Sunday, July 10, 2016

Classroom Management Book Club #1: Setting Limits in the Classroom, 3rd Edition: A Complete Guide to Effective Classroom Management with a School-wide Discipline Plan

One of the things I'm doing this summer is trying to read up a bunch on classroom management so I don't suck at it so hard. Last summer, I read Teaching with Love and Logic, which I got a lot out of but I didn't really apply consistently enough. This summer, I have a much longer list. I just finished the first one I was reading, and I need to pick up the pace if I'm going to get through the others. Anyway, some thoughts on my first book. If you like this and want to be part of the book club yourself, join our Facebook group here. I very much recommend it because I'm not actually a super critical reader in this subject so you should really listen to other people's opinions too.

TitleSetting Limits in the Classroom, 3rd Edition: A Complete Guide to Effective Classroom Management with a School-wide Discipline Plan
Author(s):  Robert J. Mackenzie, Lisa Stanzione
Official Website
Amazon Smile link (supporting Red Cross)

My answers to discussion questions.
1. In five words or fewer, what is this book's number one most important classroom management strategy?

Setting limits satisfies students' needs.

2. What was an Aha! moment for you reading this book? More than one is okay. :)

One of the biggest messages is that kids are looking to find the "stopping point," the place where the consequences outweigh the rewards. Kind of an "aha!" for me as a big fan of words is that just words- whatever words they are- don't constitute a stopping point. Lectures, warnings, etc. are "yellow lights," not red ones.

3. What is one technique from this book you feel you could use RIGHT NOW if thrown into a classroom?

Quit wasting time with warnings & needless talk: go straight to the choice: would you like A (continue behavior and receive specific consequence) or B (stop behavior and not receive that consequence)? I need to figure out exactly what those consequences are going to be so I guess I can't do that immediately, but hopefully by September I'll be all set.

4. What are some problems you can see arising from using these methods?

I think someone punitive could read this book and come out of it still really nasty and punitive, even though they emphasize that it's not meant like that. There's some stuff about avoiding kids' attitudes and managing your own, but I think managing one's own adult, neutral attitude is a really big part of making it work. The specific methods in the book I have the biggest problem with involve writing names on boards. I've done that and I don't think it helps. Following through on it helps, of course, but it's better to skip the humiliation.

The biggest NOPE NOPE NOPE moment I had reading this came relatively early with this quote: "Some [students] are suspected of having emotional or learning problems, and a few do, but the vast majority are not suffering from any problem at all. They are simply exercising their willpower in the hope they can wear adults down and do what they want."

Okay, maybe, but not a good attitude to go in with. And even if their problem isn't a capital P problem, being a kid is basically 18 years of brain development, hormones, and unequal treatment that definitely FEELS like problems. So let's have some empathy.

5. If you have already read this or used similar techniques, how have the results been?

When I have done the limited choices thing, it's worked really well. So I should do more of that.

Chapter by chapter reactions below the cut.

Initial reactions after Intro & Ch. 1-2 (June 19):
Thoughts so far:  It is definitely aimed at Elementary teachers/admins, and the introduction is veeeeeeryyyy sales-pitchy (but short). Its title is apt. It is, indeed, about setting limits. It's also about building positive relationships, etc. etc. I don't think I've actually read anything new in it yet, but I have read useful explanations of things that are true and that I need to work on doing more of. For example it has the concept of theoretical rules and actual rules. If your theoretical, stated rule is "If I see a phone it's a detention," but when someone has their phone out, you just give them a warning and don't do anything, you're telling your kids the "actual rule" is "yes phones." I'm super guilty of that. Anyway, it's an easy read so far and interesting enough.

Chapters 1-4 (June 21):
Chapter 1 was on procedures & setting limits, which I really liked because I definitely definitely need to work on implementing them properly in my class. We lack structure and there's a lot of downtime because of that. The procedures are obviously designed for young kids but I can see how - if done in a non-condescending manner- my high schoolers could really use that kind of practice.

Chapter 2 was on building positive relationships by giving "encouraging" messages. This was not exactly news, but it was a good explanation of ways to do it & an important reminder for me.

Chapter 3 is awesome! Full of great ways of presenting information to students in an engaging way. I expected that chapter to be all obvious: "you should engage students." which it was, but then there were some great practical descriptions of activities that do that. I could definitely see using them to deal with cultural topics (something I really struggle with) or as ways to work with a novel or text in class.

Chapter 4 was okay. It was about PAT, preferred activity time. I don't think I have the organizational or emotional skills to keep track of the time or do it fairly and non-punitively, so I'm going to skip it. But I can see how it might be used effectively by someone who has their act together.

Chapters 5-6 (June 24):
These chapters were about how students learn limits and how teachers teach limits, respectively. One concept that the authors emphasize are the three different kinds of students, which... well, I have no idea if these are research-backed, but it's certainly accurate to my experience. According to these folks, 55% of your kids are probably "compliant." They want to follow the rules and telling them the rules is usually enough. Perhaps 10% of your kids are "aggressive researchers" or "strong-willed." These are the ones that test limits and try to figure out how far they can keep their power and do what they want. The last 35% are the "fence sitters," i.e. the ones who could go either way but tend to watch the strong-willed ones for cues and follow those limits. We've ALL seen these. Again, not super happy about the lack of research citation for where these numbers come from, but it's a model anyway.

I found these two chapters very useful because they talked about how different students- in a lot of example situations- react to different kinds of limit setting by adults. It very much jived with my experience. The only problem is that it is aimed at younger kids and while taking a toy away from a 6 year old works, I'm not allowed to confiscate students' phones.

Chapter 6 was the mortifying one. How Teachers Teach Limits. It breaks down the differences between Permissive, Punitive, Mixed, & what the authors call Democratic discipline practices. Reading the "mixed" list was like reading a description of my own classroom. "How do kids respond to the mixed approach? The mixed approach brings out the worst in both children and adults." Yes, yes it does.

If you read nothing else from this book I do suggest reading this chapter. I really needed it, and if you're in this group because you want help with classroom management, you probably do too.

I guess it'd be nice to sum up what the Democratic practice looks like. It looks like this: the teacher has a plan for how interactions will go and sticks to it- no arguing or being sidetracked. The students are treated firmly but respectfully- no shaming or begging. The students make the choice between the 'easy way' or the 'hard way.' e.g. if the 'easy way' is "don't do this thing that's against the rules" and the hard way is "sit on the bench for all of recess," the kid has to choose which of those they'd like to go with. Both are okay with the teacher. This part reminds me of the Love & Logic approach in a big way.

Chapters 7-17 (July 7): (caveat: read these over the intervening time & just posted everything at once so not all responses were fresh)
Okay I've read a bunch since then, chiefly on a plane which wasn't great for retention, but oh well.

Ch. 7: examples of what ineffective discipline looks like and what's wrong with it. This was useful to me because again I recognized myself a lot and it was a very helpful aid to reflection & critical examination of my own practices. Will re-read closer to the school year, I think.

Ch. 8: about soft limits, i.e. teacher "actions" that don't actually signal "stop" to the students. Again, very much a reflection chapter. Might be useful for me to make a short list of the things in it that don't work: Wishing, Hoping, Should, Shh!, Okay?, Begging, Lecturing, etc.

Ch. 9 accordingly is about firm limits: "clear signals students understand". This is a short, to the point chapter, and I think its subject headings would also be a good list for me to keep nearby: keep the focus of your message on behavior (not attitude), be direct & specific, use your normal voice, use nonthreatening body language, specify the logical consequence for noncompliance. Now most of those are common sense, but in reality I definitely don't stick to those guidelines. The last one is in direct opposition to the L&L principle we've been talking about of "I'll have to do something about that. Later." so that bears thinking about.

Ch. 10: "ending power struggles before they begin" mostly fairly common sense, but again, things I don't do consistently. Has a large portion focused on "limited choices" which is similar to the L&L principle of the teacher giving two choices, either of which is okay with them.

Ch. 11: "logical consequences" I've been promised an appendix on specifics for this, but the basic idea is consequences should follow logically on the student's behavior. This is again, obvious, but not something I practice. Connect the consequences as directly as possible to the undesirable behavior. Misbehaving with a toy? Toy goes byebye. (Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to confiscate phones.)

Ch. 12: "Recess Academy: Strategic Training for Mastering Skills" apart from the whole recess thing, potentially useful in terms of how to do additional reinforcement of procedures and desired behaviors. Pretty solid, except they suggest you write the names of the kids who have RA on the board, and then also say "don't shame and humiliate kids" well..............................

Ch. 13: "Two stage time out" This is similar to the L&L style of time out, except that these authors do NOT advocate for putting the length of time in the hands of the student. They instead suggest a standard length of time for a stage 1 time out and double that for a stage 2. 5m/10m for younger than 4th grade (and even shorter for really little kids), and 10/20m for 5-6. Stage 1 is in the room and Stage 2 is more removed ideally in a cooperating teacher's room. I could swing this if my school allowed teachers to send students directly to In School Suspension (for stage 2) but they don't, and I understand why. I don't think I have a cooperating teacher who could help me with this really. More because of how all the kids in the school know each other than because none of the teachers are appropriate.

Ch. 14: Using parents for backup support. Very logically set out, thoughtful way of using parents and determining whether parents will help or hinder the process. Mostly, know what kind of parent you're dealing with before you try to get them to help, and be diplomatic as you work it out.

Ch. 15: using the office for backup support, basically as a last resort or for extreme offenses, and why not to use it for smaller offenses. Good points all around. Adorable reference to carbon copy sheets so referrals are done in triplicate.

Ch 16: Managing crises and extreme behavior. This was useful to me because it sets out some principles to keep in mind when dealing with potentially dangerous situations, like angry or violent students. I really needed this.

Ch 17: Supporting students with ADD/ADHD. Haven't finished (ha ha) but the first half is good stuff about actually being empathetic towards these kids and really understanding how their lives feel before you flip out on them.

July 8: The last few chapters were about dealing with special needs students and setting up a discipline plan on a schoolwide basis. There's also an appendix with specific actions, choices, and logical consequences, and another appendix or two with information about a specific elementary school that implemented this plan school-wide. There are also a ton of discussion questions for each chapter.

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