Groups- Help Please!

I have made some major changes in the way that I teach this year.  I had previously been a students-in-rows, me-doing-notes-on-the-board, students-copying-them-down, then-you-practice-on-your-own type of girl.  It worked for me.  I don’t think I was a horrible teacher doing this.  We did group work once or twice a week, and it always felt a little chaotic, and I’m not a fan of chaos.  Last year, I was ready for a change.  In my 6th year of teaching, I had planning down, management down, assessment down… things were in no way perfect, I was always looking to improve and tweek and make things the best they could be.  I learned about foldables and started spicing up my notes.  I slowly moved to a notebook system.  It was a great change and I knew I was on the right track.  Then came the summer that I think will shape the entire rest of my teaching career.  I found the math twitterblogosphere and joined the new blogger initative.  I will never go back.  I have learned and grown professionally more in the past few months than the entire 6 years before that.  I do think I needed the first 6 years though in order to be ready to accept and embrace all of this.

So to get to the point, I think this year is going so well because I am doing the best teaching that I have ever done.  I have moved the kids to groups.  I was terrified, but there are so many great things about this.  I now incorporate collaboration and working together into everything that I do.  I encourage talking and interacting with the material.  I am obsessed with sorting activities where the kids have to move the pieces around and figure out how things fit together and actually WORK instead of mindlessly copying things down and spitting them back out. But I have a problem and I am hoping the people out there in the blog world can help me with it.

How can I get the kids to stay on task and work at a reasonable pace??

Everything is taking FOREVER to do.  The cutting of pieces, the gluing in, the off-task talking and then every so often putting a piece down.

Week 1: I gave the kids the expectations for group work, talked about why I want them in groups, talked about the alternative, everyone agreed that groups are awesome.  Then group activity #1- they get started immediately, I am walking around, listening to the amazing things they are saying.  When the activity is over, I give them a whole class point (blogged about here) on our hundreds chart.  I point out the awesome things, we are feeling great!

Week 2: Continue to feel great, point out those great things, continue to give points to the whole group, and now start table points as well as giving out red tickets to individuals doing awesome.  (These tickets are turned in to a bucket and I draw names for prizes at the end of the week.) 

Week 3:  WHAT HAPPENED?????  Kids came in Monday and they are different kids.  This is my 7th year, I understand that this is normal for the honeymoon to be over and the behavior to change.  I get that.  So I continue to remind them about how great groups are, why we love them, what the alternative is, continue to give team points.  Except now I have one or two teams that have ridiculous amounts of points and the rest of the teams are still there ho-humming along.  The problem is that they aren’t doing anything that is necessarily wrong or anything I could give a consequence for.  When I say, “I need you to stay on task”, the response is always, “But I’m working, see!”  And they are… mostly.  They just aren’t seeing the importance of getting things done at a faster pace with a little more focus.  So I tell them they have to get it done at home then.  Some do, some don’t.  So I say, but if you finish early, then you can start on your homework, (and this is what I really want to happen, because I WANT them to talk about their homework and practice together), this motivates some, but doesn’t really make a huge impact.

If you have managed to stick with my problem so far, I thank you!

So anyone out there with awesome ideas for motivation?  I have thought about a prize for the first group who has all correct answers, but understand that some kids work slower but they are really on task and working hard and I don’t want to punish them.  I have thought about putting 3 mini post its on each desk, and I would take away an individual’s post it each time they are off task, then giving a reward to those students who can keep all 3, but I can’t perfect this idea the right way.  I was thinking about offering a string of my red ticket rewards to the whole group and however many they have left at the end of the hour, they can keep… but again, I can’t seem to make this into a realistic workable idea.  So what do YOU do to keep things moving and focused and can you please share it with me tonight so I can start it tomorrow morning, please?


#msSunFun- Classroom Management


I have always felt like classroom management has always been one of my strengths.  Kids who misbehave in other rooms usually don’t have the same problems in my class.  This is DEFINITELY not all kids and DEFINITELY not all of the time.  I am in no way perfect at management and have to work a lot at it.  I think one of my strengths is in understanding middle school kids.  I haven’t always understood them and have had to learn how to relate to them over the last several years, but I feel that my teaching style that I have developed works pretty well with these crazy middle schoolers.  Some things that work well for me:

1.  Listen.  Remember.  Repeat.  When a kid tells you something, listen to them.  They could have told this story to any other adult or kid around you, but they chose YOU.  You might not find it interesting, but THEY do.  A student who knows you care about their personal stuff with care a lot more about you teaching them math.  But you aren’t done yet.  Remember what they told you, ask them about it later, bring it up again. 

2. Create inside jokes with different classes.  (This works especially well if it is a joke about yourself doing something silly.)  Kids like funny things.  It is ok to take a break once in a while and laugh, especially if it is a joke at your expense.  You don’t have to be all business all the time to earn respect.

3. Make your rules known right from the beginning, follow through when you say you will do something, BUT also RELAX!  I don’t know how to state this eloquently.  It is so important to have rules.  Not hidden rules, but clear expectations that you have from the very beginning that do not change based on the day and do not change based on the student and do not change based on if you are having a bad day or not.  Kids do not like when things are unpredictable.  Now for the big BUT… on rare occasions, and you will know when this is appropriate, just chill out on the rules.  Example: kid clearly having a bad day, just came from another teacher yelling at him in the hall, walks in without any materials.  Maybe just today, instead of yelling more at him, instead of giving him a consequence… try leaving him alone for a few minutes, then lend him one of your extra books, a pencil, and a piece of paper.  Without conditions or reminders.  Don’t hand him the paper and say, “just this once, don’t forget to bring your stuff tomorrow.”  Of course, if this is a daily thing, this idea doesn’t work.  We are talking a once time deal here.  But this kid clearly doesn’t need more yelling. 

4. Be fair.  It is worth stating again.  Be fair.  All kids, all situations, even on your bad days.  Kids recognize that you have a favorite that isn’t them really fast.  And it hurts.

5. I read about this a long time ago and I really try to stick with it.  Have the kids come up with their own consequence/compromise/solution whatever it is.  If you can live with it, tell them that, if you can accept part of what they are saying, tell them and have them come up with the rest.  For example: Student doesn’t have his math book today.  Let him choose what the solution is.  He might say, “just don’t do the homework.” My response, “Sorry, I can’t live with that, come up with something else.”  Then he might say, “I will share a book with ______” If you can live with that, tell them.  Or maybe change it to, “You can share, but not with _____ because he is across the room, how about _____ instead.”  (Note that that sentence does not end in a question mark).  Or he might say, “Can I borrow and extra book from you?”  or “Can I go to my locker for a planner signature?”  I am very against learned helplessness.  I feel that too many parents and teachers have solved everything for their kids for too long and now the don’t know what to do without you holding their hands.  It is sad.  Help them to take ownership of the solution and they will feel valued and comfortable with that solution instead of needing to rebel.

6. Laugh at yourself.  It is very tricky to find the balance between I-am-a-professional-and-your-teacher-and-must-be-respected and I-am-a-human.  But you are human.  And so are they. 

7. An extension from the last one… be professional.  Be the adult.  Kids don’t have the same respect for an adult who loves to act like a kid as they do for an adult.

8. Be calm.  Don’t yell.  If you yell all of the time they will learn to tune it out.  Raise your voice and change your tone slightly when it is needed in a serious situation.  When the class gets out of control loud, you being louder just adds to it.  Talk quieter in those situation.  Or sometimes I just stop talking and act out or point to everything I want.  They will stop talking and try to figure out why you are acting so crazy.

Tons of rambling there… hope it made sense to at least one person.  What other classroom management strategies have worked for you?  Join our #msSunFun this week!