Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HELP! Ideas? My last class is unruly.

“HELP! Ideas? My last class is unruly. I am having difficulties w/8of24 students-theyRreturning 7th graders who don't care (it seems) #edchat” was my tweet on Monday after a stressful day in the classroom.  I am having trouble getting 100%, or even 80%, class participation because of talking, sleeping, acting up, fighting, arguing, defiance, acting incapable, etc.  Jonathan (@jelkimantis on twitter) replied back to me and asked a few more questions.  Eventually that night, he wrote a blog and told me to give his idea a shot.  After reading the blog, I was excited and commented:

Great post! I think this has some potential. My students come from families that struggle daily for food. Most of them are either under their parent(s) thumb or let out to roam the streets. I think this will be good, and I am going to do this with one of my classes to see how it works. I am out of good options so this comes at a great time. Thank you for your honesty and help.

I tried to implement the experiment on Tuesday but another teacher was out, so I had to have extra students in class.  I gave it a shot today (Wednesday).

The students entered my room at 2:15pm.  I had the chairs circled and I was sitting in a one of the chairs looking as if I had something to say.  I had a paper in my hands and had already asked one of the students to write for me on a whiteboard.  As the students sat and got comfortable, they talked and wondered what was going on.  We have sat in a circle before so it was not completely new.  Some students asked me to use the restroom or get water and I simply put my hand up and put my finger to my mouth to suggest being quiet.

At this point, they understood that I wanted them quiet, in order to tell them something.  Over the next 15-20 minutes they slowly got quieter, but never was there a time that less than four students were talking.  My compassion began to kick in when I saw the faces of the three students that do what they are asked and try to improve.  They were wondering what they were going to do.  Some students tried to hush others, but most of those students were the loud ones when they were not trying to calm the rest.  A third group of students did not care.  I heard on boy say, “I’m sorry, but it is impossible for me to be quiet.”

There was a definite ebb and flow of noise for the next 30 minutes as students started to become restless.  They wanted someone to tell them what to do.  They wanted someone to try and calm the unruly students.  I simply sat and motioned students to be quiet when they asked a question.  Some of the things I heard were: “Everyone is getting a detention tomorrow.” “Mr. Porter lost his voice.”  “Be quiet and we will do the activity.”  “Mr. Porter, are you okay?” “We are going to pay for this tomorrow.”  “What is the catch here?”  “How long are we going to sit here?”  “Did the other classes take this long to get quiet?”

I only planned on being quiet for about 15-20 minutes (until everyone was quiet) but that never came.  So, I was silent the entire 75 minutes.  Announcements came on and I was silent.  The dismissal bell rang, and I was silent.  After everyone left, I walked to the door and noticed a crowd of students.  One student was being beaten up by two others, so I broke up the fight and had to break my silence.

What is wrong?  I want them to want to be quiet and listen to the speaker (whoever that may be).  I want them to do something as a class unit.  I want them to determine that they are better off cooperating than not.  I want them to see value in the class.  I want them to feel and take OWNERSHIP in their own learning.

I will continue the silence tomorrow, but I expect them to be quiet in about 5-10 minutes.  Tomorrow, they will see that it is not going to change until they decide to change it.  I want to get to a discussion of why they are there and what their responsibilities are, but they must want it too.

After contemplating the day, I realized that at least four students could not be quiet (the four shifted through the class).  That is 17% of my students in the class.  So, during class and silent reading, the best situation is 83% participation.  However, the norm is usually 25% participation, just because they are quiet does not mean they are working/reading.

I am out of good ideas, so I hope the students use this experiment to take ownership of their behavior and their learning. I am hopeful.  I am not a teacher that enjoys silence.  I want discussion and collaboration, but not at the expense of ignoring the need to be quiet and listen and calm down and evaluate a speaker's words.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why are People so Darn Bashful?

Why do people feel a need to follow the crowd?  I believe that the simplest answer is it that they would rather be lazy and comfortable than stand up for their individualism.  Why else would someone disregard their own thought to follow the majority?  Maybe I am even further off than I imagine, but I have a higher view of humanity than to think that men do not think for themselves.  This can be seen in the Social Media phenomenon.  It seems that, behind the mask of the internet and a computer screen, men will type what they are thinking.  People have a mind and have independent thinking, but they choose to limit the projection of that thought to the internet.

When men enter the public square they are bashful and timid; they follow the majority.  The danger here is that the majority will follow the big, flashy opinion.  What happens when the opinion that is the most attractive has been born of ignorance or deception?  Silence is the other option.  I have seen this most often lately.  No one will speak their mind.  Either they are afraid of what others will say about their opinions or they have nothing to say.  Could those options be one in the same?

I am not the most intelligent man by any means.  I fail and mess up at least as many times as I succeed.  I am quick to act and slow to think most of the time.  My opinions usually go against the norm (sometimes just because I don’t want to follow the majority).  I like to argue and be right.  I would consider myself to have more reason and less emotion.  I compartmentalize ideas and theories.  I was taught not to care what anyone thinks about me.  What do I do with myself?  Do I continue to argue and debate my opinions?  Do I sit back like the majority?  John Adams said that if the wise don’t lead, someone else will.  I guess I will lead and pray that God will give me the wisdom.  Maybe I am being arrogant.

Sorry for the rant, but I needed to get that out.

"May the odds be ever in your favor!"

Katniss and Peeta outwitted the Gamemakers in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, but will they get away with it?  Students get a thrill out of following Katniss from District 12 to the Capital in order to battle in the Hunger Games.  There is no shortage of drama and suspense as she travels with Peeta (the showmance) and Haymitch (the drunken coach) leaving Gale (the best “friend”) behind.  The Capital is looking forward to a great slaughter that involves betrayal and brutal killings, but will they get everything they want?  Read the book with the students and help them find out.  They will be begging to check out the rest of the trilogy one you have finished reading.

Citizen schools gives the students the chance to live out the book by allowing them to work on their presentation skills.  They can create commercials for the tributes or act out love scenes between Katniss and Peeta or Katniss and Gale.  Maybe the students could create a facebook chat between the three of them.  Why not challenge the students to create a scale model of the arena?  The possibilities are endless but the goal is the same: teach the students to respect humanity and to challenge authority when it is abusive.

With the premier of the book on March 23, 2012, the reading of the book would be a great lead-in to taking the class to the movie and noticing the differences between the two.  A great discussion could be had about why the movie is different and why they would change the book.  Whatever the activities and follow up to the book, the students are sure to have a great time reading and dreaming of what they would do if they were Katniss.


Citizen Schools Fellowship teachers have the opportunity to impact low-income, deserving students.  These students need your guidance and support.  They need someone to invest in their lives and in the future of America.  If you are a teacher already and need financial support to do what you want to in your classroom, try making a request for supplies at  I have had success in the past from DonorsChoose and plan on using them in the future to allow people to invest in the lives of my students.

Zane Porter (HendersonNC)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Signs Everywhere! They Know Who I Am!

I went into this market today on my way home from school.  I was greeted by many signs warning, asking, and threatening me.  Besides the punctuation mistakes, I was disheartened that they have to put these signs up.  Not only are we struggling with the students, but the private sector is struggling with the adults.  We have a cultural issue that needs a reboot.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Band of Brothers and Assessments

I watched Band of Brothers again this weekend.  As I was watching "Bastone," I heard Doc's prayer as he sunk into his foxhole.  He repeated a few lines that sparked my curiosity so I searched for them on Google and came up with Saint Francis' prayer.  Here it is (copied from wikipedia)...

Why can't we all be this selfless? I want to be this selfless for the glory of the "Divine Master."  Even in the 13th century, men were trying to convince themselves of the holiness of thinking of others above yourself.

Second, I was reading this blog and enjoyed the three questions of whether a students is successful or not. Here they are:
1.)  Are you improving?
2.)  Are you feeling confident in yourself and your ability to learn?
3.)  Can you take your mistakes and turn it into an opportunity to learn something from them?