After 2 sessions, his dot writing dropped significantly to the point that I was able to remove the column on the right. As you can see at the bottom, 5 Scoobies resulted in iPad time.
This can be particularly effective for students who have more severe math anxiety, a fear of failure, or have ADHD. Such a token sheet can be included in the accommodations page of the IEP.
Some differences are directly related to ADHD. Others are the result of secondary characteristics. In special education these are characteristics of a student that result not from the disability but from how the disability plays out in an academic and other settings. For example, a student with a speech impediment may be very timid and anxious in situation in which he or she may need to speak.
In math a major secondary characteristic is math anxiety. This is a performance issue vs an ability issue and it must be addressed as a legitimate obstacle for the student. I work with graduate students who still suffer math anxiety years later.
In the past year I have helped two 7th grade students who are categorized as twice exceptional (2e). Both had more severe math anxiety that impacted their performance and masked their ability. When we started both were working on elementary school level math. Within a couple of months both were working on algebra. (Both had gaps but I was testing their ability by test running higher level math with them.)
As I shared in a previous post my approach is to focus on meeting needs. I want to elaborate on this. My secret is I listen to the student… In other words, the student drives the instruction.
Here’s an analogy. You go to a frozen yogurt or ice cream store and they offer you a sample. You try a couple then go with the one you like. That’s what I do. I try out different types of instruction (samples of the ice cream) and the student tells me (verbally or by the response to the instruction) which one they want. That is the I in IDEA and in IEP.
In the effort to assess student ability performance factors are likely present. It is incumbent upon the educators to mitigate the performance issues to assess true ability.
For example, I conducted an evaluation on a student in middle school who has ADHD. All of her testing records indicated that she would lose focus during the assessment and that the focus was problematic for testing. Before we met I surveyed her on her favorite snack (didn’t know Sour Skittles is a thing), brought this reinforcer along with a bottle of water. She sat through an entire 1 1/2 hour KeyMath Assessment without incident.
Painting the letters on the ground is a performance point for the person responsible for this task. The task was discussed at some other time and location. Performance points, as explained in another post, are the situations or locations or times that a person has to perform a task. For students with special needs this is where special education gets real. It is where the supports play out. For students with more severe disabilities, e.g. ADHD, Autism or Down Syndrome, most if not all performance points require some support so identifying these points is important and often overlooked.
Below are a list of performance points students encounter in k-12 education.
transition between classes
using a hall pass
arriving or leaving school
riding a school bus
transition to and from lunch
transition to and from specials
entering and starting class
packing up and leaving class
transition between activities during class
choice or down time during class
following directions given in class
retrieving, using and returning class materials
asking permission to use a pass
identifying appropriate reasons to use a pass or to ask a question
responding to questions or participating in class discussion
paying attention to presentations
studying for an assessment
bringing materials to class
organizing notebook and book bag
using a notebook effectively, e.g. finding and following examples
interacting with classmates in a socially appropriate manner (during classwork, free time, down time, in the hallway, at lunch, at recess) – note: socially appropriate would need to be defined with observable behaviors
empathizing with others
reciprocating in a social conversation
curtailing behavior when presented with negative feedback
greeting others appropriately – initiating and responding
identifying non-verbal cues and communication
Certainly there are more. Please comment below if you want me to add anything to the list.