Friday, August 11, 2017

All Fawn Nguyen Has on Classroom Management

Table of Contents

1. Pappas Page of the Day
2. Fawn Nguyen on Classroom Management
3. Observe your colleague.
4. Know what you absolutely value above all things.
5. Separate the behavior from the child.

Pappas Page of the Day

This is what Theoni Pappas writes on page 223 of her Magic of Mathematics -- a table of contents for Chapter 9 of her book:

Mathematics & the Mysteries of Life
-- Mathematizing the Human Body
-- Mathematical Models & Chemistry
-- Mathematics & Genetic Engineering
-- Body Music
-- Secrets of the Renaissance Man
-- Knots in the Mysteries of Life

Fawn Nguyen on Classroom Management

OK, I wrote that yesterday would be my last summer post. But I couldn't resist blogging today because of a post I saw on Fawn Nguyen's blog:

As you can tell by the title, this post is all about classroom management. My post from yesterday was also all about management -- but given my situation, I can't have too many management posts. So let's see what Nguyen has to say on this important topic:

Not enough people write about classroom management in a practical and realistic way. But this does! Helpful tips.
— Michael Pershan (@mpershan) August 9, 2017
Classroom management is hard, and what’s “practical and realistic” for one person could be entirely impractical and unrealistic for someone else to follow. Take a math lesson taught successfully at a parochial school in a class of 12 students wearing uniforms and bring it into an inner-city public school in a class of 37 students wearing skins in shades of brown, black, and yellow, and you might find that you need to tweak the lesson a bit.
You and I are two different people. You and I are two different teachers. What irks me may not even faze you. You and I can tolerate different ranges of decibels emitting from classroom activities. You like foldables, and I like baguettes.
Your students are different than mine.
Yes, of course classroom management is hard -- otherwise I would have been a great manager last year and had no problems in the class. I find it interesting that Nguyen compares a class of 12 students at a private school to a class of 37 students at an inner-city public school. I was working at an inner-city charter school, and my eighth grade class had only 12 (well, actually 13) students. On the other hand, the Grade 6-7 classes were about halfway between her lower and upper limits. (As for the racial demographics of the class, see my January 6th post.)

Meanwhile, I can tolerate a few "decibels emitting from classroom activities." The problem with letting one student talk is that every concludes that it's OK to talk -- and then suddenly it's more than just a few decibels.

Nguyen continues:

Therefore, any advice on classroom management is making huge assumptions about who you are, what your students are like, and what your admins had for breakfast. I don’t blame you if after reading a how-to book on classroom management, and you feel stuck at step 4 below.

At this point Nguyen provides a picture of "How to Draw a Horse." The fourth step that she mentions above is, "Draw the hair" -- that is, add small details. (If you want to see the picture, follow the link above directly to her blog.)

No book is gonna help you master this thing. I’m sorry. You don’t become a chef by reading cookbooks. You just gotta go into the kitchen, roll up your sleeves, make a big mess, and voila boeuf bourguignon! Or not.
But before you accuse me of writing a post that is completely useless and unhelpful, please allow me to offer just these three tidbits.
OK then, let's look at these three tidbits. Just as we did with Lee Canter yesterday, I'll comment on how I could have applied Nguyen's "tidbits" to my old classroom.

Observe your colleague.

Intentionally schedule a time when you may come in to observe a colleague whom you hold in high regard and whom you may ask a thousand follow-up questions. It’s equally important that this colleague reciprocates the observation and gives you constructive feedback. Most likely you know this colleague better than you know any author of some book, and of course, you two share pretty much the same clientele. For optimal efficiency, and if possible, choose a time when your colleague has the same students who seem to be giving you trouble. Kids act differently for different teachers.

Unfortunately, I couldn't have observed any of my colleagues last year. Because our school lacked a separate science teacher, none of us middle school teachers had a conference period. (See any "Day of the Life" post from this past year to see what our schedule looked like.) There were three teachers to cover three grades, so each one of us had to cover a grade at all times.

If I'd been able to choose any teacher to observe, I probably would have selected the history teacher, as he was the strongest manager. Instead, he often gave both the English teacher and me specific tips, such as seating the four seventh grade troublemakers in four different corners.

As for "kids act differently for different teachers," I observed this firsthand when students behaved better for my support staff member than for me. Then again, I couldn't ask her "a thousand follow-up questions" because her job was to supervise the yard during breaks and lunch. But there's one thing I definitely noticed when she was in the classroom -- she had a strong teacher tone.

Know what you absolutely value above all things.
For me, it’s respect. Not just respect for me the teacher, but respect for all of us in the room.
I remember this from an earlier Nguyen post. Her first rule was "Respect each other," and at first I thought that I valued respect as much as she did.

Nguyen continues:

But because I know this about myself, and being proactive always yields better results than being reactive, I tell my kids of my zero-tolerance for disrespect from the get-go. I say, “I need you to be respectful. That’s the only way we are going to get along in here. Before we can do any mathematics or have any fun in here, we are going to be respectful to each other.” And may God give me the grace to apologize when I am being disrespectful to my students. I find that doughnuts help them forgive me quicker.

What I ended up valuing wasn't respect, but just outright following directions. As I wrote before, the most annoying student acts were chewing gum wrappers and playing with phone cases, in an effort to neuter the no gum and no phone rules. Of course, neutering my rules is also disrespectful. But that didn't help me when the students chewed wrappers and told me that I couldn't punish them, or when they played on the cases and told me that it wasn't against any rule.

But I do agree with Nguyen when she tells us to know what we value. In other words, teachers should have a vision about how they want the class to be run. Her own vision is a classroom in which students and the teachers respect each other. And my vision is a classroom in which I tell a student to do something and the student does it, no questions asked.

If I have a vision for the class and the students go against that vision, they are wrong, not I. And so if I tell them not to chew gum and they chew wrappers instead, they are wrong -- no matter how much they claim that they deserve no punishment. It's only when I go against my vision when I'm wrong -- such as when I give in and fail to punish students who play with phone cases.

Nguyen writes that she needs to be proactive. Lee Canter makes the distinction between proactive and reactive management as well. But it was difficult for me to be proactive in this situation, since I certainly didn't expect students to chew wrappers or play with cases. Instead, I should have had a rule "Follow all adult directions." Then I could correctly tell them that I was directing them to spit out the wrappers and put the cases away.

Another situation where having a vision was necessary was IXL time. My vision for computer time was that the students keep the laptops organized and in numerical order in the charge cart. The class would take the extra time during IXL time to pass out and pass in the laptops so that they're in order.

But first, I was wrong when I violated my own vision. If I really valued keeping the laptops in order, then I should have labeled the slots in the charge cart. After that, if the students complained about taking too long to pass the laptops out or in, then they are wrong.

Oh, and there's one more thing. I like Nguyen's idea of giving the students doughnuts when she disrespects them. But I know that if I'd done the same, the students would claim that I disrespected them everyday just to get the doughnuts.

Separate the behavior from the child.
We know this already.
Maybe I did know this already. But it's not something that I thought about often during the times that I was in the classroom.

Nguyen continues:

What happened? I don’t know exactly, but I do know that we tend to let misbehaviors slide for fear of hurting the kid’s feeling or that it’s not the best time to deal with it. Well, I always try to immediately find the time and will immediately tell a kid that her actions/words are not okay because while the humans are young, their behaviors are especially removed from their true selves. I’m reprimanding the behavior, but I’m keeping the kid. Being a parent for 22 years and a teacher for 26, I conclude that children are highly manipulative. Not because they think it’s a desirable trait, but because they can’t drive and have no income, being manipulative is their survival mode of choice.

Clearly, chewing gum wrappers and playing with phone cases for the sole purpose of neutering my rules count as manipulation. But I've never thought about why students are manipulative -- that it's a form of survival.

If I enter a classroom for the first time -- whether as a full-time teacher or a sub -- I should expect at least one student to talk during the first five times that I tell them to be quiet. And if I call that student out on it, I should expect that student to tell me I'm wrong. It's not because these students are bad, but because they are manipulative, as Nguyen tells us. Instead, I should be finding ways to counter that manipulation -- and that begins with either teacher tone or teacher look.

Students are being manipulative when they are talking when I'm alone in the classroom, but fall silent the instant my support staff member arrives. So I should have countered this manipulation. In this case, once my aide arrives and the class is quiet, I inform the class that this is how quiet I want them to be whether or not the aide is present. Then I send the aide out of the room and tell her to make some copies (even for a contrived reason, such as "I need more copies of the Warm-Up sheet"). Since I know the students to be manipulative, I expect them to start talking the moment she leaves, and so as soon as she opens the door, I'm watching them like a hawk -- and then I call out the first person who speaks. (Oh, but before she leaves, I make sure that they all have pencil and paper -- as they are manipulative, the talker would otherwise claim, "I was only asking to borrow a pencil or paper.")

Nguyen wraps up her post with something interesting:

A few years ago I was sitting in the lodge at CMC-North in Asilomar when someone recognized me from my Ignite talk and came over to chit chat. He was lamenting the frequency in which his students were asking to use the restroom pass. I asked some related questions to learn more before I realized that he wasn’t lacking classroom management skills as much as just lacking a good lesson.
So, there’s that, step 0 as I call it — find that great math task.
I've written before about students who seem to need restroom passes every few minutes can go hours and hours without the bathroom when they are doing something enjoyable. The conclusion, then, is that math lessons should be made more entertaining or fun. Not only would Nguyen agree, but she apparently blames the teacher for lacking a good lesson if there are too many restroom passes.

But then again, some math lessons just are boring. These include listening to the teacher lecture, working on problem sets -- basically anything that the traditionalists favor. So I wonder whether a strong traditionalist like Barry Garelick has problems with restroom passes. If so, what does he do about it? If not, how does he avoid it -- why don't the students ask for passes on days they don't feel like traditional math work?

In theory, the projects from the Illinois State text are enjoyable enough to avoid students wanting to use restroom passes. Still, I don't know -- there's just something about some of those projects that makes them seem less fun. I still believe that the most enjoyable day I had in math was back on Valentine's Day. (The seventh graders didn't have a project due to their different schedule.) That day, I mixed up parts of different Illinois State projects for the eighth graders, while I gave the sixth graders a project I found from an MTBoS blogger. (I meant "I teach math" -- actually, I mean MTBoS. Fawn Nguyen is the Queen of the MTBoS and this is a post all about Nguyen.)

I think back to one sixth grade girl who asked for restroom passes almost everyday. Naturally, she struggled in math. Yet at the start of the year, she told me that she really wanted to succeed in my math class.

In some ways, unlike the teacher Nguyen met in Asilomar, I really had a management problem. I always had to worry about the other sixth graders talking too much, and so I couldn't pull this girl aside and give her the help she needed.

Then again, I could have assigned her a "detention" for excessive restroom pass use -- but then during the detention, I'd give actually give her extra math tutoring. After all, I noticed that she and her older brother regularly stayed for the after school program anyway. Perhaps once I helped her a few times, she'd have been more open to my assisting her during class time. Then she might not have felt a need to go to the restroom to escape my class, and the detentions would stop. (Part of my reluctance to give this sort of detention was the fact that I had no conference period, and so after school was one of the few times I had any sort of break.)

There are some great comments on Nguyen's blog as well. One commenter is Michael Pershan, a New York math teacher (whose tweet is what launched Nguyen's post in the first place):

I think you’re totally right that classroom management is so dependent on our individual contexts. But sometimes I wonder if it’s only the most obvious case of this. I wonder if a lot of the other things we talk about on the internet is dependent on context in less obvious ways. When we share a worksheet or talk about a great mathematical moment, what are the ways that context matters there?

The other is Julie Wright, an Oregon middle school math teacher:

I love your advice to “know what you absolutely value above all things” and to let the kids know about it too right up front. Oddly enough, what I value above all things in the classroom isn’t as easy to identify for me as I would have thought, which tells me I need to think it out thoroughly NOW if I’m going to communicate it clearly to kids in 2 weeks. I believe having that bedrock would help me react to classroom management problems more quickly and clearly in the moment.

And I see exactly what Wright means here. I didn't know what I valued until after school started -- by which point it was too late.

OK, this should really be my final post of the summer -- unless, again, someone else on the MTBoS decides to write a post on classroom management and I feel the need to quote it.

By the way, I never did find Lee Canter's 1993 video that my book was intended to accompany, but I do see a few videos on YouTube that mention the Canter name. The following video is the first result:

Here are a few more loose ends that I want to tie up, since I'm writing this post today anyway. When I left my old school, I inadvertently removed five calculators from the classroom. I was intending to replace the batteries, but I never did it until last night. One calculator is a simple calculator that lacks even a square root key. Two of the scientific calculators are CASIO brand -- the brand that I couldn't figure out how to get out of fraction mode (and led to my catching two eighth grade cheaters). I finally located the MODE button -- actually, I had to press SHIFT and then MODE, which is what had confused me so many months ago.

One of the calculators is a TI-34 scientific calculator. I actually owned this type of calculator back when I was very young. This calculator is one of the few I see with binary, octal, and hexadecimal modes for working in bases 2, 8, and 16. (See my July 31st post on number bases.) The last of the calculators is a very old TI-81 graphing calculator. It is primitive by our current standards, but even it could run a version of the random name program I mentioned in yesterday's post. Thus if I ever teach in a high school classroom, I could use the TI-81 to choose random names, and then save my TI-83 for actual graphing.

And here is the sequence of theorems to prove in natural geometry (from Tuesday's post):

-- A line perpendicular to a mirror is invariant.
-- If a line is parallel to a mirror, then so is its image.
-- Suppose l is a line and l' is its image. If l | | l', then there is one possible mirror. If l intersects l', then there are two possible mirrors. If l = l', then there are infinitely many mirrors.
-- Suppose l is invariant wrt a composite of two reflections. Then each mirror is perpendicular to either the other mirror or to l.
-- Suppose l contains both a point and its translation image. Then l is invariant.
-- A line and its translation image are parallel.

All of these are true in both Euclidean and spherical geometry (though some are only vacuously true on the sphere). The goal is to prove them all in natural geometry.

But I won't be doing so soon. In my next post -- which should be on Tuesday or Wednesday -- I will begin the school year posts with Chapter 0 of Michael Serra's Discovering Geometry, before moving on in the U of Chicago text two weeks later.

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