Monday, December 5, 2011

Teaching unruly students

I teach at a school with a few social problems(I'm a little prone to understatement).. I get knowing looks from people when they find out where I teach.  I can hear them thinking, "Who in their right mind would want to teach there?  Can't you do better than that!"

Truth be told, the students are ok and once you understand how they think (since I grew up around my school, I probably picked it up quicker than some), they gave me a job when I needed one five years ago and I have enjoyed it.  Not the most glamorous job, but it is challenging and rewarding.

Probably the hardest time is capturing the kids and positioning them for learning.  Each teacher does it a little differently, but I do have a few tricks.

The most effective strategy is creating a rapport with the kids by making them understand that teaching 30 individuals is near impossible, but everyone benefits by being part of a class.  My strategies for this are quite primitive, but they are effective, especially with the second tier of students - where my teaching interests lie.

Struggling students know that they find it hard to rival the top students and seek attention in other often negative ways.  To counter this I leverage a range of rewards and penalties that focus on team behaviour.  The class gets a high test average (greater 70% mean), I get the class some party food. The class is working hard, the entire class gets reward points. Groups of students working well also receive reward points.  The class gathers 100 reward points, we have a game session (to get 100 points we're ahead of the programme anyway). Students now have a real reason to help each other.  Contrariwise, if some students get disruptive, the whole class is penalised by being kept in after class (I did say primitive!).

Gasp! - penalise the whole class - that's not fair.  Surprisingly, it is fair, because the class as a whole has the responsibility to maintain order, not just the teacher.  I'll manage the class if I have to - but I'd rather teach than be constantly punitive.  Peer intervention is often more effective, can be less disruptive and the student-teacher relationship strain is reduced - attention seeking behaviour from peers quickly turns negative and the behaviour stops.  It doesn't work with the next tier of students (as groups of disengaged/struggling students need other strategies and higher levels of intervention). It's a strategy you have to be careful with and you need the goodwill of some students in the class to make it work.

If it is working, the good kids won't object because the more popular disruptive students are quickly getting less popular.

Individual achievement is celebrated but rarely extrinsically rewarded.  The exception is that I'm always on the lookout for  kids that have discovered what it takes to be a future focused 'student' and promote them into higher classes.  It's always a pleasure to say to a former challenging student, "Grab your bag and head down the hall.  Your work here is done."

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