Fort Herriman Middle School


Reflection: On Arguing
May 21, 2008, 1:24 pm
Filed under: discipline, reflection


Twitter Version: I don’t argue.

At the end of last year, I did a couple reflection posts. Now, it is time for me to reflect on some things I learned this year.

My first year of teaching, I spent a lot of time arguing with my students. At one point, the VP came and talked to one of my students outside my classroom with me. I remember so vividly the way she handled that situation. He had done something wrong, and she was lecturing him. He started a weak protest, and she said, “Sir, this is not a time for you to argue, you will listen to me now.” That sounds like a harsh and unhelpful way to talk to a student, but it is really quite effective. I know there is a lot of talk about how we should treat students–they are people too, after all. I think there is a fine line you have to walk in these situations. You need to treat people like adults when they deserve. Not all students deserve that treatment, especially when they are just arguing for argument’s sake.

This is how I handle situations now. When a kid is goofing off or doing something wrong. I very firmly and authoritatively tell them to leave the room. When I get outside, I ask them questions like:

  • Why are you out here?
  • What is causing you to act like this?
  • Why would your behaving like this make me upset?
  • How would this behavior cause problems in the classroom?

If, at any point during our conversation, they want to argue, I immediately interrupt them and tell them that they are not permitted to speak right now. They are out here to answer my questions. I never raise my voice or get angrier at them. If they continue, I calmly say something like, “M., we are not here to argue.”

If they still argue, I repeat the above and say, “You did X wrong, and it has created a big enough problem in class that I need to come out here to talk to you. You will have your opportunity to say your peace after you answer my questions.” Invariably, their peace is, “I understand that what I did was wrong, and I am sorry.”

Nearly always, I give them an opportunity to say or add anything else. My belief is that if they answer my questions, I should answer theirs. Usually, this consists of them saying “Someone else started the problem” or “Why didn’t you get so-and-so in trouble?”

When they ask those questions, I focus them on themselves, and talk about what they did and say that I will deal with the other student as needed. Usually this works pretty well, because it is almost always the same kids that do something wrong. (Hmm, that sounds like a whole other blog post.)

This method has been very effective for me this year. Students have behaved better, and even though it is the same kids goofing off, they have been goofing off less this year, and problems have been resolved quicker, and with less administrative involvement.

Have a Good Life.

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Twitter Backfires!
April 30, 2008, 9:13 am
Filed under: learning, reflection, twitter

It all started two months ago when I caught three girls cheating on a test. I made a poor decision and ripped up their papers in front of the class. Those three girls have been inciting the rest of the class for a couple months to near rioting. This class has been very difficult to deal with despite many long talks with many students. It is very frustrating. These students know exactly how I feel. Well, they should know. On Friday we had another talk about how they should behave and what is expected of them. Yesterday, I posted this on Twitter:

Whenever my students need an assignment, I direct them to my website and tell them to print things off my calendar. I have found out that a lot of them get to my Web site via search engines. What do you suppose is one of the results when you search for Jethro Jones? It is not my Twitter page. Nor does it rise to the top when you search for my name and Twitter. But somehow, the above Twitter post was one of the top results because one of my students asked me today, “Mr. Jones, why do you think we are your worst class?” I asked why she thought that, and she quoted the above Twitter post nearly perfectly and told me that her mom found it when trying to find my website. My class was surprisingly good for the fire drill, even though I didn’t expect them to be that good. So, one other girl asked why I hate them, and after being corrected, asked why I dislike them. I made sure that those were their words. I explained that they are my worst-behaved class. It doesn’t mean that I hate them or dislike them, but it does mean that they drive me crazy and that they can be very annoying. I told them this. I have not kept it a secret from them before now, and I have not tried to hide it from them. As I said, we have had many long chats about this. This girl’s mom was not upset or so the student said. She thought it was pretty funny, actually. The students were good today after another long chat. They also were much better at keeping the others on task.

Now that you have the background, here are my thoughts. First, Why were they so upset about this despite the nearly hundreds of times I have talked to them about it? They all knew about the Twitter post before they came into my class, because this girl probably told them all about it in first period. I think they were upset because it was public on the internet, and people could find it. They knew they had the fire drill yesterday, and so they finally understood that I thought they were my worst class (despite the fact that I have been trying to tell them that for weeks). Second, it is hard for these seventh graders to disassociate negative things. Just because they are my worst class does not mean that I hate or dislike them. They don’t understand that (hopefully) adults can separate the two feelings. I told them that they annoy and frustrate me, but that as soon as they are doing what they should, those feelings go away. Third, how in the world did she find that. My website was above all the possible Twitter statuses even when I searched for “jethrojones twitter”. I guess she could have found her way to my blog but I don’t know. Crazy. Fourth, this has definitely reminded me that what I write is available and can be found. I need to remember that. I don’t usually post anything controversial, but even things like this, that can be found by the mom of a student in that class, are fair game.

So, the real question is should I protect my updates so that I can’t be found on Twitter or searches?

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TechnoThursdays Session 4
April 4, 2008, 1:14 pm
Filed under: internship, reflection, technothursdays

TechnoThursdays wiki for this session.

You can watch the video at the link above, if you choose. Please fill out the survey, too.

This week’s session was way better than last week’s. I felt really rushed last week, and the class didn’t go very well. I think Google Docs takes a mental shift. I don’t think most of them were ready for it. I am frustrated with myself for not being aware that it would be difficult. I should have known.

This week we did blogs. We set up blogs so that the teachers could post updates to their blogs each day about what they did in class. I think this is a great because they can make their lives easier. Students who need assignments from the previous day can get it there.

What made tonight’s TechnoThursday really successful?

  1. I was very prepared.
  2. I was teaching them something they could use right away.

As a teacher of adults, I need to be prepared. As a teacher of adults, I need to teach them something that they can meaningfully use right away.

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What are we teaching them?
February 11, 2008, 3:31 pm
Filed under: elementary, internet, reflection, research

My students are chatting via video call tomorrow with Ginger‘s students, and Ginger wisely suggested that we prepare for the meeting. I framed it like this:

Students, you will be in three groups researching one of these topics: (1. The city where these kids live, 2. What is a charter school and 3. TPLC, the school the kids attend.) You will be talking to them tomorrow on a video call and doing this research will help you be prepared, so write down things you know about your topic, write down some things you want to know, then you can get on a computer and start finding and writing down things that you learned. (It is basically a K-W-L chart that one student understood and drew as such on her paper.) The point is to be able to ask thoughtful questions that will help you learn more about them and their life.

I told them they needed to be able to ask the students their questions, but they should be meaningful questions. As I was roaming around the room looking at what they were doing, I was confused at what they were researching. A few of them found the school’s website. Four or five of them had a page open about the state but were looking at the flag and finding out what the state emblem, state tree, state bird, state motto –I can see the state motto meaning something, because they could ask whether the students know it and if they apply it to their lives (but I don’t think they are going to ask that)–, and other trivia questions about the state. Is it just me, or is that just frivolous stuff that doesn’t really mean anything?

I pictured myself as an elementary school teacher making them do that for each state in the nation–much of what I remember from elementary school was just time-sucking research that didn’t mean anything beyond the worksheet. Am I wrong, are our ES teachers better than that? Or am I the one at fault for not explaining it better? (Wouldn’t be the first time that happened!)

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Learning is Supposed to be Frustrating
February 7, 2008, 2:20 am
Filed under: learning, reflection, wiki

So, my classes have been working on the Campaign Trail Collaboration wiki with a bunch of other schools around the country and world. It has been an interesting learning experience as wikis are still very new to a lot of people. It is interesting to see who excels at it and who does not. Most don’t. It is surprisingly difficult for some people, even parents. That is completely understandable, though. It took me a little bit to understand the nuances of a wiki as well. This video from the “CommonCraft Show” helps explain it much better than I can.

Learning is supposed to be frustrating. If it is not frustrating, you probably aren’t learning. I like to think of it as a piece of wood being carved into something beautiful. If the wood were still alive, surely it would hurt and be painful. But, the benefit is that it is becoming something great and beautiful. That is how learning should be (notice I didn’t say education!). I am sure that some people are going to get upset and say that learning should be fun/enjoyable/safe/whatever other positive thing you want to contend it should be. Joseph Smith said:

I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else…all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304).

You can still enjoy learning even if it is frustrating.

I had a parent who actually emailed me with some valuable reflection about her experiences working on it with her son (and husband). I include it here with her permission:

Hi Mr Jones,

Just wanted to give you some feedback on the Super Tuesday activity M participated in. It absolutely got him involved in tracking the candidates and was valuable for the opportunity to work with others as he added to the state info as it developed. We did not see any info entered from other students on his state. Could it be because we were not looking in the right place? It has the potential to be a great collaborative activity working with others to track the election process. That is the whole point for this, to be a collaborative effort. It helps people work together and learn together.

We were a little disappointed this morning to find the updated info that he had entered at 9:30 pm last night was gone this morning. We did not print out a page from that time, but he did print one out this am to turn in to prove he was filling in the info on [his state’s] primaries. Here they learned on their own how to adapt to a new medium; they didn’t know what the protocol was, but were able to figure it out on their own.

This was the first time he ( and his father and I ) had ever used the wiki page. Not surprising, but now they have used a wiki, and the next time their child has to do something with technology, this experience will help define their approach to a new one later in M’s career. We spent a lot of time figuring out what to do and how to get to the appropriate areas, so maybe in the future a bit more detailed instructions would be helpful. I am assuming she means better instructions than “Here is the wiki page. Do it.” 😉 I didn’t give very good instructions, that is for sure.

It was a great experience for M in using technology and working with the computer. He was copying and pasting results repeatedly to update the info, which really made him get comfortable with going between windows, etc. This is a great skill for him to learn. He will be able to use this later, I am sure.

We’ll be interested to see if M did this assignment as expected. It was a good learning experience, and a little frustrating too. Thanks for your help. Since this is my first time teaching, I don’t even know how good of a job I did teaching it. How can I give someone a bad grade for making a concerted and valiant effort when the directions were so poor to begin with?

R

I did spend some time with the students teaching them what a wiki is and how it works, but I didn’t teach them well enough. We were able to get on the computers and edit some wiki pages, but they still didn’t get it. Showing the video posted above really helped them out. That was a very positive thing to do. I should have done it earlier.

So, what have I learned?
1. I need to give clear concise directions that are easily understandable.
2. It is okay if learning is frustrating.
3. 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Reflection #3: On Integrating Technology
June 5, 2007, 10:08 pm
Filed under: reflection

The school I just finished the year at is not that technology advanced. They do have some technology (some that I didn’t know about until the last day) but it is not that great. The computers that I hunted down for my room were eMacs 700MHz, running Mac OSX 10.2. They were very slow and many times did not work how they were supposed to. I did have a SMARTboard in my room, but I never had time to learn how to use it, so I didn’t use it. I did try a couple times, but it was more difficult than I wanted. As I have mentioned before, my 9th grade honors class did individual blogs each week. That was a neat experience, but I have a different plan for next year. I want to have a blog for each class, and then each class will have one day to go down to the lab and do their blog. It will be very important for me to teach them that this is not just some other assignment. I need to incorporate research, good writing skills, correct grammar usage, and internet safety. If I don’t include these things, it will be virtually worthless because they will just be doing an assignment, and not effectively using technology to better their experience. I have decided to use a class blog because it was very difficult for grading and tracking to see who did their assignment when every one of them had its own url. At my new school they have opaque projectors which are basically overhead projectors that you don’t need transparencies for. They are really slick. You can put the student’s paper in there, right after they wrote it and then critique it and give them immediate feedback. There are video projectors on the same site since opaque projectors are discontinued but we had those at BYU-Idaho. I didn’t think they were that great.

Changes I need to make regarding technology next year:

  • Use technology effectively to enhance education, not just to use it for the sake of using it.
  • Use technology to make my job easier, not harder.

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Reflection #2: On Relationships
June 5, 2007, 9:31 pm
Filed under: reflection

As part of my requirements as a first-year teacher, I have to fill out these forms that are a total joke. There is about a half a page to write about what I have accomplished this year as a teacher. They want me to reflect on my year, but only give me limited space to write it down. I have issues with forced reflection: I hate it. I see the immense value in reflection and goal setting, but struggle when it is forced upon me. I hope that in the next week, I can finish all the reflections I have on my mind, but I will just take it one day at a time. I have really learned a lot in my first year of teaching, and hope that I can take those lessons with me next year to my new school.

The ninth graders went to Lagoon today. I went with them since I have mostly ninth graders. It was a pretty fun day, and the new ride there, Wicked is just that, wicked. Not the best roller coaster I have been on, but it is pretty cool. While at Lagoon I didn’t do much supervising of the kids (since that would be impossible). I just hung out with 7 other teachers who went also. A couple days ago I thought that maybe I would rather not go, and just stay at school for the day with no students. I would be able to get a lot done. I was entertaining that thought because I don’t really have a very good relationship with most of the teachers at my school. There are a few that I do feel some rapport with, but not that many. I have thought a lot about why this is so.

First, I spent most lunches in my room. At the beginning of the year, it was because I had so much to do, and I never felt like I had enough time to prepare for everything. Once I got things under control better, I stayed in my room for lunch just for some peace and quiet. It was nice to be able to read the news and each lunch without the noise of my students. Not that I don’t like the teachers I work with, but the faculty room was sometimes not that quiet either. Towards the end of the year, I stayed in my room still because I had not been in the lunch room all year, and the other teachers had established cliques, and the couple times I was in there, I felt left out. That is certainly not their fault, but rather mine. In addition, one excuse I made for why I didn’t eat lunch with others was that the few times I was it seemed like there was a lot of complaining about students, administration, our jobs overall, etc. going on. I used that as an excuse to keep me away. Even though I love teaching more than anything else I have ever done, I still complain. I guess that is just part of the dark side that is always creeping to the surface for me.

The second reason that I didn’t establish many relationships with teachers is because I was too shy to go out of my way to make more friends. This is not in my character at all. Since I got married, my wife has become my best friend and the one that I turn to for everything. She is wonderful, and is probably the greatest person ever invented, but thinking that she was the only person I needed as a friend was an incorrect assumption on my part. I have learned some amazing things from those teachers I have built a relationship with (teaching techniques, curriculum suggestions, project ideas, classroom management hints, and much more). I need friends at work, people that can help me and that I can help when needed. An excellent example of this is that there have been two field trips in the last couple weeks where I and other teachers needed someone to take the students that would not be able to go. When teachers emailed asking for help, I was reluctant to volunteer to help someone that I had not built a relationship with already. When I needed help, the only ones who volunteered were teachers that I had built a relationship with. If I had done better earlier, I would have been more willing to help others, and I think they would have been more willing to help me.

The third reason is that I haven’t really felt like part of the faculty. I know that part of it is because I am new, and part of it is my own insecurities. I always feel like I have to be the center of attention or else people don’t like me much. That is silly. It has taken me a long time to realize this, but there is nothing wrong with being in the background for a while. I don’t have to be the most important one in a group to still be important to that group. And why do I even need to be important? I can just be there!

Changes to make regarding relationships:

  • Each lunch with the other faculty members. I need some time with grownups. (And sometimes, it is okay to vent!)
  • Go out of my way to make sure other teachers feel that I appreciate them and notice the good things they do
  • Make sure that I volunteer to help others when they need it (within reason, without overextending myself) so that I have a way to build a better relationship with them

If I can build better relationships with faculty next year, I think that I will see some great changes in my own teaching ability, my happiness at the school, and networking for the future. Making friends is always a good idea. Making friends with teachers who care about what they are doing is even better. I am a social person. Sitting in my room during lunch when I knew I could be out making friends was totally foreign to me. 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