Dr. G’s Blog

PUBLISHING STUDENT WRITING

This post continues the thread of how creating a culture of options and success can lead to increased student involvement, student effort, and student achievement. I once taught  a class of 25 at-risk high school students who were extremely reluctant to work on improving their writing. Whenever I suggested that we were about to begin a writing lesson, anger and frustration were obvious. I decided to re-name the daily writing period as the “publishing center” and explained that we would no longer have our traditional writing activities. I pointed to the class library and told the students that they could be authors even if they wrote short books. Their books could be published just like those written by authors whose books were in the class library.

We created a rubric for a quality piece of writing and each student was assured that if quality were achieved, his book would, indeed, be bound and published. The writing would be checked against the rubric and then edited as often as necessary. Students would choose the topic of their work and would be able to add artifacts, pictures, or graphics.

Some books took a week or so to complete and others took longer. Satisfying the rubric determined the time frame. When a book was completed, I spiral bound it and made sure that the student author’s name and title were on the cover. The student was given two copies of the book. One would be taken home to show his accomplishment and the other would be placed in the class library next to books written by more traditional authors. Needless to say, writing, and therefore reading skills, improved dramatically. This is another example of the power of options and success.

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HOW DO I GET THEM EXCITED ABOUT SCHOOL?

This is the time of year when blogs and articles inundate the mailboxes of teachers with countless suggestions to begin the new school year efficiently and effectively. Of course, new and inexperienced teachers need to know that it is important to set rules and consequences and explain routines. After all, a teacher hands out paper to her class hundreds of times a year. it’s only logical that she explains the mechanics of paper distribution.

But as an educator who has worked with reluctant learners for many years, I would like to share some additional, non-traditional beginning-of-the-school-year strategies that I have found to be effective in creating a culture of success for the rest of the year:

  1. Don’t be afraid to assure students that they will be successful in your class. When I told my students that the work would be challenging but that they would have many options to do well, they perked up. When I told them that I would be available to clarify, review, or even teach them before class, during class, and after school, they smiled. When I told them that we would have lots of open book quizzes and tests that they could take as a group, they began to high-five each other.
  2. Offer options for success. This will not be perceived as a sign of weakness. I promised my classes that I would consider their suggestions for alternative ways to master content. Some students opted for independent study using videos like those of the on-line Khan Academy. Others worked directly with the school librarian, and still others created a video to demonstrate their competence. One group offered to teach other classes in the same grade. There is no one list of acceptable options, but the students thrive when offered choices. Be creative! Let your students use their talents to demonstrate mastery.

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TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS SEEM TO BE COMPLAINING MORE AND MORE:

  • Teaching has become less fun.
  • Teaching seems to be more about discipline than instruction.
  • We’ve actually resorted to begging our students to buy into academics.
  • We find ourselves in too many non-productive confrontations with individual students.
  • We are running out of ideas to deal with disruptive students. Punishments really don’t work. Now what?

Teens with behavioral and emotional problems make these complaints even more complex. These teens have long been a thorn in the side of many a school. They frustrate teachers when they resist instruction and infuriate them when they refuse to abide by the rules. Teenagers who are not successful in schools go by different labels: At-risk, behaviorally challenged, and unmotivated are only a few.

I think that we all can agree that it’s tough to educate these teens. We should also acknowledge that it’s frustrating to be one of them.

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TEACHERS ARE ASKING:

  • How can teachers avoid confrontations that escalate?
  • What are the alternatives to punishments?

These are excellent questions that need to be dealt with. I will discuss them in future blogs.

But before we tackle specific discipline issues, we really need to first create a global framework for behavior. The first questions we should ask is, “Why do kids misbehave?” It seems to me that if we agree on an answer, it would help us prevent many of their inappropriate behaviors.

At Last Chance High, we found the answers in William Glasser’s Choice Theory. Dr. Glasser contends that all human beings have the same four basic, genetic psychological needs or drives: to belong, to succeed, to have choices and to have fun. Let’s be clear — Glasser contends that we are born with these drives and have them whether we want to or not. I’ll go into each of these needs in depth in future blogs, but for now, let us assume that Dr. Glasser is correct, and we, indeed, have these drives.

…Drum roll please: Misbehavior is simply a reaction by students indicating that their needs are not being met. Plain and simple, if schools focus on providing a sense of belonging, creating opportunities for success, finding opportunities for students to have some reasonable options, and making classes interesting and not boring, then misbehavior will decrease.

Does this sound too simplistic to you?

Stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “Dr. G’s Blog

  1. I agree with you and Glasser 100%. I have been in education for 30 years and children’s’ needs have not changed over time. I am back in the classroom after 18 years in administration and loving it. Meet their needs and have success—simple. Figuring how to that and meet curriculum goals–sometimes challenging. In a couple words—flexibility and love.

  2. Hey Mr. G! It’s Susan Edwards. I am dying to read your book. Where can I get it?
    Knowing you, I’m certain it’s an excellent read! Hope you are well. I’ll be waiting………….

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