As many Saturdays begin, my husband and I met our friends for breakfast at our favorite breakfast cafe. As we caught up on the prior week’s activities, my friend Tina shared a story about her grandson Jonathan. Jonathan is currently a fifth grader in a local elementary school and has been diagnosed with ADHD. He had told his grandmother that he was unable to participate in the “Fun Friday” activity this week. When Tina inquired why he told her he had to “clip down” on Thursday for not writing his name at the top of his paper. With further inquiry, Tina found out that while his peers were having a 20-minute board game reward he was spending that time writing, I will not forget to write my name on my paper over and over again.
Behavioral charts for classroom management are used in many elementary classrooms. If a teacher observes behavior that they believe is negative the student has to find his name on a clothespin and move it to the color below or “clip down”. Some charts also allow a student who is showing positive behavior to “clip up”. At the end of a day or week students then usually acquire a reward or consequence based on their behaviors.
It seemed that there had not been one week throughout the school year thus far that he had not had to clip down. I began to wonder if this behavioral system was working for Jonathan. If he had not been successful for even one week what needed to change … Jonathan’s behavior or the system that was put into place. Were there other students in the classroom that were continually unsuccessful with this system? Had the teacher spoken to him individually to discuss what seemed to be the obstacles in his way? Had the teacher always used this type of system and had it been successful in the past? As these questions began to swirl in my brain it made me think of a book I recently read, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be, by Cornelius Minor.
How teachers listen to students, and what the students are really communicating, along with the actions that teachers take as a result of those conversations are at the heart of the book. Cornelius asks teachers to ponder, “Because of what I’ve heard, how can I make active and longstanding adjustments to my classroom community…?” He continues to share that teaching is a dialogue between students and teachers and that after hearing students, teachers need to do something. Cornelius shares many free tools, on the Heinemann website, in the form of templates to help teachers to reflect on their classroom community, their teaching and how their grade level or school operates to better support students.
One of the tools that may be helpful for Jonathan’s teacher to look at is entitled, Thinking About the Kids in My Classroom. This simple template allows teachers to take a good look at students in their class that are not being successful yet with a particular skill or behavior. The first step is to list students that may have challenges in the classroom and then to create groups based on a similar need. If we were to think about Jonathan perhaps he might be in a small group of students that have challenges with organization. The next step is to think about what makes a student successful in your class based on that need? Listing a few clear statements based on the particular skill being analyzed can be added to the chart. Making sure that students realize these are the skills or behaviors that are necessary to be successful. Perhaps in Jonathan’s case, it might be:
- Students need to make sure their names are on all classwork and homework.
- Students need to have their planner completed to include all assignments for the next day.
- Students need to have all the materials needed for the lesson when coming to the meeting area.
The next area to consider is what are the barriers that keep students from being successful with the three statements. What are some things in the classroom or in your teaching that might be getting in their way of being successful? Perhaps in Jonathan’s group, it may be; These students are often preoccupied when directions are given and are unable to complete the directions successfully. The last section asks the teacher to reflect on what they can do to remove the barriers and to help students be successful.
- I can make sure students are looking at me before I give a direction and then repeat the direction a second time so it may allow students to process the direction and then act on it.
- I can list across my fingers the items students will need to bring to the meeting area. For example, one, bring your independent reading book when you come to the meeting area. Two, you will need your reading notebook and three bring a pencil.
- I can make sure all assignments are written clearly on the board at the beginning of the day so that students have multiple times during the day to make sure they have all items written into their planner.
This approach is mapped out in a manner that allows teachers to have a variety of ideas on hand to try. Teachers may have to revisit or rethink the possible solutions to the problem as it may not work the first time. By using this careful purposeful thinking and planning it will help support students so they that can be successful with the skills being taught long after they leave their current classroom!
We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be Minor – Heinemann – 2019