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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

This is the second part of a six-part entry. Start with the introduction.

"They come into my room shouting, wandering around, and talking to one another. During class, they put on makeup, text message one another, and talk over me. And they jump up to sharpen pencils when I'm in the middle of teaching."

Is this a familiar scenario?

Start with an easy thing to teach. Assume that the kids just don't know what to do. When you reprimand a student and she whines, "What did I do?" she may be genuinely unclear on expectations.

Have you posted expectations for procedures and behaviors in large, visible print? Have you explained the nuances of class routines, and have students had an opportunity to practice them? Do they know how much time you've allocated for each procedure?

Students often misbehave because they don't know what you expect of them. Especially in secondary school, teachers presume that students know how to behave. Don't assume that they will know or even share any of your expectations for procedures, routines, or behaviors. Spell it out, break it down, break it down some more, write them up, post them, and practice them. Go over these expectations for months.

Students need you to be extremely explicit. For example, don't just say, "Pay attention when I'm talking." You need to say, "When I am talking to you, your eyes need to be on me. Your torso needs to be straight, with both feet on the floor under your desk, head supported only by your neck, not hands. If you want to say something, you wait until I am done, and when I ask for questions or comments, then you raise your hand and you wait for me to call on you." I know this sounds militaristic, but students need this level of instruction. They welcome it (with scowls on their faces).

Or say, "When you walk into this room, you go directly to your desk. Put your backpack under your seat. Take out a pencil and paper and start the Do Now assignment. There is no talking at this point. If you don't have a pencil or paper, then sit silently. You have three minutes to do the Do Now. At the end of this time, I'll collect your work. The Do Now work is worth 15 percent of your grade."

The following are just some of the procedures for which you need to define expectations:

  • What do I do if I need help?
  • What if I finish early?
  • What if I need a pencil or paper?
  • What if I was absent the day before and don't know what to do?
  • What if I forgot my book?
  • What if I need to talk with you about why I didn't do homework?
  • What if I need to blow my nose?
  • What am I supposed to do in a group discussion when another student is talking?
  • What's the procedure for asking a question? Going to the bathroom? Sharpening a pencil?
  • When can I leave the room? What is the dismissal procedure?

During the beginning of the year, you'll probably need to define and go over expectations constantly as you introduce new routines.

If, at the very least, you consider that most student misbehavior is coming not from malice but from confusion, you will be empowered. Your students really want to learn, they really want to be good, and they really want you to like them -- even the big kids. Especially with middle school kids, don't be fooled; inside that almost-adult-size body with the raging hormones is a scared little child.

In the next entry, we'll look at what you do when kids are good. But in the meantime, especially if you teach secondary school, ask students to bring in a photo of themselves from kindergarten. They were most likely very cute at that age. Put it on your wall. It helps for you to remember the cute little kid inside all the defiance and acne.

Please share your thoughts so far, and check back for the next part of this entry.

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