Archive for the ‘Rules’ Category

Punishment is the Solution

This second last day of school looks like this, a few people working but most of them talking.  So, I suggested that they can choose to work or do anything as long as we all can work quietly.  Not five seconds later their was a cacophony of loud voices.  I called a meeting.  GROANNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!

I wrote on the board, It’s too noisy.  Immediately a hand was raised, ” I make a motion….”  I did a very undemocratic thing and cut that student off.  I said we learned  the last time that we made too many motions and came up with too many rules that we had a difficult time following, hence all the resets.

So, we discussed.  Immediately the students brought up punishments as a solution.  Once again, I intervened and said, ‘No,  no punishments!”   One student quipped,  we won’t do the right thing unless there is a serious enough consequence.  I said I disagree.    I think we can practice speaking in a quiet tone until it becomes a habit.  So, we decided to give that a try.  We defined “quiet” as a Dr. Whitehouse voice, who speaks in a very quiet tone all the time.   I need to work on this too.  My booming so-called teacher voice is distracting as well.

After two and half hours I had to remind students to use a quiet tone about six times.  Is that OK?  The thing is students don’t care about the noise level unless they want to work on something.  It’s not that they are being mean or yelling to bug me, they just don’t notice when they get so loud that they can be  heard  down the hall.  Am I   biased in my thinking because their loudness is not about educational things but about games or gossip?  If they were loud and enthusiastic about some science or social studies topic would I be as a stickler for quiet?

I have so much to learn about being a good unschool teacher.  I have may years of schooling to get out of my system.

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Back to Square One !

Ever have one of those days?  Yesterday, we did.  The day did not begin well as the school was preparing for a site visit.    Cathy the fearless leader of our community would be busy with the visit so she would not be able to lead the meetings.  We discussed the night before how we would manage.  I could have taken over and things would probably turn out OK.  But no!  That would have been too easy.  So, we thought, why don’t we let the students run the meeting.  And to make it even more interesting, I thought instead of telling them Cathy won’t be there, I would  just sit and wait  to see what happens.

After the two classes merged for the morning meeting, they were waiting quietly for it to start.  Cathy’s chair was empty.  No one said anything.  We waited and waited and waited.  Finally,  someone raised their hand and asked,  “What are we doing?”    I replied,  “We are waiting for someone to lead the meeting.”   She said, “I’ll do it.”  That was the beginning of the fall of the republic.

The meeting resorted into a cacophony of screams, shouts,  disrespectful language, and even a quasi-coup as someone else took over leadership!  Wow!   I stood in the middle of  the mayhem and madness and thought I was in the midst of a revolution.  To further exascerbate the situation I kept being buzzed on my walkie-talkie and kids kept coming and going as part of the site visit.  YIKES!!!  Somebody save me, get me off this sinking ship.

However, what I did not do, was ursurp control.  I did not resort to my former dictator self and quiet everyone down.  That would have been easy.  I was a very good dictator in my time.   Instead, I did what everyone should have done the moment the meeting lost control.   I began to write problems on the board.  Problem after problem after problem.  By the time I was finished writing, there were five problems on the board.  All of a sudden, a hush fell across the room.  Then quiet murmurings of,   “this is bogus”,  “she’s trippin'”,  “why’d she write all those problems?”

The leader of the meeting just found a new surge of strength; he rang the bell and said, “We have a problem.”  For the next hour and half we discussed the problems that needed to be solved.  (I think you can guess what some of them were).   During the beginning of the meeting one of the students suggested we go back to our regular classrooms, keep our democracy but separate the classes.  Oh, I have to shamefully admit, I wanted to jump up at that suggestion and say yes, yes, yes!  I didn’t though and towed the party line.    By the time we had to do our site visit duties, we solved all but one of the problems, which the other class said they would handle.

Whew!  Exhausting!  Frustrating!  One step forward and two steps back!

When I told Cathy about it, she said that it tells her that we do need the students to take over.  I wholeheartedly agreed.  We have been wanting to have students take over for awhile; and, the site visit obligations of Cathy were a perfect segue. The situation today reminded of what the instructor says during my gym  workouts when we do a particular exercise – if it hurts, that means we should do it again soon!

Update: Another student  led the meeting today, and it all worked out pretty well.  Baby steps!

Problem Solved!

When we solve problems,  students  immediately think of the solution in punitive terms.  “Suspend for a day!”  “Give a reset!”  Problem solved!

Learning the hard way,  students are beginning to realize that these punitive measures don’t actually solve the problems.  Giving a student a reset does not magically cause the papers on the floor to be picked up.  Giving a student a reset cannot take back a hurtful comment.  Giving a student a reset does not prevent the “we’re just playin’ ”  jostling that is taken too far.

Case in point – we had a rule (with a reset consequence) that the classroom should not be left in a messy state after each learning block.  However, the classroom was still left messy.  Game pieces were out of the box, legos were strewn on the floor, papers littered  the floor, chairs were  all over the classroom.  Even though we had a “rule” that covers messiness ,  there were too many students to give resets to and when asked who made the mess, we heard a chorus of,  “Wasn’t me! ”

I wrote  a problem that the room was left messy and no one cleaned it up, and then  described the mess.  Reflecting  with Cathy later that evening, we spoke about the importance of encouraging the students to solve the problem rather than “punish” the problem.  We emphasized that it would be important to mention that a rule was already established so we don’t need another rule to solve it.  Then, Cathy made a brilliant suggestion:  phrase the problem to encourage the students to create a solution rather than a punishment.  So, I rephrased my original problem to, how can we encourage members of our community to clean up after themselves,  and in the morning we would wait and see what happened.

The next morning, admid loud groans (students are not loving this community meeting of solving problmes) we proceeded with our meeting.

At first,  students suggested the exact same rule we already had, even though Cathy read them the rule that already existed!   Then they blamed the teachers because “we” were not giving enough resets.  We told them it was impossible because people were leaving the area.  Then they decided that teachers should just check everyone’s folders.   We reflected that right back at them – do you really want to take that much time to check everyone’s folders?   It took much discussion and “guiding”  to come up with  a solution that might  solve the messy classroom situation.

Students decided that they will line up in each room and wait until the classroom is clean. No one can start the next learning block until all the areas are clean.  No resets, no punitive consequences.  We just wait until the rooms are cleaned before the next learning block can occur.  Problem (hopefully) solved.  I must say I voted against the motion because being in charge of the game room with about a billion little pieces, I have seen what “putting away” materials looks like.  So I am a little nervous that the shoving away materials will still occur.  I will save that for a another day.

I feel that we made baby steps in rethinking how a community can work together in positive way for the enjoyment of everyone rather than for the punishment of everyone.  Democracy is doing good for the society just because it is the right thing to do.  That’s the difference between democracy and coercion.

The next big step on the horizon, letting students run the community meeting.  I can’t wait!

Shades of gray

Yesterday there was about 45 minutes left in the day.  I only had about ten students in both rooms because the 21 others were either in computer or gym.  I was working on my laptop creating Benchmark Assessments for the Applying Stage.  I had four students with me in the academic room and six students were playing Apples-to-Apples in the game room.  In the academic room, two of the students were on the computer, one was working on math and the other student was reading his book on the couch in the corner,  rather sulkily.

He was fairly upset because he wanted to change his academic choice (SSR) to a non-academic choice (Apples-to-Apples).  The nine other students vetoed his choice because they were worried about changing a rule that was created on the previous day (a student cannot change a learning block from academic to non-academic only from non-academic to academic) and perhaps generating the wrath of the 24 other members of the community.  We created our rules to solve problems;  the students  didn’t want to change anything that might create future problems, and hence, more class meetings.

Well,  this student was very angry by the outcome and proceeded to his reading corner, which happens to be located on the  opposite side of the wall where the other students were playing the game.   Just about  five minutes into the block there was a loud yelp and some laughter.    I decided to ignore it because it stopped fairly quickly.   About 15 seconds later the student who was reading got up and walked out of the classroom.  I wondered where he was going?  To the bathroom?  That’s allowed.  To play?  That’s not allowed.  I got up to check.  No, he did not sign out to go the bathroom; he was in the back of the game room talking to the Apples-to-Apples group.   Uh oh.  That’s a reset.  He is not where he is supposed to be.  After about three minutes he returned to the couch and picked up his book and just looked at me. As of yet he didn’t even know I gave him a reset.    I went over to him and asked him what he was doing in the other room.  He said he went to give the student who yelled a reset.  I said OK.  Well, I told him I  gave him  a reset for leaving his learning choice area, but  I could take it off because he is allowed to do that.  Then he said,” I didn’t give it to him.”   Why, I asked. “Because he had 9 resets.”  (After 10 resets the rule is that the student is sent home for the rest of the day). I told him according to the rules I couldn’t take his reset off unless he gave the other student one.   He just shrugged his shoulders, picked up his book and started reading .”

This young student, who, only moments before was denied a chance to join the game, chose not to seek vengeance;  rather,  took a reset for himself because he did not want that student to be sent home.  Wow, what character!

Another day…another “problem.”

By the time the fifth learning block rolled around today at about 11:30 pm, Cathy (Dr. Whitehouse) and  I looked at each other in delightful shock.  We just completed two solid hours of learning blocks, without a “problem” that required a class meeting.

To clarify, our set of guidelines or rules that we created in the past few days stipulate that if someone has an issue or a “problem” then the protocol is that they write it on the board and convene a class meeting with all the students.  The meeting is  held immediately so that the problem can be resolved.  The first few days were filled with problems, thereby the plethora of rules to help us adhere to the simple principle of making choices that do not interfere with the rights of others.  These meetings are usually greeted with loud groans…”not another problem!”  The lack of enthusiasm for these meetings also leads to quick-fix  motions being raised and voted upon without adequate discussions.  These motions often do not solve the problems and before you know it…we are back at solving the same problem!

So, when the the fourth learning block bell sounded indicating the block was over,  we were so excited.  This was working!  This was working!  Some kids were choosing academics.  They were working quietly and productively in the academic room. Other students were earnestly playing games. I was working with a small group doing Numbers and Operations in math.  Life was good. For learning block five,  I and about eight students  just settled in on our comfy couches to do a read aloud book when the other class returned form lunch in a loud and noisy manner complete with arguing and banging.  Uh Oh!  I thought in my head, this will be a problem.  I looked around at my group of students and they all rolled their eyes….they knew what was coming  …a problem! Sure enough, we had to stop the block and go into the room and have a class meeting.

During this meeting, my  class’ lunch period would probably occur. So, before the meeting began  I promised that I would take the students who wanted to go, to lunch, but that we would be giving up our right to vote on an issue that may affect us.   Right at the same time we were to go to lunch, the vote came up.  I lined up my students.  Only two out of 15 elected to stay and vote.    I popped into the room and voted.  The motion was that if the whole class comes down noisily and we cannot discern who the noise makers were then the whole class gets a reset.  I thought that was fair.  Unfortunately, the motion was voted down because my class (who during the discussion supported the motion) was not there to vote and the noise makers class was!  It was interesting how my students were so willing to give up their right to decide a rule that would affect them!  They think,  you decide for me,  whatever.  I think that leads to the problem with school as we have it.  The powers that be are making the decisions. They are deciding what is best for the students.   Students are comfortable with that.  Someone else makes the rules and  then they decide whether they will abide with the rules.  It’s different now.   It is the students’  rules and their consequences that they have to adhere to.

This one problem generated a plethora of other problems.  There was almost a mutiny of sorts.   First, there was the issue of not allowing teachers  (first they said teachers who are older than 33 …darn just 9 years too old, then they changed it to older than 18) to present problems, thereby denying us the ability to be active participants in our democratic community.  Most of the students loved this idea.  If the teachers did not write problems then there would be nothing to discuss because the teachers were  the ones writing most of the problems.  What was fascinating was that many students still did not grasp the concept that the teachers were not creating the problems.  It was the students’ actions creating the problems.   Yesterday, one student pointed that fact out.  Today, two more meek  but courageous voices also spoke to that fact.  One suggested that the teachers keep us in check,  and without them there would be anarchy because we would just do whatever we want.  How wise of her to figure out that we do need a system of law and order.  Isn’t that true of our adult society as well and also the structure of our  government, which was designed to have checks and balances.   This problem was also  interesting because we likened it to disenfranchising a minority.  Dr. Whitehouse pointed out that this was like denying African-Americans and women the right to vote.  Dr.  Davis (another teacher) concurred and said minorities have been discriminated against throughout American history and that we as a society have grown to overcome that and accept people as equal.  I questioned that if I am not an active member of this community, why should I participate at all.  Why should I be an active member if my rights are not protected.  How fascinating that the students did not care that others were excluded as long as it was not them.  (After much discussion, the motion was voted against.  Whew! )

There was also a problem to stop this school and go back to the way things were.  The students who were having the most problems with this democratic approach to learning were the same students who did not choose to learn the traditional way!  Their arguments almost made me laugh because they said all we do is play games and we don’t get homework.  It was reflected back to them, is anyone forcing you to play games – no.  Is anyone stopping you from getting homework – no.  Is anyone stopping you from choosing all academics in learning blocks – no. Is anyone preventing you from planning your day or week anyway you would like – no.  Did you consult with a teacher to help you plan your day/week – no.  So, what’s the problem?

I think the problem is that these students who thrived on receiving negative attention for refusing to do work, acting out in class, disrupting lessons have lost that power.  They are not choosing academics.  Fine.  No problem.  There is a room where you can play or chat or sleep or one of our “favorite” choices, eat chips and drink pop. How can you be rebellious if there is nothing to rebel against?  Their power to “run” the room with their antics is gone.  Students who want to concentrate on academics can truly concentrate with a teacher who does not have to worry about looking over his or her shoulder about what so and so is doing.  Homework, was done consistently in the past about 30% of the time throughout the year.  Now, if you do homework at home, I will check that you did it at home, you will check the answers, if you have questions I am here to help you.  No more punishments.  You did it.  You get a check for doing it at home.  If you don’t understand something come to me and I will help you.

The responsibility for the learning belongs to the student.  It is his or hers to own.  It’s not the teachers’ job to make the student  do anything.  We are here to help them,  facilitate their learning but not force them. That is the fundamental difference and that  is a scary prospect for some kids.

Rules, rules and more rules!

In three days we have created many rules in addition to the four school- wide rules that already existed, which were simply:

  1. Be respectful of people and property.
  2. Be where you are supposed to be.
  3. Raise your hand and wait to be called on.
  4. Keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourself.

Common sense tells us that those four rules should cover just about anything.   Unfortunately, they do not and as a result  we are busy creating a plethora of minute rules to cover various situations.  We  currently have 28.

Problems.   We have problems.  Many, many problems.  We choose not to adhere to the fundamental principle that we can choose anything as long as it does not disturb the learning and quiet enjoyment of others.  We, through our choices, do disturb others.  As a result, a problem occurs, which we then have to solve as a group,  much to their chagrin.

We need rules to just show us where to sit because students chose to sit in places where they could not see or hear what was going on.  We need rules to tell us that we should not get up and wander around while we were having a meeting.  We need a rule to state that one person talks at a time, even though that was already a  school rule!

Students abhor the class meeting time.  They would rather have a flip – flop dynamic of anarchy and  be controlled,  anarchy and be controlled. They enjoy rebelling against the teacher-created rules.  However, now, they are rebelling against  their own choices and the rules they create.   How uncomfortable! They are reluctant to to be responsible for their choices and actions.  This state of disequilibrium  is exactly where we want them to be.  They can have the freedom to make choices.  They  will be responsible for their choices.  We are hoping that taking ownership of their actions  will eventually make them learn to make wiser more reasoned choices.

Interestingly, some people think that these students are too young to be held accountable or responsible for their choices.  I beg to differ on that note.  If a child is old enough to make a choice then they can be taught also to be responsible for their choice and accept the consequence, no matter what the age.  At what age do we hold them accountable?  I say begin as soon as they make choices.  Of course it looks different at every age.

Many middle school children do amazing things.  They raise money for charity, volunteer in the community, advocate for others. They posses incredible athletic, academic and social skills.  These adolescences who are capable of great things are able to stand up for all the choices they make. I believe if we set the bar high they will rise to soar over it.