jueves, enero 12, 2006


a cry for help

it's been a crazy coupla weeks.

my kids are making good progress except for a couple that are really starting to stump me. we've been doing lots of new science centers and activities that have really been engaging my students, but in spite of that, these two just aren't performing as well as the rest. i beseech you readers and fellow educators... what do i DO?

Case #1: Leon
Leon is a kid with amazing potential. He can be very sweet and energetic, but more often than not finds himself easily frustrated and is quite moody.. bit of a temper on him. He has low self-esteem and little faith in his ability to produce good work independently; he rarely gets to work promptly and hardly ever stays on task, regardless of the complexity or interestingness of the assignment. I give him daily pep talks and spend more one-on-one time with him than anyone else in the class. I regularly talk to mom about his performance, making sure to emphasize when he does good work. We've tried a behavior contract based on him working "like a shark" and not being a "floppy fish" who doesn't take charge of his learning. It worked okay for awhile, but I'm not big on reward-based effort and would like to find something with better long-term effects. At this point, I'm trying to get him to perform under pressure... I give him time deadlines and that seems to work alright, but it's usually after he's wasted a substantial amount of time anyway. He has no problem working during recess, so no threat there. I've moved him to my table this week, but he remains mostly unproductive. I've sent him to complete assignments in other classroom in order to "earn the right" to work in our room with his friends. Same results. And he's terrible at paying attention during group time on the carpet, especially as the day wears on.

Case #2: Freddie
Freddie is a very charismatic and social kid. He's all about knowing everybody's business and consequently spends a lot of time out of his seat chatting instead of staying on task. He's prone to rushing through assignments with sloppy and/or incomplete results. He's not as naturally bright as Leon and many of my other students, but he's certainly capable of grade-level expectations. I give lots of homework and have been upping the number of assignments per day, but Freddie rarely does any of it. In fact, he often comes to school without his backpack or take-home folder. Notes home never make it there, so forget about anything else. I've given him the "be responsible for your own learning" lecture a bazillion times... I talked to Mom about homework in December and saw no noticeable change. Yesterday I sent home a bundle of papers and told him explicitly (in front of a peer and in front of another teacher) that he HAD to get these papers home and complete his homework, and if he DIDN'T (he was supposed to report to the peer in the morning), he had to call dad and explain why he wasn't being responsible for his work. This morning, once again, he walked in empty-handed. We called dad first thing... he rambled for a bit, then I spoke to dad. Dad tried to blame the lack of homework completion on Freddie's after school program, then said he'd talk to him. After school, I told Freddie's older brother to make sure that he did his homework and brings it back tomorrow. His overall behavior has improved significantly since he first came to my class; we did a behavior contract based on staying on task with increased peer-interaction rewards. I don't expect him to become docile and am actually okay with the fact that he's just a chatty guy who can't necessarily focus on his work for long periods of time, but the lack of effort and responsibility when it comes to homework and other stuff I send him is driving me INSANE.

There ya go. Comment away.

The best idea that came to me was to continue with the extrinsic reward system. Use it as much as they will respond to it hopefully it will help them get into the habit of working. Then you can slowly taper off once that habit is established, hopefully they will discover the intrinsic rewards on the way.
Bribe them. Or, one substitute teacher once took the handle off of a plastic bucket and whooped me with it. That worked.
Well, we have different behavior expectations in college (and can ask them to leave if they aren't cutting it), but I have the occasional underachiever who is suffering from low self esteem, or whatever you call it. A lot of times, they have a fear of not doing stuff perfectly, so they don't try. You might want to try with Leon, making a big deal about the things he does do well? Maybe a random, intermittent reward for finishing stuff quickly?

For Freddy, maybe having the class as a whole earn rewards based on what the individual children do? Then the other kids can fail to indulge his talking and can push him to do better?
This works 99.9% of the time. Make Leon your special "helper." He helps you pass out papers, collect papers, he helps you demonstrate to the rest of the class how to do what they are to do. Give him a special hat/apron/button to wear because he is your helper. He helps you clean up and you praise him verbally constantly. For the rest of the year! Praise him in front of his mother and tell him how great he is in helping you and that you really appreciate his effort. If the other kids complain, tell them sorry Leon is the only helper you need for Science. As much as you can give him opportunities to demonstrate responsiblity. Do not punish him for not finishing his science. Just continue to verbally praise him and make him feel useful. I'm sure he will respond and begin to conform.
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