Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Pitfalls of Free-Range Teaching

Today, Free-Range Parenting has become popular among young parents.  Instead of establishing boundaries for children, parents allow children to explore life and learn from their mistakes.  When I began my career as a teacher forty years ago, a similar approach to teaching was popular.  Workshops encouraged teachers to allow students to discuss rules and consequences and create classroom rules that all of the students could agree on with appropriate consequences.  The teacher behaved only as the facilitator and the students democratically created their own learning environment.  It sounds good, but it doesn't work. First, it wastes valuable teaching time, second, it jeopardizes the physical and emotional safety of other students and third, it does not prepare students to live in the real world.

The first problem with Free-Range Teaching is there are a plethora of learning skills the teacher is responsible to teach and a limited amount of time to accomplish it.  Having students reach a consensus on anything takes a lot of time.  Time that could better be spent learning skills that would serve the student  It is more time effective for the teacher to develop boundaries for the students to learn in a safe, inviting climate than to spend a week of learning time discussing if students should be in their seats or near their seats when the bell rings.  Furthermore, teachers have classrooms filled with thirty to forty students.  Imagine the chaos if each of those students were discovering their own behavioral limits, Nothing would be accomplished.  Classroom rules need thought. A teacher should create a few general rules that safeguard learning and student safety with reasonable consequences.  Too many rules and too specific rules both confuses students and provides ideas for the creative young mind to challenge.  There is no way to develop a rule for every possible scenario, so general rules are more effective.

The second problem with Free-Range Teaching is students who are exploring their environment are either making it impossible for others to learn or making others feel uncomfortable and unsafe.  One year an associate teaching The Diary of Anne Frank proposed a learning activity where half of the class would be superior to the other half of the class.  The superior half could ridicule, misuse and abuse the other half without consequences. She was hoping the students would understand the Jewish experience in Europe under Nazi rule.  Fearing that worse, I went to the principal and begged him to intervene, because adolescents enjoy bullying and I was certain that this project would end with a student either physically or mentally injured.  Fortunately, he agreed and stopped the project before it began.  The problems with eliminating boundaries is children are self-centered and do not recognize how their behavior affects others.  It is the responsibility of the adult to protect other children.  Eventually, these students will move up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and become developmentally  capable of empathizing with others. Children and adolescents are often amused by the pain they can inflict on weaker students. It empowers them.  Unfortunately students who are bullied, don't feel safe or comfortable in school.  When a child does not feel safe, it is difficult for him/her to concentrate or learn.    The negative feeling can ultimately cause them to avoid school altogether.  When I was teaching in California, a young lady was ridiculed and assaulted by a group of boys while walking home from school.  The girl did not return to school for a week.  When I learned what had happened I discussed the events with the  principal who felt that since it did not happen on school property, it was not his jurisdiction.  Since the young men were allowed to attend school without consequences, the girl was denied her educational rights.  As educators, we need to insist that rules are followed to protect the rights of all students.

The third problem with free-range teaching is it does not prepare students to live in the real world. People live in a world where there are rules.  Learning to accept and follow the rules of society is also an important learning skill.  Few of us make the rules of our society or live in a world where we can explore the consequences of our choices unhampered by rules.  Rules should be designed to help students be successful and safe.  There are those who say that learning from mistakes and making decisions about the classroom rules teaches students to govern themselves. Although that sounds effective and their may be some value to it, it is not going to help the child when he loses his first job because he believes punctuality is unnecessary or honoring the company's dress code is obsolete. None of us live in a vacuum. The choices we make affect others, so trusting that everyone follows the rules is imperative. If the child never learns to follow rules established by an outside authority, he/she is going to have a difficult time with authority figures. 

Finally, what gives the teacher the right to create the rules?  That is an essential part of the responsibility of being a teacher.  That is the primary role of the parent; that is the primary role of the teacher.  Being in charge, is never easy, but if the teacher behaves as if he/she is unsure of the classroom expectations, the students will lose respect for the teacher and the class will run amuck. When my daughter was in sixth grade, I received a phone call from the principal of her school.  "Jill," Mrs. Puhr said, "I have to share this with you.  There was a paint fight in the art room when a substitute was present and I called each student in one at a time to learn who was involved.  When I asked your daughter, Jeanette, who was responsible, she said, 'The teacher. She told all of us to do whatever we wanted when we finished our assignment, and when you are in the sixth grade, a paint fight might be just what you wanted to do'" After Mrs. Puhr and I finished laughing she said, "You know she is right."  Young children often are not capable of making good decisions. They need leaders. The role of the teacher or the parent is the leader, so be a good leader.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Three Methods to Motivate the Unmotivated

Three Methods to Motivate the Unmotivated

By Jill Jenkins

          Most people who enter the ranks of educators have been academic bound their entire life.  Like me, many love to read. Visiting a library or a book store was more enticing than an ice cream parlor. I slept with a flashlight so I could extend reading deep into the night and I secretly wrote poetry and the family newspaper on my father’s old Remington typewriter.  I also remember the first student who shrugged his shoulders and said, “So” when I informed him he could fail my class if he didn’t complete his project.  It was unfathomable to me that a student could be so apathetic, but unmotivated students are more common than novice teachers realize. Here are three methods that I used over my forty year career with some success to motivate the unmotivated.

#1 Focus on the Rewards

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Panhttp://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/peter-pan

            Many students have never experienced success as a result they have no reason to believe that success is possible.  Instead of working toward being successful, they often entertain themselves with driving the teacher crazy by harassing other students.  When I was teaching in an alternative education school in California, I had many students like this.  From a workshop, I learned a method of discussing outcomes and rewarding students with frequent positive post cards when they had a small victory.  Instead of focusing on the grade, have them discuss what would their parents  will feel if they brought home a successful report card or how would they feel if they could make their parents proud.  Positive feeling is a strong motivator.  First, students must believe they are capable of succeeding.  Many students never realized that this was possible, but if the teacher takes baby steps, the teacher can sell "the idea of success" to them.  Like Peter Pan, a teacher has to help students believe that success is possible and then give them the skills to succeed.  The younger they experience success, the more likely it will continue.

#2 Confer With Each Child Individually

“Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have”. Margaret Mead
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/caring.html

            Students perform for other people that they care about.  They care about people who care about them.  As a result, if a teacher takes time to discover what difficulties a child might be facing and what needs the child has, that child is much more likely to perform.  For example, a young man, Randy, was sent by his parents to a parochial school to improve his academic performance, but Randy didn’t want to be separated from his friends, so he created havoc at the school hoping to be returned to his friends at his former school.  If his teacher had taken the time to talk to him and help him make the transition into a new peer group, the school and Randy could have had a successful experience.  Even if the teacher stands in the hall between class changes and interacts with students, a great deal of information can be gained.  Simply speaking to each student cordially when passing in the hall can increase the likelihood that they will be more successful in the classroom.  Students need to learn to set small goals and large goals to be successful in school and life.  Having frequent individual conferences with student enables the teacher to direct the student in creating and adjusting goals while reassuring the student that an adult cares about his/her success.  Remember some students have parents who do not have the time or the knowledge to have these types of interactions with their child. 

#3 Establish Classroom Procedures

“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing... layout, processes, and procedures.” Tom Peters
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/procedures.html

            Students with learning disabilities or are on the autistic spectrum are more successful when they know what to expect each day in a classroom.  As a result it is a good idea to establish a set of procedures.  When students are confronted with changing classroom procedures, they often become apprehensive and even aggressive. If they know that each day, they will need a book, a notebook and a pen or pencil, they are more likely to bring them.  If they know that each class begins with certain activity: silent reading, an interactive debate, or a problem to solve, they waste less time getting down to the business of education.   These procedures can be set to music, timed and my even involve movement.  I know of one teacher who had “line leaders” pass out materials while dancing to rock music.   I know another teacher who passed out treasure maps to students as they entered the room.  Her students had to find the answers to a quiz by searching the room for clues.  I know another who gave a daily quiz on the work from the previous day.  Repetition of the same pattern is the key to success. 

Final Thoughts

            There are many methods that can be used to reconnect students to their education.  Don’t give up on them.  The best method is to discuss with other teacher a tactic that they might be using that might work on that particular students.  Each child is an individual, so there is no one method that works on all of them.  For example I had one student who wanted to drop out of high school and get a job.  I brought the classified ads to class and sat while he looked at prices of apartments, cars and I made him aware of the price of food, utilities, gas and insurance.  When he added it all together, he decided to complete his education and try to find a job that paid more than minimum wage.  Years later, I encountered the young man who was married with children living in a nice home in the suburbs.  He thanked me because that small exercise had helped him understand the importance of completing a trade school education and learning a trade that he enjoyed.  Motivating the unmotivated: it can happen.