Saturday, September 1, 2018

What Our Students Need: Switching from the Behaviorist to Cognitivist model in School (Part 1)

My daughter, age 8, her friend, and I visited the one room school house at our fair yesterday. We love to marvel at the quaintness of the room, the old wooden desks, and toys of yore whose use is lost on the young.

After perusing the Dick and Jane book and citing that it looked, "really old" 😆 (I remember reading that) they noticed a large cone in the front of the room.

"What does this say?" one asked. "Dunce," I said.

"What does that mean?" the other questioned.

"It means you are dumb. If you goofed around or didn't do your job you got stuck in the corner with this cone on your head."

The girls both looked at me with confusion. "Yes, I know it seems unbelievable that they would humiliate kids this way, but that's what they would do, force you to wear a hat that said you were dumb and sit you in a corner." Another patron laughed, and recited what I said to a friend, oblivious to the fact that this was typical back in the day...and sometimes today.

Although I wasn't asked to use the hat, I was asked to put a child in a corner in my classroom, in full view of everyone, when they got in trouble. I refused.

Now here's where it gets tricky. I am (was) a full on behaviorist. Had it not been for statistics, I honestly would have chosen the career of psychologist. So I am well versed in dangling carrots, stickers, intermittent reinforcement, and salivating dogs. I truly believe children can benefit from time to think (Time Out, Think Time) but I drew the line with public shaming in it's most blatant form. A student suffering from ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) who has experienced trauma in ways children, small children, should never experience (IE drug use in the home, lack of food, outright abuse by adults) will not be helped by yet another adult sticking them in a corner to humiliate them, chastise them, mock them, point out their foibles and make fun of them (which is really what the dunce cap approach did). This actually breeds apathy: a lack of concern for others. And soon children will model what they are taught and do the same; leading to another generation of folks who watch from the sideline unfazed by what happens in front of them. Ending apathy needs to begin with us.

One can't teach empathy without using compassion.
One can't teach compassion without being kind.
One can't teach kindness without a connection.

Connections first, consequences second.

Next: Switching from the Behaviorist to Cognitivist model: How to Escape the Sticker Chart

What Our Students Need: Switching from the Behaviorist to Cognitivist Model of Teaching. Part 2: Drop The Sticker Chart

If you are like most teachers out there your college coursework included 1 course, maybe 2 at the most, about educational psychology.

If you were like me, you might have felt you learned nothing about classroom behavior until the real world of teaching started (or if you took a spectrum of Special Education courses--life savers!).

Thrown to a hungry pack of wolves your first year you (speaking for a friend) likely tried everything in the book to get students to learn: pleading, cajoling, demanding, suggesting, and outright bribery. You don't have to explain it to me: Desperate times call for desperate measures.

One of the most espoused or showcased ways to "control" or change behavior is a sticker (or star) chart. A slip of paper with a grid of boxes will be taped to a desk, or laminated for a student, and that student earns stickers or stars for reaching goals during the day or week culminating, typically, in a reward.

Personally, I failed a lot, as most do, with sticker charts. Where's the stickers? Under the gigantic pile of papers? Misfiled in a drawer? Stevie needs one right now and I'm at a loss. Or, "hold on there Stevie, let me finish this lesson, followed by the counseling of 2 kids for fighting, followed by the snack, followed by Suzie having a emotional breakdown and I'll get you that sticker." I've even said, "Don't let me forget!"

Sticker charts are tools, and there might be that one instance, that one kiddo, that one time that it helps out (see my blog on Dandelions versus Orchids). But for the most part we are haphazardly attempting to use it and it won't help modify behavior when used inconsistently, or with an unrealistic goal (get 50 stars then you get to take a trip and see a special teacher). It's no wonder it fails.

Here are some typically classroom type charts:
From a student viewpoint: What does, "Listen & Be Good" mean? This is too vague and takes too long to attain. I think I've been listening this whole time but I haven't gotten a sticker. I've already given up. I'll never "be good."

From a student viewpoint: This is pretty, but what is it for? I've already forgotten (visual clues would be best), and with 7 stars needed I might as well give up now. I'll forget what I'm supposed to do before I'm midway through. And 4 goals (large boxes on right)? I would do great to focus on 2 goals, 3 at most, before my brain forgets (Miller's Law).

From a student viewpoint: Why bother. I can't ever reach the goal. Now I'm losing points when I'm bad. I'm going to focus on the bad: it's staring me in the face. I won't care that I get a couple good points. I won't care that some year I might earn a trip to the office for a special visit. It will never happen. Don't you notice it already points out I will be bad?

Eeek! Do you see why so much can go wrong with what we think is a simple sticker chart?

When I do recommend sticker (or star, as in draw a star because I don't want to find a sticker) chart is for personal, short term use with a goal in mind. Here is a good example from Knoxville Moms Blog:
The target is clear, except for "good bedtime," what does that mean exactly? Taking a bath without a fight (I've been there!) if so, state that specifically. It only requires 3 times to be successful (short duration is key in the beginning). The kiddo can see their progress at attaining goals and then be rewarded: which can be as simple as time with mom playing a game of choice, doesn't have to be a Barbie Dream House. In situations like this, where follow through and discussion is likely (most families don't have 24 children) the chance of this helping encourage and mold expected behaviors  is great. It's focusing on the positive and the child can feel successful in a short amount of time. 

As a veteran kindergarten teacher I do recommend star charts to parents for at home use when there is a specific behavior is in need of modification and the parents are on board with follow through. But modeling the proper use, and explaining the "why" behind it,  is key. We need to remember that most folks haven't take psychology or neural education classes.

I hope I've showed you the good, the bad, and the ugly of sticker charts and encouraged you to save your money, your time, and your sanity by foregoing their use in the classroom.  Remember: Just because everyone one is doing it, doesn't mean it should be done, or that it's done right. Charts must be tied to easily understood goals, with clear expectations, frequent reinforcement, and follow through in order to be successful. Anything less is a waste of time. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Check One Box off the List!

I just finished the 4th proposal I submitted to the #NCCE conference! 4!

Last year I applied to perform  present two proposals and was not accepted. But I am not one to give up! I come from a long line of tenacious women who don't take no for an answer (is that good or bad?). And lately I must admit some "no's" have been dragging me down. But after reading a chapter in, "Girl, Wash Your Wash" by Rachel Hollis I am back to saying, "Nope, I won't stop. I have places to be, goals to achieve, dreams to accomplish."

So I won't give up! I'll dig in and  I'll try again because dog-gone-it I am good at what I do, I like to share, and I have information to help others.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Last Year in K: A new season of transitions.

I have spent 8 years as a kindergarten teacher, seems like it's been much longer then that actually, kindergarteners do that to you, but alas the door is closing.

Honestly, I never pictured myself teaching K...I originally planned to be a high school English teacher. My sister talked me into primary (thank the Lord). I then thought I would teach 5th, but, again, my sister said I would like littles. I taught my very first year in second and loved it. Then was dropped by the roadside like garbage ( I was teaching a bubble class) when they hired someone else to move up the next year rather than keeping the person who worked so hard all year (I didn't even get an interview!).

Then a spot came open in kindergarten. I thought of my subbing days and the constant whining and help needed with coats in k and thought, for sure, that this wouldn't be for me. But I was proven wrong. I loved those kids and kindergarten!! I loved the rock star status in the lunch room. I loved their hand drawn love notes. I loved the glitter and the toilet paper roll crafts. I didn't love the gray hair it gave me, but I loved it nonetheless. It was amazing to have a student come in, barely able to write their name, and watch them leave in the spring reading. This grade is like no other. It truly is the most important work as we lay the foundation for what their beliefs and emotions concerning school will become.

But as we know, if we stay the same for long periods of time, we become stuck in a rut. That coupled with team struggles, and an unsettling year to come, encouraged my heart to apply for a first grade position that came open this year. I was stoked. I was so excited to bring everything I did up a notch, yet still stay in a grade where students still openly love their teachers. And yet regardless of my technology implementation for math and reading, my use of Makerspace in K, my desire to better myself with numerous trainings, my willingness to pilot science, my fellowship as a Neural Educator, my use of GLAD strategies, my collaboration with educators across the country and world via Hangouts, my willingness to teach others how to use Seesaw portfolios, and my ability to use ASL (American Sign Language) in the classroom, I was not chosen.

My heart hurt...a lot. It hurt the most that I had bared my personal trauma and feelings concerning my ex's upcoming release from prison and my several year feeling that I needed to be inside, rather than a portable, and yet that made no difference. #kindness

Then an opening came for fourth grade and honestly, I didn't even think about taking it at first because it was so far removed from the littles I loved. But I thought about my concern for safety, my love of the Titanic and history (both 4th grade topics) and decided to give it a try.

The ensuing mess of cleaning, sorting, and packing my room has made me wonder if I made the right choice. But the smile of former students eager to have me again has me hopeful. Maybe I can survive fourth grade. Stay tuned to see.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Room With a View- NCCE18

I am gazing out of my window at the beautiful city of Seattle, my Chromebook resting on the remodeled windowsill of the Sheraton Hotel, which is the perfect spot to park my CB and still enjoy the lights... I am a big fan of neon at night. I am curled on a new chaise could be described as hard as a rock, and yet it is still comfy, maybe firm would describe it best. My roommate is quietly snoring away as I end to the exhausting day that started at 4 am.

I have already learned from 3 amazing teachers today: Jeff Utecht, Conn McQuinn, and Sylvia Duckworth during 5 awesome sessions. I have come away with amazing learning already (on just the first day!) and ran into some fantastic members of my PLN. We met for dinner tonight and talked about the ability of Twitter to bring us all together, to form a group of former strangers, now friends, who can collaborate and help one another. We talked about our joys and pains in education, including the inability to reach other teachers on the importance of Twitter.

Those of us here at NCCE, those of us in the trenches know the benefits of Twitter and how important the camaraderie is to our typical silos. But many do not. They see it as one more hoop.

I am excited for tomorrow. I am also excited about the carrot cake at the Cheesecake Factory sitting opposite my window. And the ability to create more memories with fellow learners.

I only wish more had the opportunity to enjoy this...the conference, the connections, the 30 escalator rides a day. If I do bring them in the future I will advise them...bring your computer, as it is a TECH conference, and also your magnifying glass. The program is damn near microscopic!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Power of Lights

It was late November as I started to hang up my Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK)  bags on clothespins in front of my classroom window. Each year we use these bags to not only count down until Winter break, but to bring attention to ways to be kind, through prompts and activities.  I explain to my students that during the holiday season we are all a little kinder, a little more considerate, and little more loving to one another.

 Afterward, I draped my string of Christmas lights along the wall surrounding our morning meeting area. The lights added to the festive nature, reminding me of good things in the world, like fairs, summer nights, and neon lights. I told my students that our lights reminded us to be kind to others; a symbol of goodness we should remember.

But soon the time was up. As the break approached and I prepared to take down my decorations I had a thought: why is kindness only once a year? Why take down my lights as if "kind time" is over and it's time to head back to the hustle and bustle, the pushing and shoving?

And so they stayed; through winter, spring, summer and fall. And the story of kindness no longer began in December with the hanging of lights, but in September with the reason why the lights are still hanging.

You see, lights are not just lights, they are symbols to which we attach constructs of our behavior. They are the meat, that prompts us to ring the bell, which in this case is the bell of kindness to all.

The next time you see lights in a classroom stop to reflect on their significance and ask the teacher why. Because it's not what it's not a light string with an expiration date, but a reminder of a year long practice cemented to our schema through visually cues and memories.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Neural Ed Summit: Building a Greenhouse for Orchids

I've always been that "odd" kid. Growing up I was so anxiety ridden I worried when other kids' names were written on the board (true story). So I get it when my kindergartners, or any students, suffer from extreme shyness, anxiety, worry, or difficulty with attention span. To me these kids are not odd, but just like me. We are all unique. Which is why students do not need a factory model of education: where everyone gets the same thing at the same time, in lockstep, until graduation. They need a personalized model: as individuals they deserve to learn at their level, at their pace, with curiosity and creativity in play.

This, of course, means change for many. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable, but with it comes growth and all that is good. And to put it in the words of  Adam Welcome & Todd Nesloney, "Kids Deserve it." We didn't become teachers to listen to ourselves talk, rather, we became teachers to inspire learning.

During the Neural Ed Summit (last week) at PLU we learned about Dandelions and Orchids: Kids that are unfazed by stress and those that are highly sensitive. Not knowing research had been done in this area I had been milling along, attempting to find ways to connect with my sensitive students. I even garnered a small trampoline at the end of this last school year, not positive where I would be using it, but knowing it felt right.

But it all fell together during a presentation by Mary Snyder where she discussed ways her school was approaching the Orchids, who are many times seen as the "trouble" kids, by building a greenhouse for them (in school supports). My heart kept yelling "YES!" every time she spoke of a way to help, rather than punish, the child.

What's Happening at Mary's School:
 The school provides a place for kids to go to diffuse and regain calmness; A place that has tools for students to use to reenter their Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) and leave the fight/ flight/ freeze response set in motion by the amygdala when they hit stress in the classroom.

Tools like a lava lamp, fish tank, plants to water, jigsaw puzzles, and drawing/coloring can allow overstimulated kids to relax. While kids in fight/flight can play ping pong (with a student or teacher, to build empathy/ relationships, *3Ft size), balls to bounce/catch (to get back in the PFC by focusing on a skill), use a stationary bike, bounce on a yoga ball, shoot hoops, or use a personal size trampoline.  And get this: the students have the right to walk several laps around the school to regain a ready to learn mindset, without being interrupted by teachers asking where they are going and why. Because movement, in itself, is the most effective way to change mindset.

As our leader, trainer, "Yoda," Kieran O'Mahoney pointed out, there is a need for the students, not the teachers, to be in control of their situation. For students to go from a point of resistance to a point of resilience when allowed to make choices based on what they know about their brain. Therefore, students should not be questioned in the hallway by other teachers as that only escalates the current emotional state, rather than negate it. It makes me think about how allowing some of my Orchids to walk to the office and retrieve my mail (I'm in a portable) is fabulous for me AND them. It allows movement, time to refocus on a task, help others, and be in control. However, if teachers think students shouldn't be in the hallway without a teacher, and interrupts the student to ask why, it ruins the purpose of the exercise.

As a parent of an Orchid I was hoping this type of mindset space would come into fruition at my school, however, time and space are both issues. Yet when placed in comparison to the number of hours admin deal with student problems, wouldn't it be worth it? Students would spend more time learning, and teachers would spend more time teaching, instead of managing behaviors.

2 Strong Takeaways:
Train students on how to understand their brain.
Train teachers on what students need.