3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students - Tip #2



I'm continuing my series on 3 simple tips to help manage difficult students.  You can catch up on the original post here and read in detail about Tip #1 here.  In this post, I'm going to explain tip #2 and how I use my most challenging students as helpers.

Often, the most challenging students are seeking attention in a not so positive way   They don't feel good about themselves and they need your help.  They just want to be noticed, they want to be cared for, they want to be loved, they want to SUCCEED in the classroom and they don't know how. Getting in trouble is a time-honored method of getting out of class and getting out of the work at hand.



I like to make my most challenging student my helper. If  I notice that "Nina" is getting frustrated in math, I might ask her to run a quick errand for me.  "Could you please bring this note to Mrs. T down the hall?"  This allows Nina to have a brief break before she blows up.  When she returns, I'll make a point to go sit with her, thank her for helping me out, and help her work through a problem.  

I  also enlist my most challenging students for help every day in the classroom.  I"ll give them tasks to complete in the morning before other students come in, before instruction begins, during transitions, or at the end of the day (I only have them do tasks during academic instruction if I see an urgent need for the child to have a break from what they are working on).  I might have them straighten out a drawer, erase the board, turn on all of the computers, set up the chairs, wipe down the desks, or sharpen pencils.  A small, simple task, that really helps me in a small way.  This student will the first one I'll turn to for a simple favor.  If they don't want to do the task, I don't take it personally - I'll just say "OK, maybe next time" and give the task to another student.  Most times though, the student will help me.  I don't make a big deal of the task completion but offer a simple and sincere thank you.  After a bit (and it usually doesn't take very long), my most challenging friend will come asking me for something they can do.  Most every one wants to feel needed.  Enlisting the help of a challenging student helps to build a rapport and a connection in a genuine way.

The key to the success of this technique is getting to know your student by looking for patterns of behavior.  What is setting them off?  Is it during math?  A certain time of day? After an interaction with a classmate?  Looking for a pattern and having an idea about what might trigger a student's outburst is when it's a good time to redirect with a simple task in or out of the classroom.  Making a child feel useful and appreciated can help a child feel important, needed, and in control.




3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students: Tip #1





I've previously written about 3 simple tips I use to manage my most difficult students (find it here),   In this post, I will explain more about Tip #1: Get to Know Them.

Getting to know ALL your students, is an important part of building a successful classroom environment.  For most of our students, getting to know one another is easy.  At the beginning of the year, teachers do many fun and engaging "getting to know you" activities to help build community and to learn about "who" is in our classroom.  One of my favorite activities that I do is to write my students a letter all about me and their assignment in my classroom is to write a letter back telling me all about themselves. (I keep extra copies of my letter and use it throughout the year as I get new students).  I also use a simple survey to gather information about my students. Getting to know your students - their likes and dislikes, their family life and background, their previous school struggles, and more - can help to build a rapport and help you find meaningful ways to reach them as a teacher and as a caring adult.   Most of the students in our classroom enjoy coming to school and enjoy getting to know their teacher and their classmates and are willing and happy participants.

I have found though that some of my most difficult students are not receptive to these activities or they "pretend" to be.  My most challenging students often come to school with a mindset that school is hard (academically and/or socially) and that they are not going to be successful.  They may act tough, like they are too cool for these activities or they may act like it's a joke and not take it seriously. Maybe they believe that previous teachers disliked them.  Maybe they think they are not good at school.  Maybe they have no real friends.  Whatever the reason, deep down inside is a child crying for attention.



This simple idea came from Angela Watson's The Cornerstone for Teachers' post "The 2 x 10 Strategy: A Miraculous Solution for Behavior Issues".  Angela learned about the strategy from her Encouraging Teachers Facebook group (which you should really join when the opportunity opens up. Get on her email list to find out when the next enrollment period opens.  It's a fabulous group!)
The challenge is to gently and persistently approach this child and work on building a relationship.  I know I said that my tips are simple, and they are, but this will take some time.  I use the letter they have written to me, the survey I've given, or my observations to start a conversation. I might notice an interest in a sport or a type of music, creative doodles, or a comment about a movie or event - I take note and jot this information down. I make a strategic plan to talk to my target student every single day.  I may greet the student in the morning and have a brief conversation in the hallway. We may chat in line on the way to lunch or I'll steal a few minutes at recess. Some days, they will brush me off and that's OK.  I don't take it personally and I'll just try again the next day.  For our "chats", I come prepared with some conversation starters from what I've learned about them or some silly jokes.  I open our chat in a light-hearted way and steer clear from asking them about tough topics or academics in our first few conversations.  I want to gradually build trust in a genuine way. The plan is to talk to my target student for two to five minutes every single day for ten days.  That's it.  You will find that the student may start to seek YOU out for a conversation and may start to become more receptive to directions in the classroom.  

One of my more recent and  most challenging students, (I called him "Joe" in my earlier post here) took a bit longer than ten days to get to a point that he would actually talk to me.  In the beginning, he brushed me off repeatedly but I would just smile and say something friendly like "have a great day" until eventually he responded.  Joe loved to doodle and his doodles were very dark.  I could tell from the doodles that they were  referencing video games.  Lucky for me, I have a 15 year old son who loves video games,  Much to Joe's surprise, I knew quite a bit about video games. I asked him what he liked to play because I liked to play too.  He asked me what my favorite game was and I said, "don't laugh, but it's Mario Kart".  He laughed but then said, "I really like that game too!".  I was surprised (the dark doodles were not Mario-esque) but happy to make that connection with him.  He thought that it was great that an "old" lady like me  enjoyed video games too. Every day after that we talked about it and  our conversations eventually turned to other topics at well. His behavior gradually improved to the point where he was actually making some effort in class and causing far fewer disruptions.  "Joe" became one of my favorite students and one that I will never forget.  While, he didn't achieve a lot of academic success that year, he showed great improvement and, he and I both had hope that he could succeed in the future.

Of course, I recommend getting to know ALL of your students because they are all deserving of our attention.  Making a strategic plan to get to know your most difficult students will help you to build a positive relationship which may just lead to more positive behaviors in the classroom.

Have you had success with a difficult student?  What helped you turn things around?  I'd love to hear your success stories!











3 SIMPLE Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students


Think of one your most difficult students.  One or more students come to mind right away, right?  We spend more time thinking about our most challenging students and what we can do to help them to be successful in the classroom.  You've tried the common tricks in your toolbox like positive reinforcement, rewards, and even negative consequences and nothing seems to work.


1. Get to Know Them

Find a way to connect and build a rapport with a student. Talk with them every day outside of the classroom, such as recess or invite them for lunch. Do they enjoy basketball?  Shoot hoops with them on the playground.  Let them teach YOU how to do something at recess.  Let them explain how the details of their favorite video game. Last year, I had a super-challenging student who was very difficult to connect with.  I noticed that he really didn't have any true friends but loved getting other students' attention with his disruptions.  I spent a few minutes every day just chatting with "Joe" about non-school related things. It took me a solid month to build up to a meaningful conversation but I was determined. I found out that he never played kickball and was embarrassed to try and was worried that the other students would make fun of him. I enlisted a few of my good kids to invite "Joe" to play and they invited me to play too.  The entire class played kickball that day and the students were so happy that every single classmate was on the field.  They patiently taught "Joe" the rules of the game and gave him some practice time to kick the ball.  When he got his first time up in the game, the students were coaching and cheering him on and he was grinning from ear to ear.  From that day on, he played kickball every day!  He really enjoyed it and I loved seeing him chatting and playing with his peers.  Did he become a perfect student in my class? No, but things improved immensely.  He had a sense of belonging and began to make connections and form real friendships with some of his classmates.


Read more about getting to know your difficult students in my post, 3 Simple Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students: Tip #1.

2. Enlist Their Help

I often make my most challenging students my go-to helper.  If I notice that they are getting fidgety and potentially about to cause a problem (or just starting to), I will give them something "important" to do.  My favorite task to give them is to deliver a note or item to another teacher.  I'll write a quick note to a teacher friend for my student to deliver.  The note may just be something silly that says "have a great day" or "you are awesome".  It may be something unimportant that I need to return to them (Mrs. T needs this DVD returned right away and tell her thanks!).  Just getting the student up and about on a seemingly important errand can give them the classroom break that they need. Currently, I have a student who just loves to feel important (and really, who doesn't?).  I give him a special job or task when I know he needs a quick break.  I might have him do something as simple as emptying the pencil sharpener, delivering a message to another teacher, or returning a library book for me. Now that he knows that I like his help, I have my student asking me for things he can do to help and I always take him up on his offer.  He'll stop by before class to see if I need help straightening the desks or filing papers.  Allowing him to help me in little, yet meaningful, ways gives him positive attention, makes him feel special, and gives him a sense of accomplishment.

Read more about enlisting the help of your difficult students in my post, 3 Simple Tips to Help Manage Difficult Students: Tip #2.


3. Give Them A Safe Space

Give your students a quiet, peaceful place where they can move to calm down when they are getting frustrated, agitated, or upset.  I have a desk set up in a corner of my classroom that we call the "Calm Down Station".  My students know that they can take a time-out at any time they feel they need a break.  At the desk, I keep a box of hands-on stress relievers such as a bean bag, pattern blocks, and clay.  I also have a glitter wand, paper, coloring pages, and an assortment of markers and color pencils. I have taught my students how to use the Calm Down Station and I make note of the students who use it and how long they stay there.  If I feel that they are avoiding work, I will gently ask them to return to our class for a few minutes or bring their classwork over to them to complete.

We all have students that will need extra attention.  Having a simple, workable plan in place can go a long way towards having the best class possible.  What strategies would you add to the list?

5 Simple Ideas to Start the New Year RIGHT in Your Classroom!


Happy New Year!  I always like to start the new year with renewed energy and a positive outlook.  I am excited to get back into the classroom with my sweet student - I've missed them!  The school year is nearly half-way over (already??!) and I want to continue pushing my students to learn and grow to be their best!  I want to maintain a positive and safe classroom environment - the new year is a perfect time for a review of procedures and to introduce some new ideas!

Here are 5 things I plan to do to start the year off right:

1. It's the FIRST Day!  You've been on break for a bit now, right?  So guess what? Your students (and YOU) are a bit out of the school routine.  While it's not actually the first day of school, try incorporating some fun activities to review procedures and expectations.  At the beginning of the year, I show a meme slideshow to go over procedures in my classroom.  My students love it and the best part?  They remember the procedures! Search the internet for a couple of silly memes that will help you review your procedures.


2. Check IN! Now that I've had a nice relaxing break away from the classroom, I realize that I miss my students.  The first week back, I will make a point to have a personal conversation with each of student to check in with them about their break and get a feel for how they are doing. Unfortunately, some of my students likely did not have a fun and relaxing break.  I want to welcome them back into the safe and structured classroom environment. I want to work to rebuild and maintain a connection with each student for the rest of the year.  I keep an actual checklist so that I can write down the date we chatted and what we talked about.  Showing that you really care about someone takes just a little bit of time but has huge and lasting benefits.

3. Be POSITIVE!  I plan on starting the new year with a fresh, positive attitude.  I will reward good behavior A LOT the first weeks back.  I will embrace getting my students to "clip up" the behavior chart, writing positive notes to parents, and giving out tickets to the treasure box - my treasure box is filled with fun new treasures (I cleaned out my own children's old toys to make way for new ones over the holiday break).  Negative behaviors will be addressed quietly and privately with students with gentle reminders in the classroom and a conversation at recess.



4. Build COMMUNITY!  Make it a fresh start and incorporate community and class-building activities. If you expect students to work together collaboratively you MUST teach them and show them how in fun ways. I do this by incorporating a morning meeting with each of my groups.  We get to know each other by sharing and learn to work together by playing  games. The games can be quick and simple like "Telephone" or "Two Truths and a Lie". We also discuss classroom issues and brainstorm ways to resolve them.  I dedicate at most ten minutes every day for our morning meeting and usually add a longer fifteen minute session once a week or as needed. If the weather is nice, take it outside for a breath of fresh air! 


5. REFLECT!  Make the new year a great one by incorporating student reflections and goals.  I have my students reflect on their learning every Friday by writing about 3 things they learned during the week.  They then write about whether it was easy or challenging for them and why. My students keep a Learning Reflections Journal with their data and goal-setting notebooks.  Teaching and modeling to students how to reflect on what and how they are learning is such a powerful way for students to really think about their thinking.  It also gives them opportunities to look back and set meaningful goals for themselves as they move forward in their learning.  You can easily this by students writing each week in a new or existing journal.  To make it even easier, you can check out my Weekly Learning Reflection Forms in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here or click on the image below!



I hope you can use some of these ideas in your classroom in the upcoming weeks!  
What will you do to start the New Year off right?
Happy New Year!

Celebrate Christmas with a Math Project!



The week before winter break is always an exciting time in the classroom and it can be a challenge to keep students on task and learning!  Students seem even more energetic than usual and less focused on learning.  I'm always looking for fun and meaningful ways to integrate the holidays into my classroom to keep my 5th graders focused on academics.   My 12 Days of Christmas Math Project is challenging, yet fun, and allows students to practice problem-solving skills by calculating the cost of the 12 Days of Christmas.

I start by having my students read the lyrics to the "12 Days of Christmas"(I like to play the song as they read along). I have my 5th graders highlight the gifts for each of the 12 days of Christmas as they read. Next, I give them the 12 Days of Christmas Task Page and review the three tasks they are required to complete. 

Task 1: Calculate the cost of each gift
Task 2: Calculate the total cost of all gifts given on each day
Task 3: Use the calculations to answer questions 


After we review the tasks, I give my students the 12 Days of Christmas price list.  There are two price lists options to choose from - whole numbers or decimals to the tenths place.  I differentiate this activity by giving each student the price list that suits their needs best.  You may also choose to have students work with partners or in cooperative groups to complete the project.

Students use the recording pages to calculate all of the costs.  While they are working, I like to project a Yule Log video on the board and play holiday music in the background.


Answer keys are also included.  If you would like to share this activity with your students, you can find it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here!

Happy Holidays!
Live, laugh, love to learn,
Debbie

Using Inquiry to Excite and Engage Students


I LOVE teaching science and teaching science through inquiry activities is a game-changer!  I've always considered myself a "hands-on" teacher but I've learned that while "hands-on"is a lot of fun for students, they don't always come away with what I intended them to learn.  Using inquiry activities in the classroom can excite and engage your students AND they will come away with a deeper understanding of the concept being explored.

Planning an inquiry lesson shouldn't take any more time than any other type of lesson.  Completing an inquiry lesson usually takes a bit more time than a traditional lesson though.  I think the extra time is worth the investment though because my students know understand the concepts AND the vocabulary when they finish.

I use the 5E model to frame my inquiry.  The 5 "E"s are: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.

The first "E" is Engage.  How will you get your students interested in the topic and make connections to prior knowledge?  For my Exploring Light Lab Inquiry, I have my students look at an optical illusion photograph.  The students discuss what they think is happening in the photo and draw an illustration.  I have students share their thinking with the class.  I am very careful NOT to explain anything at this point.  I just listen and take note of any correct explanations and any misconceptions.  I write this information down so that we can come back to it during the "Explain" portion of the lesson.  I also think of the "Engage" activity as the "Excite"; the students are hooked and want to explore!


The second "E" is Explore.  During this phase of the sequence, students explore the concepts on their own.  I plan activities that will allow my students to experience the objectives that I want them to learn.  In my Exploring Light Lab Inquiry, I set up 3 stations with materials, directions, and questions to answer.  My students will explore and discover that light travels in a straight line, light refracts when it travels through water, and different materials have properties of opaqueness, transparency, and translucency.  The students work in small groups to explore and answer questions together. I also allow time for them to explore the materials on their own to test other ideas and questions.  Each station lasts about 10 minutes.  In my larger class of 24 students, I set up two of each station so that there are no more than 4 students at one station.  I want to ensure that each student has ample opportunity to have a hands-on experience.

The third phase is of the sequence is "Explain". During this phase, the teacher guides a discussion of the activities and allows the students to give the explanation of the concepts in the objective.  If students do not come up with the vocabulary word necessary to describe what is happening, the teacher provides it.  At this point, I review the discussion from the "Engage" phase.  I make sure that we discuss the correct explanations and address any misconceptions that were brought up.  This part of the sequence is critical for students to understand the concepts explored.  As a teacher, I am facilitating a discussion (usually a lively one!) that allows students to take ownership of the learning of the concepts.  I have my students take notes on the concepts and the new vocabulary during this part of the lesson sequence.
The fourth phase of the 5E sequence is "Elaborate".  At this point, students have an opportunity to apply and connect their new learning to previous learning or to similar concepts.  During this phase, the goal is to have students use the new concepts and vocabulary learned to other similar situations.  For example, in my Exploring Light Lab Inquiry, I show my students a photograph of a highway on a hot day that "appears" to have a puddle of water. Students work together to come up with an explanation of what is happening that creates the mirage.  My goal is for students to come up with refraction as an explanation for the mirage.  Here, I can extend their learning and discuss convection and refractive indexes.  This allows an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the concept and a chance to ask questions for further exploration in the future.  I require students to write down at least two questions they would like to explore further.

The fifth and final part of the 5E sequence is "Evaluate".  At this point, it is time to assess your students understanding of the concepts.  I use and exit slip so that I can collect and document their responses.  I sort my exit slips into three groups according to mastery:  complete, partial, and very little.  I use this information to place students in small groups to review or extend the concept.  I will work with the groups who were not completely successful.  The students who mastered the concept will have an opportunity to work on an extension activity based on a question they came up with during the elaboration phase. These students can either work together or independently to research their question and record their findings in their science notebook.


The 5E Instructional Model is an effective way to enhance students' understanding of scientific concepts while developing scientific process skills.  Students take ownership of their learning and have the opportunity to explore with hands-on activities that allow the students to discover and explain concepts in their own words. Please note that the sequence does not have to be linear.  If students do not understand the concepts, you may let them go back and explore!

If you are interested to try an inquiry lab in your classroom, check out my Exploring Light Lab in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
 Exploring Light Lab

Thanks for taking the time to read about how I use inquiry in my classroom!
Live, laugh, love to learn!
Debbie

Meet the Teacher Day!

My summer just flew by and I get to meet my new students in about a week.  In our district, we have "Meet the Teacher" Day on the Friday before school starts.  It's an exciting day for both teachers and families!  Families can come into the classroom to meet their child's new teacher in the afternoon. It's an informal meeting and my new students and their parents will drop in at any point during that hour. Usually, previous students like to drop by and say hello too!  New students, new parents, previous parents, previous students adds up to a lot of potential visitors and a hectic but very fun afternoon!

I like to use Meet the Teacher Stations to make sure that I don't have a crowd of people in one spot.  I have created 5x7 station signs and placed them in acrylic 5x7 frames (I've found that Walmart has the best deal on these here).  I spread the stations out around the classroom  to get families to circulate and visit all areas of the room. 
I include stations for:
  • Welcome/Sign-In - Title I sign-in form
  • Contact Information
  • Transportation form
  • Volunteer
  • Wish List
  • Information (I leave a page about me and my classroom expectations)
  • Peek at learning (I have texts and previous interactive notebooks available for browsing)
  • Favorite subject
  • School supply drop-off
  • Say hello to your teacher 
I also like to have a large vase of flowers on my desk,.  This year I think that sunflowers in a mason jar would look perfect with my Chalk & Burlap theme!

You can find my Meet the Teacher Stations - Chalk & Burlap here.  I have several other styles available as well and all of my newest resources are editable so that you can add your own stations!