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.

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