Monday, September 28, 2015

How to Instill Good Behavior in Middle School Students, Part 2

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
-- Freidrich Nietzsche

This is the second of three posts about tactics I used to help manage the behavior of my middle school students.  You can find the first post here and next week, I’ll write about my favorite tactic.  Today, I am going to discuss two things that helped my students control their behavior themselves.

I used to think, when I first started teaching that students should remain in their seats during most of my class because that way, I could easily see if they were paying attention and doing their work.  Then, in grad school, I read about learning styles and it made sense to me that some students learned best through auditory modes while others preferred visual modes and still others found kinesthetic modes most suitable for learning.  Kinesthetic learning, as it was defined, was new to me but I really liked the idea of letting students learn through movement.
Blog post about behavior management in The ESL Connection
The three most common learning styles; source: images by Pixabay; graphic by The ESL Nexus
Then I began to read about how boys and girls learned differently and that boys were more fidgety than girls.  (I am simplifying tremendously here!)  As I continued teaching, I also became aware of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and how teachers ideally should cater to a variety of intelligences when implementing their lessons.  All these ideas made me rethink how I taught my classes.

Several years later, I had a student who had some learning difficulties.  He had anger issues and ADHD and had been retained in third grade.  But he was a nice kid and wanted to do well.  I had him for a few years and as he got older, he became more self-aware of what he could do himself to maintain good behavior.  One day, he asked if he could get up and walk around the classroom because he said it would help him; I don’t remember if it was to calm down or to help him concentrate but I said yes, as long as he was quiet and didn’t disturb the other students as he walked around.  He didn’t and things were fine.
Boy walking; source: Pixabay
Well, that was a revelation!  From then on, this student often asked if he could take a walk around the room because, he said, it helped him concentrate.  Then, other middle school boys asked if they could walk as well, saying it would help them behave and do their work better, too.  Pretty soon, I had established some ground rules: a) Ask me first if it’s okay, because it might not be the best time in the lesson to be walking around, b) do not talk to anyone else while walking around, c) do not bother anyone else when out of your chair—if you do, there will be a consequence (and I did have to follow through on that occasionally), and d) walk only around the perimeter of the room or in the back of the room, to minimize distracting the other students.

As I continued reading about behavior management and what worked well, I decided I was fine with having my students be up and about when they had work to do.  What many students, girls included, liked to do was just stand by their desks and write while standing up.  I also tried to build into my lessons more opportunities for students to get up and move around.  As long as the kids were doing their work, I frankly didn’t care if they did it standing up or sitting down.

Since I found it uncomfortable to sit in the student chairs for any length of time, I felt I couldn’t ask my students to do that, either.  Then, when I saw that an 8th grade social studies teacher had bought cushions for all the chairs in his regular ed classroom, I promptly went out and bought twelve cushions from a nearby Christmas Tree Shop.  This was the second thing I did to try and instill good behavior in my students.
Desk and chair | The ESL Connection
Student desk and chair in my classroom; source: The ESL Nexus
The cushions I bought were in four colors and I kept them in a pile in the back of the room.  When students came into the room, they could automatically just go and get a cushion for their chair.  Since most of my classes had fewer than twelve students in them (yes, I was lucky!), they could even get more than one to sit on.  However, a few students tried to hog the cushions and grabbed four or five, so I had to institute a rule that three was the maximum number of cushions anyone could have, to make sure everyone who wanted one could get one.  I also let the students sit or lie on the cushions on the floor, if they were doing independent reading or listening to me read.
Cushions I bought from the Christmas Tree Shops; source: Christmas Tree Shops
Students loved using the cushions!  I realized that if students felt comfortable doing their work, they were less likely to act out and be disruptive.  Consequently, I decided that whatever helped them concentrate more, whether it was physically moving around the room or sitting on cushions so they felt more relaxed when doing their work, then I was all for it.  It certainly helped that my class numbers were small but I think that even teachers with 20 – 30 students could, with some organization and planning, make these ideas work for their classes, too.

Next week: My favorite tactic for behavior management!

Monday, September 21, 2015

How to Instill Good Behavior in Middle School Students, Part 1

Your desired behavior must become just as much a habit as
your undesired behavior was before.
-- Mike Hawkins

After a few weeks of school, I could tell which of my students were going to be a challenge in terms of behavior.  If I had had students the previous school year, I already knew a lot about them but things can change over the summer so I always tried to wipe the slate clean and start afresh.  But once the novelty of the new school year wore off, students began to act more naturally and for a few of them, that meant acting out.  Over the years, I found three tactics to be most effective in maintaining a positive classroom atmosphere that maximized learning opportunities for everyone.  Today I’ll muse about my number three behavior tactic and in my next two posts, I’ll write about the others.

#3: Use a behavior chart.  While this may be obvious for elementary teachers, I found that it was helpful even with my older students.  When I first started using a behavior chart, I modeled it after the ones I saw in elementary classrooms, with students’ names listed on the left and the dates running along the top.  Students earned checks for each class in which I decided they had had good behavior and when they earned a certain number of checks, they could pick a prize from a prize box.
The ESL Connection blog post about behavior, September 21, 2015
Behavior chart with students' names and dates; source: The ESL Nexus
But that kind of chart was based on my subjective interpretation of what was good behavior.  Many years later, I saw another behavior chart which I liked much better.  Instead of listing students’ names, it listed stages of good behavior, from Outstanding as the most desirable to Parent Conference on the other end.  Using clothespins with their names on them, all students started off in Ready to Learn and moved their clothespins up or down as their behavior warranted.  And even though I still directed the process by telling students when to move their clips up or down, they could also move them when they did something great that I wanted the whole class to recognize.  For example, if a students asked a really good question or did something positive on their own initiative, they could move their clip up.  And when they reached the top, they could select something from the prize box.  What I really liked about this chart was that a) it let the students get out of their chairs and walk a bit during the lesson, giving them a small amount of physical activity and b) it rewarded or chastised behavior as it happened and every student had infinite opportunity to do well or do poorly—it was all up to them, unlike the other chart which was a one-time thing at the end of the period.
The ESL Connection blog post about behavior, September 21, 2015
Preferred behavior chart; source: The ESL Nexus
One thing I started doing part way through the year was, if a student asked if they could move their clip up, I decided that wouldn’t be allowed.  I didn’t want students to be rewarded for doing things they were normally supposed to do or have them do things just so they could receive a reward.  (The prizes, by the way, were just small trinkets I bought at the school store for twenty-five cents to one dollar, such as erasers, pencils, magnets and such like.)  I wanted the students to behave well and be good students because they intrinsically wanted to, not because they wanted a prize.

Of course, students never liked moving their clips down and if they got to the Parent Conference level, they never wanted to move them there.  In those cases, I often had to move the clips myself.  But I gave the students an out: I told them that if their behavior improved during the remainder of the lesson, I wouldn’t ask for a conference but would just email their family instead.  Most of the time, the students stopped pouting and cheered up at that, and their behavior did improve.

I liked this chart better than the first one because it put more responsibility on the students for their behavior.  And middle schoolers do like to feel in control!  In fact, the following year, I decided they were too old for a behavior chart.  But my 7th and 8th graders, who’d used it the year before, actually clamored to use it again!  Of course, I was happy to oblige them.

Next Monday, some musings about my #2 Behavior Tactic.

Monday, September 14, 2015

What's the Connection Between BICS, CALP & TpT?

"There is nothing permanent except change."
-- Heraclitus

Today is Rosh Ha-Shanah, the beginning of the New Year according to the Jewish calendar, and a time of reflection and hope for the year to come.

In that spirit, I would like to announce that after a great deal of thought, I have decided to cut back on the amount of time I spend blogging.  Instead of writing two blog posts every week, I am going to reduce that to one post per week which will be on Monday.  If, however, something comes up such as a TpT sale or giveaway that I will be participating in, I will blog about it when the occasion arises.
Rosh ha-Shanah meal; source: Deror_avi
An ELL can learn basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) in one or two years.  That’s enough English to be able to communicate at a basic level on the playground, in the cafeteria, on the bus, and in other social situations.  An ESL teacher can learn the basics of teaching English fairly easily by focusing on the practical side of the issues involved.  But for an ELL to acquire cognitive academic English proficiency (CALP), a good five to seven years and sometimes longer is necessary.  Likewise, I found that after a certain period of time, having a repertoire of practical ideas on how to teach was not sufficient—I wanted to know the theory behind those ideas.  It was like the more I learned about teaching English Language Learners, the more I realized how little I knew, and then I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could to become a better educator.
September 14, 2015 ESL Connection blog post
BICS and CALP visual; source: Wits Language School
In the same way, I think a TpT teacher-author can learn how to put together a good product in a short while but to create an outstanding product, it takes a lot longer to learn how to do it well.  So, because I want to create high-quality products that will help ELLs succeed in the mainstream, along with their native English-speaking classmates, I will be decreasing my blog posts in favor of increasing the amount of time I spend on making products. 

I wanted to let readers know in advance so you wouldn’t wonder what happened when you don't see a post from me on Thursday.  And I wish everyone a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Excelerating ELL Education: A New Linky Party

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that, as a language teacher, I love words.  I love reading them and I love writing them.  However, that is not the case with many students.  In fact, most of the ELLs I taught disliked reading—and rarely did it for pleasure unless required—and liked to write even less, despite my attempts to make assignments interesting, fun, and relevant.

A big reason for that was because their knowledge of English vocabulary was limited.  As their second or even third language, English was used in school and with their friends and often siblings but not so much with their parents or guardians.  Most of my students’ caregivers spoke limited English and I doubt they ever read just for pleasure in English.  So opportunities for my ELLs to develop their vocabulary were limited.
Wordle created by The ESL Nexus
I would like to change that!  To that end, I will be hosting a monthly linky party where educators can add resources that will help ELLs be successful.  I would like to call it Excelerating ELL Education – combining the ideas of Excellence and Accelerating into one word—but I don’t know how a made-up word like that will perform in SEO (search engine optimization.)  I’d appreciate your thoughts in the Comments section below.  But for this linky, which I hope will be the first of many, that’s what I will call it.

Some link ups will have a theme and others will be open to all ideas and products.  The purpose is to offer resources that will help English Language Learners in school.  Resources that are added to the linky should either be products that have been used with ELLs in class or were created with ELLs in mind.  The type of class in which they were used is not relevant as long as at least one ELL was using the material.  I would also ask that you link up just one resource, unless the linky specifies otherwise.  Lastly, I recommend—though it isn’t a requirement—that when adding the title of the resource on the page where that info is requested, you remove the hyphens in the title that automatically pops up and check to make sure the title isn’t truncated.  I think the product image looks better that way and readers might be more inclined to click on the image to check the product out.

For this very first linky party, the theme is Vocabulary, since for many teachers this is the beginning of a new school year; and for everyone else, well, vocabulary is always important!  I invite you to link up one of your vocabulary products, for any subject and for any grade level from PreK through Adult Ed.  This linky will be open for five days (until some point on Monday, September 14th) and then it will remain available for the rest of the month.  I will probably host the next link up on the first Monday of October, as I would like to begin each month with a new linky party.

The product I am showcasing is my Word Walls for ELLs: Essential Content-Area Vocabulary for Grades 5 - 8.  I surveyed all the ELA, Math, Science and Social Studies in those grades in my school (24 teachers in all) one year to find out which vocabulary words they deemed the most important for students to know.  I then collated the lists and created word walls of the vocabulary words.  Each grade level's subject words were on their own posters; for example, there was one poster for Grade 5 ELA, one for Grade 5 Science, one for Grade 6 Science, one for Grade 7 ELA and so on.  However, I did not identify the posters by grade level, only by content subject.  My rationale for that was that I did not want to limit what my students looked at.  All the posters were displayed in one section of my classroom where students could easily see all the vocab words.  The TpT product contains four mini-posters for the four grade levels' words, all subjects on one poster; and four mini-posters of the words by content-area, all grade levels on one poster.  The words are also task-card sized so they can be used as flashcards and distributed to students.
Product available at The ESL Nexus store on TpT
What my ESL Word Walls looked like in my classroom; source: The ESL Nexus
I look forward to seeing your resources and I hope you find some good ideas and products for your own teaching situations.  Thank you in advance for your participation!

The ESL Connection blog's ELL link up

Monday, September 7, 2015

3 Cheers for TpT!

"If The New York Times says it, it must be true."
-- Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart has said many hilariously funny things over the years but although this quotation is probably meant ironically, today it’s actually true.  Because if you have ever struggled, as I have, to explain what TeachersPayTeachers is to someone who wasn’t familiar with the website or company, there is a fantastic article in the Sunday edition of The New York Times that solves your problem.

Spotlighting two secondary TpT teacher-authors, the article does a great job extolling the benefits to teachers, in this day and age of education standards and mandates, of how TpT resources can aid and support their classroom instruction.  What a wonderful way for TpT to start off the new school year!  You can read the whole article here.

Also, I am pleased to announce that I am participating in a giveaway being sponsored by Kid World Citizen.  There are six prize packs available, with  foreign language, geography, and multicultural themes.  Winners will be announced on September 11, 2015.
September 7, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Click HERE to enter the Giveaway
The product that I am contributing is my Chinese Zodiac Animals Clipart.  It's part of the Multicultural Bundle.  You can find out more about my product here.
September 7, 2015 blog post in The ESL Connection
Giveaway product contributed by The ESL Nexus
There are only a few days left to enter so hurry on over to enter--just click here to go directly to the Giveaway website.  Good luck!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Building Back To School #5: My Favorite Writing Journal

Well, this is the fifth and final Building Back to School post in #TeacherMom’s blog hop.  Today I am going to write about a writing tool that I found indispensable in my teaching.
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus

It’s a writing journal.  No surprise there, I’m sure, but I would like to describe why I liked one particular type so much and how I used it.  Sometimes I used this type of notebook:
Composition notebook; source: Wikimedia Commons
But I found that most of the pages went unused, even when I had students for more than one year.

No, what I really liked was a smaller notebook that didn’t have a hard cover.  Students could then decorate the cover and make the journal their own.  This notebook has just twenty pages, which is perfect for responding to comprehension questions and learning vocabulary words when reading a novel.  However, it would not be a good choice for an interactive notebook novel study.  The smaller size also looks a lot less intimidating to students and because the pages are smaller, it is easier for students to write more and fill them up.  (It’s like using a smaller dinner plate – the portions look smaller so you don’t eat as much!)
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Cover of fifth grader's writing journal; source: The ESL Nexus
Here’s how I used it as a writing journal when reading novels as a whole class: In the front of the notebook, students wrote responses to questions about the chapters.  Sometimes they copied the questions from the SmartBoard, to practice copying correctly.  Some educators may think that’s a waste of time but I think it is a skill that students, especially English Language Learners, need to learn.  Often, they will copy something incorrectly and, because they don’t quite comprehend what they are writing, they do not realize they are making errors.  This is not good when they are rewriting a rough draft into a final copy on a standardized test and making copying mistakes!  So I liked to give my students practice in copying correctly.

But there frequently wasn’t enough time in class for students to write the questions themselves so what I did instead was, in advance, photocopy the questions from the teacher’s guides that I used.  I typed one question and then copied and pasted it enough times so there was one for each student.  After printing out the page, I cut the questions into strips and that way, the students just had to tape or staple the strips into their writing journals, which was much faster than writing everything out themselves.
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Pre-made question strip for 5th grader''s writing journal; source: The ESL Nexus
Most of the time, one page was enough for the student’s response and my feedback comments.  But if students wanted to write more, I certainly encouraged them to do so!  Each question was written/pasted at the top of a new page, unless there was more than half a page of space available.

Teaching vocabulary was a big part of my instruction when using a novel in my classes.  To make things easy for my students, the back of the writing journal was used for vocabulary definitions and sentences.  Starting on the last page of the notebook, students wrote each chapter’s vocab words—usually between three and five or six words—with their definitions, and then used the words in sentences on the same page.  Again, each chapter’s words began on a new page.  Doing it this way also made it easy for students to study when there were tests about the novel.
September 3, 2015 blog post by The ESL Nexus
Vocabulary section in 5th grader's writing journal; source: The ESL Nexus
I was lucky to have a school administration that supplied these notebooks to the teachers.  They came in packs of twelve and I always ordered a few packs every year.  For teachers who aren’t as fortunate and have to purchase their own supplies, I did a quick search and found these sources of similar notebooks:
a) Roaring Spring Paper Stitched Cover 20 Sheet Composition Book, 67 cents per notebook, at ReStockIt
b) Roaring Spring Tape Bound Composition Notebook, with 48 sheets, $1.59 per notebook, at Office Depot/Office Max

I hope this gives you a new idea for what to use as a writing journal.  Thanks for hopping onto my blog posts these past several weeks.  I wish everyone the best as the new school year gets underway in the U.S. or continued smooth teaching everywhere else!