Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Positive Behavior Support

This particular post is directed towards my colleagues.

As you know, we've been working on a system for Positive Behavior Support. We're at the stage where I simply cannot do everything that needs to be done, and make it work well. So I'm asking for your help. Below are some of the things that I could REALLY use your help with. Please let me know in the comments if you have any ideas you can share with us, or if you want to get back to us on something.

1.) The whole idea behind School-wide Positive Behavior Support is that we let students know when they're doing well, not just when they're behaving incorrectly. Praise and high-fives and the like are an important part of this. But the research suggests that some sort of tangible reward is an important component. To that end, I'd like help coming up with an awards system. I think it should have the following components: a.) Something to GIVE the students, in the moment we catch them behaving. It seems like a good idea (and common practice) to tie it into the mascot of our school--"Bobcat Bucks" or "Paw Prints" or something. b.) Some way of turning this token reward into a tangible reward. I thought it could be like what Mrs. Conklin does with her MP3 giveaway for attendance, and exactly what Mrs. Everitt does for her Positive Behavior Support--a periodic drawing for a prize of some kind. How often? What kind of prizes (inexpensive ones, obviously)? c.) This drawing or giveaway or whatever it is should come tied to a school-wide recognition--a ceremony or celebration, like 10 seconds of classroom applause or a PA presentation.

Bear in mind that I broke this into pieces because it would be too much to do all at once. If you have any thoughts or suggestions about ANY of these elements, please let us know in the comments.

2.) Would somebody be willing to design or produce signage? I think it should have the following elements: a.) A tie-in with Bobcats, our school mascot. b.) The words GOOD CHOICES: Be safe! Be respectful! Be responsible!

This design (and we had some really good ideas for it in our initial meeting last year) will go on posters to help remind students of what we expect from them in school. It might go on the tokens or tickets mentioned above.

If you can help with any of these things, or have some suggestions, please leave me a message in the comments. At the bottom of this post it says, "1 comments." Click that. It will take you to another screen with a place for typing. Underneath that, it will say, "Choose an Identity." Click the circle next to "Anonymous," and you'll be able to post your comment. Please put your name in the comment, though, so I know who I'm talking to!

Thanks a million for your help and your dedication to our students.

--John Cosby

Edited, or possibly re-posted, to reflect actual time posted, instead of when first draft was saved

Thursday, July 24, 2008

School in society, pt. I:

What teachers aren't

I suspect that this is going to be a leit motif of this blog; I spend a lot of time thinking about this subject. I took a class on Schools in Society in my education class, and occasionally revisit the materials of that class and use it to reanalyze my teaching philosophy. But that class was before NCLB, and though the perspective on schools has changed, the research has advanced, and the field is more important than ever, the argument about the roles of schools in society seems to have stayed in almost exactly the same place.

My thoughts today are on precisely what a teacher's job is. My personal definition of a teacher has changed somewhat from someone who speaks Spanish at students in a way they can understand, to a figure much more involved in a student's interaction with the world. School is the first big bureaucracy that a student has to navigate through, and as she approaches graduation, she has to deal with more and more of it. I still take a dim view of anything that emphasizes the structure of school over the content of classes, but since the structure of school is important, I've come to recognize that I have to be good at it, and I have to be good at making by students be good at it.

With the rapidly evolving ideas about what my job is and what my job should be, I've uncovered a lot of things a teacher is not. It takes approximately 15 minutes into the first class in an Education Professional Development curriculum for most teacher learners to discover that being a teacher is not (supposed to be) knowing everything and dispensing this knowledge, a quarter-cup at a time, into the empty but eager vessels that are the brains of students. (The other metaphor used is "writing on a blank chalkboard." I've read research that calls it the Atlas complex, because the teacher carries the world on his back the way Atlas carries the sky. It bears remembering what happened to Atlas: when the weight of the sky nearly broke him, Athene used Medusa's head to turn him to stone.) The "dispenser of knowledge" model of teaching has been refuted over and over again, but you still see it in societal expectations of teachers. (I'll update with sources if I can find them online.)

But what really has been sticking in my craw is a list apocryphally attributed to Bill Gates, but in fact by libertarian Charles Sykes. The rule on this list that I constantly get stuck on is this:

Rule 4. If you think your teacher is tough, wait 'til you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he's not going to ask you how you feel about it.
It's not the implication that tenure makes teachers lose interest in the quality of their work that sets me on edge. It isn't the suggestion that teachers behave like sitcom parodies of psychologists in the face of student difficulty. These may be true to varying degrees; all I can say is that I haven't seen it, and I'm not familiar with the research that says that these behaviors are problems. (Although my experience in education is limited, it seems to be greater than Sykes's, but I'll concede the research point to him for the time being.)

No, what really irks me about this particular rule is the blatant expectation that teachers be students' "bosses," and that a teacher's primary duty to her students is to prepare them for the brutal, impersonal, emotionally neutral world of flipping burgers (a position Sykes refers to in one of his other rules as "opportunity"). Obviously, one of the tasks of a teacher is to prepare a student for life in the workplace. I'm not sure that the way to do this, though, is by modeling the behavior of a boss to someone who isn't being compensated for their work. This seems like thinking out of the Industrial Age--when public schools were expected to produce people who could do the same thing over and over for 60 hours a week, and things like management and decision-making were taught (if at all) in private education institutions.

We rightly expect more from our public schools, because fewer people have labor-intensive jobs that require no decision making. So in order to prepare students for the workplace, a teacher has to do much more than impress proper servility for authority. Information gathering and analysis, teamwork, self-reflection--in short, if a student receives a perfect education (yes, I know), and learns the lessons, he should be prepared to be his own boss, work independently, and lead others, as well as follow instructions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Art and Science of Teaching, Pt. 1

I'm working my way through The Art and Science of Teaching by Marzano, and want to review some of the most useful bits of the first half. The book is highly usable. It's maybe a bit dense to wade through the first time, like everything with a healthy dose of research and statistical analysis, but it's set up such that a reader looking for something can find it very easily, and I haven't even looked at the index yet. As my exposure to books on education practice increases, I'm finding that that's important: if you're going to tell me to do something, tell me what it is you want me to do. Don't hide it in the middle of a bunch of soft squishy feelings about how you love being a teacher. I love being a teacher, too, and if I didn't, reading your book probably wouldn't make me love it. But this book is set up, as the subtitle of the book says, as "a comprehensive framework for effective instruction." Each chapter title is a question about an element of instruction, and is set up to provide a definition of the issue, an example of that element in a classroom, research to explain why the element is important, and specific steps that a teacher can take to implement that element into his classroom.

Chapters 1-5 deal with issues in instruction--respectively, using learning goals, acquiring new knowledge, practicing and deepening understanding of new knowledge, generating and testing hypotheses of new knowledge, and engaging students. The later chapters deal with issues of classroom management and community-building, and more about these when I've read them.

Having read some other of Marzano's work and derivatives of it, I'm a little surprised to see so little talk about building background knowledge and vocabulary. This is disappointing, because of all the in-class strategies I've read, the work with vocabulary was the most immediately applicable th the language classroom. I'll have to sit down and think a little more about language learning and how it's different from learning, for example, science.

Some of the suggestions I intend to implement follow.

Have students identify their own learning goals: Upon introducing a new chapter / unit / some other division of learning, students will write down what they hope to be able to understand (language-wise), recognize, and be able to communicate about by the time they finish. Throughout the unit, students will revisit that goal to see how well they're progressing, and whether the course and I are addressing their objective. Part of the final assessment will be a a self-assessment on their learning objective.

Identify critical-input experiences: The word "input" has a special meaning in language acquisition, but the two meanings run parallel. Of course, ALL classroom time is an input experience, especially in courses conducted entirely in Spanish like I strive to conduct. But some moments are more important than others, require greater coordination of forces, and really are (or should be) the anchors of a unit. I can do a better job of separating these experiences from the textbook, and then bringing the necessary resources to bear on them.

Homework: I don't give anywhere near enough homework. As someone who was never very good at getting it done myself, I've always questioned the wisdom of it. But it's important, and there's a right way of doing it. And when college happened right in my face, and I had no idea how to deal with the work load, I recognized what I'd missed. So, vocab practice, reading comprehension practice, drawing--more of it.

These are obviously not all of the things I should be doing or could be doing better, but it's a place to start. And, as I'm learning, a small number of effective goals you can work towards is better than a lot of goals that you'll work on once and then forget about.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

PBS links

Picking away at the positive behavior project. I've read the manuals and done some research online, and my first big question is, what happens after education and re-education? Part of the project is a positive consequence for appropriate behavior, but I've heard little in the way of steps between educating and supporting students in positive choices, and intervention processes. What should a teacher do if a student chooses to behave contrary to expectations (so as not to say "break a rule")? Obviously, not turning papers into the correct spot is not the same order of magnitude as swinging at another student, so there's some differentiation that needs to occur as well. I'll have to write to my contact to ask about that.

However, I've successfully outlined the agenda for the PD day, which will work as sort of a checklist to work on things in order. The biggest task, of course, will be coming up with ways to teach expectations to each student. I'm trying to make instruction such that we're modeling the behaviors we want to see, not only from the students, but also from the teachers. We'll be using multiple intelligences, maybe some mutual teaching, etc.

Some links that may be helpful to this project:

This site is a collection of information whose primary purpose seems to be to sell the program, and get schools and families involved in positive behavior support. Few of the articles have the sort of implementation suggestions I'm looking for now, but provide good background information.

This is sort of where it all began, and I'll need to spend some more time looking through here. I'm using the blueprint form implementation that this organization created.

Links to examples of statewide (mostly) implementation of Positive Behavior Support programs. These will definitely be helpful when it comes time to map out long-term goals, and maybe some ideas for assessments of behaviors.

Edited to add implementation examples link and labels.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Status report

An overview of the various projects I'm working on at the moment, and a brief analysis of where I stand and what happens next on each:

1.) Don Quijote in the 1st and 2nd-year classroom. As part of the a teachers' workshop I attended this summer, I've started working on a module to help people who have never read Don Quijote introduce this work into their early-Spanish classes. When it's finally polished, with luck in time to test-drive in the fall, it will include TPR vocab acquisition, comparisons of culture, authentic materials, and barf jokes. I'm also trying to get good enough at Google Earth to map out one of the various hypothetical routes that Don Quijote took on his various trips. That's probably the next step, because although it's the least important (being only one of many activities that need designing, and not the best), it lets me play with Google Earth.

2.) Analyzing Data Protocol. This is not so much a unique product, as it is synthesizing all the professional development I've been hit with in the past 2 years and fitting it into a note card that I can laminate and carry around in my pocket. It's also probably something that all successful professionals in all fields ever know already, and that makes me surprised that I'd never been formally presented to it before.

It boils down to this: Decide what you want to know. Find out about it. Based on that, decide you want to happen. Find ways of making it happen, and if none already exist, make them yourself. Do it. After a while, take a look and see if it's working.

This isn't rocket science, and on a small scale, we as people do it all the time. But it's a sound process for making decisions of all kind, and I've seen it in a few different contexts. The State School Improvement Framework lays out this protocol for all of its areas of concern. A woman from Minnesota is making an okay, if travel-intensive, living, showing people how to use this process to look at student work in the way it's supposed to be used. The positive-behavior program I'm working on (more about that in a mo) uses the same structure to analyze itself. In short, it's a way of taking self-improvement out of the realm of whim, and for someone as fundamentally whimsical as I am, that's important.

3.) Spanish Department 3-5 year development plan. There's a lot to do in the Spanish Department, and thinking that I'm going to get it done over the summer is foolishness. So I want to write out a plan for where I want the department to be in the next few years. It will, of course, follow the above protocol, but I know most of the information. That doesn't exactly lead to measurable results (important in any scientific or even pseudoscientific undertaking), but it's where I'm going to start.

4.) Positive Behavior system. This is not just the elephant in the middle of my living room, it's the monster drinking my espresso. There's so much work to do, I really have to start doing one thing at a time. The story so far: My school is one of many in the State that has decided that we're not doing all we could to promote behaviors that supplement learning--we could, for example, teach behaviors that supplement learning. As part of this process, our school took a year to decide what we'd most like to see our students to do in class, out of class, everywhere in and out of school and at all times at a school-related event. I had a meeting and a couple e-mail exchanges with a woman from the county school district who knows infinitely more about this than I do, and to whom I'm going to go with questions, just as soon as I'm smart enough to ask them. And now the ball--at least as far as the teacher side of things--is in my court. My principal for discipline is working on "intervention" techniques.

The next tasks I've identified are these: a.) Designing a positive behavior reinforcement system, so we have a school-wide way of telling kids they're doing a good job. I don't really know where to go with this; I'm going to see if I can get the other school teachers in my district to help me. I can do it, but I know a number of other teachers who already have this sort of thing, and if I don't have to reinvent the wheel, why would I? b.) Coming up with a way of teaching students these behaviors over the course of two days, so everybody's crystal clear on what they're being rewarded for (or intervened towards). I hope to design an outline, and farm out bits of this to a bunch of other professionals. However, ultimately it's my PD presentation. So, after all that's done, I'll need to figure out a way to teach that to the teachers and other involved parties. c.) Putting together a leadership team. The truth is that this should have happened much more formally months ago, and it very briefly did. I know who to ask to join--all the people who were at the first meeting in October who worked on the first draft of the behavior matrix--but that group hasn't gotten together as a group since then. It may be a little hairy. Some sort of protocol (see project 2 above) would be good to have in place as well. d.) Well...let's finish the first 3 before we get into long-term projections and assessment methodology, and all the other 67 things that need to get done.

5.) Spanish curriculum redesign and Standards and Benchmarks realignment. This is the first of the Spanish Department improvement projects I'm working on. It's the first, because I've been working on it since the day I started working at this school. The State has recently published some Standards for World Languages that look a lot like the National Standards, and have made them legally binding on the class of 2011, so the high school classes need to be brought up to snuff. In addition, the elementary and middle schools have been running on standards for years. The standards I'm currently working with in K-8, however, aren't tied as tightly to the State's standards as they need to be. I've been trying since day 1 to bring everything up to speed, not to use lesson plans unless they meet higher standards, that sort of thing. The results have been piecemeal and thoroughly unsatisfactory, so this summer I will be working on it. The current game-plan is this: Take a look at last year's Spanish I class (the first high school class to have standards attached), decide what went right and what went wrong, and change the plan for next year accordingly. That shouldn't be too work-intensive, and I should have success. That will help me put the Spanish II class into standards mode, which will be much more work-intensive. And then, starting at kindergarten, design a curriculum that uses the Standards as the baseline, instead of whatever system was used before.

6.) The Art and Science of Teaching. The 2007 book by Bob Marzano is my principal's new go-to book; past experience with similar literature suggests that we'll be hearing a lot about this in the next year. I'd like to have a leg up. Expect commentary as I go through it.

If anybody reads this, probably on accident on your way to somewhere more interesting, I'd appreciate thoughts on any of this.

And now, for the dishes.