Classroom Management for Middle Grades Students

Over the last weeks I’ve poured over books in hopes to bring fresh ELA content into my classroom this fall, but now my mind shifts to classroom management. Excellent instruction is a great start, but a strong vision and plan for managing students is important too.

First, I will say that I am a little different than some teachers in regards to classroom management. I do not like many of the traditional methods of discipline such as point systems or checks for middle grades. For example, during my student teaching if a student misbehaved the teacher wrote a check next to his or her name. After three checks the student got after school detention. I tried something similar myself this past year trying a “three strikes your out”sticky note procedure. If the student got three sticky note warnings then they got a discipline memo. I found in both experiences that these techniques did not work with middle grades students. Adolescents are too smart. They try to use the points or sticky notes as a bargaining tool or try to push the teachers limit by seeing how many points or sticky notes he can accumulate, and usually laughing all the way. Some teachers put the students names on the board, and yes, I’ve tried that one too. I don’t think that works either. Too many students get distracted by it, and then learning stops.

As the title of my blog states, I believe in excellence. I talk about excellence and what it means to my students often. I was not shy to point a student out in front of the class if I thought he performed a task with excellence. As a class we would talk about perseverance, and if a student demonstrated perseverance in his class work than I quickly praised his effort. The kids really responded to that method. I worked much harder to focus and put my efforts on the good than the bad. However, if a student misbehaved I was quick to act. Depending on the act it might be a quick non-verbal look, verbal reminder, or if needed, a step outside the classroom for a teacher student chat. Those techniques seemed the most successful for me, but I realize that these techniques also prove difficult if a foundation has not been laid.

So, let’s talk about laying the foundation.

First, I believe that people are people whether they are 12 years old or 50 years old. We all want to be a part of something and belong. We want to excel and feel good about ourselves. We want to care for others and have others care about us. Our students are humans. Honestly, I don’t think my spirit has changed much since I was 12. Yes, I am a good bit older now, and I have matured but my desires, my feelings, my person has not changed. So, it is important to remember that our students are human as well.

Therefore, to lay my foundation I start the year with a classroom contract. Middle grades students want more independence and voice in the classroom, and I believe that this is a great way to start.

I follow the technique of the classroom contract offered in the book, Discipline with Dignity by Curwin and Mendler. This text describes in detail the steps for implementing a classroom contract effectively.

I will offer a few quick steps that I use from the book:

Step One: Discuss the definition of a classroom contract with the class, and that we are coming up with the rules together.
Step Two: Brainstorm as a class what they expect from each other as classmates.
Step Three: Narrow down the suggestions to six or seven rules.
Step Four: Vote on the rules and narrow down to five rules.

These steps can be repeated for what the students expect from me as their teacher as well. I want to know what their expectations are of me.

In addition,  students can also develop the consequences to their actions with the teacher’s direction.

Once the contracts are finalized, the teacher can print a large poster with the student rules and consequences and teacher rules on a large poster.

Finally, the students sign the poster. The poster can then be laminated and hung up for reference throughout the school year.

I find this to be a great team building exercise. It creates an atmosphere of team work, which I believe middle school students need and appreciate.

Another technique that I like comes from the book, The One Minute Manager. Although a book designated for business I believe it works in the classroom as well. Again, people are people, and teachers are in the developing people business.

The article below reviews the steps clearly. I believe that great leaders should praise quickly, reprimand quickly, and continue to state the vision or goal that needs to be achieved. It is so simple, but so wise.

Leadership : Book Summary: “The One Minute Manager” by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Posted by kevinb on 9/28/11 (33870 reads)
Here’s an oldie but goodie for you. Blanchard has coauthored over 30 best-selling books, including The One Minute Manager which has sold more than 13 million copies and has been translated into more than 37 languages. Kenneth T. Derr, former Chairman & CEO of the Chevron Corporation, once said of this book that “If you haven’t read it, do . . . if you have, read it again.” Well, I recently read it again and was reminded of its simple yet powerful messages.
In this 100-page story, a man is in search of an effective manager. Throughout his journey he learns many lessons which Blanchard and Johnson have centered on three primary areas or “secrets.”
 
One Minute Goal Setting is the first secret and the foundation for One Minute Management. The authors advocate the 80-20 goal-setting rule: that 80% of your really important results will come from 20% of your goals. How do you get people truly excited about their work? Make it clear what is expected of them. One Minute Goal Setting is simply:
1. Agree on your goals.
2. See what good behavior looks like.
3. Write out each of your goals on a single sheet of paper using less than 250 words.
4. Read and re-read each goal, which requires only a minute or so each time you do it.
5. Take a minute every once in a while out of your day to look at your performance, and
6. See whether or not your behavior matches your goal.

One Minute Praisings is the second secret. The authors suggest that effective managers help people reach their full potential by catching them doing something right. “People who feel good about themselves produce good results.” The One Minute Praising works well when you:
1. Tell people up front that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
2. Praise people immediately.
3. Tell people what they did right – be specific.
4. Tell people how good you feel about what they did right, and how it helps the organization and the other people who work there.
5. Stop for a moment of silence to let them “feel” how good you feel.
6. Encourage them to do more of the same.
7. Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear that you support their success in the organization.

One Minute Reprimand is the third and final secret to effective managing. “Clearly the number one motivator of people is feedback on results.” Feedback is the breakfast of champions. The One Minute Reprimand works well when you:
1. Tell people beforehand that you are going to let them know how they are doing and in no uncertain terms.
       the first half of the reprimand:
2. Reprimand them immediately. [reprimand the behavior only, not the person or their worth]
3. Tell people what they did wrong – be specific.
4. Tell people how you feel about what they did wrong – and in no uncertain terms.
5. Stop for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel.

      the second half of the reprimand:

6. Shake hands, or touch them in a way that lets them know you are honestly on their side.
7. Remind them how much you value them.
8. Reaffirm that you think well of them but not of their performance in this situation.
9. Realize that when the reprimand is over, it’s over.

The authors write that, as a manager, there are three choices when it comes to getting the most out of an employee:
1. Hire a winner (can be hard to find and expensive to hire and keep)
2. Hire someone with potential to be a winner and then systematically train them
3. Prayer

They suggest that option 2 is best. However, isn’t it ironic that most companies spend 50-70% of their money on people’s salaries and yet they spend less than 1% of their budget to train their people?
 
It has been said that “The best minute I spend is the one I invest in people.” Effective managers manage themselves and the people they work with so that both the organization and the people profit from their presence. So, in summary, how can you give yourself and others “the gift” of getting greater results in less time? 1) Set goals; 2) Praise and reprimand behaviors; 3) Encourage people; 4) Speak the truth; 5) Laugh, work, enjoy!
Everyone is a potential winner. Some people are disguised as losers…don’t let their appearance fool you.

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