Monday, August 4, 2014

The Art of Improving Student Behavior

Since I have been using Whole Brain Teaching for about two years and have been selected as one of this year's interns, I have set two goals for myself in order to grow as a Whole Brain Teacher.  One of those goals is establishing a Super Improver Team.

After reading Chapters 15 and 16 in Chris Biffle's Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids, I was eager for more information.  I immediately went to the Whole Brain Teaching website and looked for the webinar connected to this behavior management theory.  

On a bread crumbing journey through the wondrous world of Super Improvers, I also found this amazing video of a teacher, Deanna Schuler, expressing her experience after using the SIT for a short time.  She tells an amazing story about a boy who was a challenge and whose behavior improved in a very short time all because of this technique.  After watching the videos, I felt confident and ready to put it all together.

Then, as a mere coincidence, Nancy Stoltenberg, emailed our group of interns a blog post. She was working on establishing which items were some of the needed Whole Brain elements used in classroom set up.  There she connected me to even more resources!

Today, I went into my classroom and began setting up my Super improver Team area.  First, I went to Office Depot with my flash drive full of WBT posters and charts that I had to have in color.  After some cutting and laminating, I was ready to assemble my wall!
Here is Tara West's TPT store where I downloaded these beauties!

I chose a place in the front of my classroom that was near the area where I do a majority of my whole group lessons.  In general, this location is very easily accessible any time of the day.  I attached the colored levels in order from the Beginner up to the Genius level.  The colors represent rungs in a ladder with no top rung.  The idea is that a student can always improve their behavior or achievement goals.  
Once I receive my class list, I will add a white card with each child's name on it and insert them into the blue pocket chart.  As the students work to show they are following the rules and working hard to increase their achievement, each student can earn a star on their white card.  Once they earn ten, their success is celebrated by exchanging their white card for the next color level and of course a round of ten finger woos would certainly be in order.  

The greatest part of this system is that it is all positive and students are competing against themselves to improve their behavior, social, and academic achievement.  "If we focus on student improvement in academic activities and social growth, then scores on state tests will take care of themselves.  Nothing will produce higher test results than a class of students who are continuously striving to break their own personal records." (Biffle, 2013)

As students move up the rungs of the ladder, it is important to reward them with leadership opportunities and just pure fun.  Chris Biffle has many suggestions for ways to maintain student interest.  When a student reaches level 4, take a picture of the child and a few friends making funny faces.  Bring the photo in and put it on the wall backwards.  In order for the child to turn the picture around, the student will have to earn five more stars.  He suggests adding this photo bonus on every other rung after level four.  Another motivator, is to give those students who attain a leader level the opportunity to lead the class with a class call-out.  You could signal the identified leader and the student could call out, "Class!" signaling the class to say, "Yes!" 

I know what you are thinking now.  "What about those students who aren't following the rules?"  Chapter 17:  Practice Cards, targets individual behavior problems.  As soon as I read it, I had another one of those "AH HA!" moments.  Chris Biffle urges that those impulsive students who continuously resist the rules, simply need practice.  

For this aspect, you will need to create a section of your board that identifies your students by number and not name.  It is important to respect the anonymity of the student and will help you maintain control.  
Here is a look at Nancy Stoltenberg's Numbered Student Chart.

As you are teaching and a student keeps calling out answers.  The first step is to call out, "Rule 2!"  The class will answer, "Raise your hand for permission to speak, please stop."  If this doesn't eliminate the problem, remaining calm and not calling attention to the student is key.  In order to keep the lesson moving forward and maintain control, add a white Rule 2 Practice Card to the student's numbered pocket.  This is merely managerial for you, so that you can easily remember those students who require practice.  The key is that no more than two practice cards should be added to a students chart per day.  

Doing this allows the lesson to continue and signals to the student that you are aware of their behavior.  During recess, lunch or another free time during the day, give the child the practice card and set a timer for 1-2 minutes.  For example, if the student needs to practice Rule 2, he or she would sit there and repeat the rule and practice the gesture repeatedly the entire time.  This gives the child "additional time to focus on a problem she was having with a specific behavior." (Biffle, 2013)  Biffle also describes this as a powerful experience for this child to practice this rule over and over again.

Another level of SIT and what defines the "T" as "team" is what you see on the left of my board.  Sometimes, there are many students who require additional practice with a certain rule or skill.  We have all had those classes who are chatty or highly energetic.  As this need develops, you would provide a class goal for the students to work on.  It is very important that they must work extremely hard to earn a point on the board for the class.  Note individual improvement but only reward the class when you have achieved exceptional compliance.  These points are gained separately from the color cards.  The clincher is how to use these points.  On Fridays, total the points and only those students who will gain a level from the points will actually benefit from them.  For example, if a student has 9 stars on a level and the class has earned 1 bonus point, this student would be able to utilize the bonus point and move up a color level.  If another student has 5 stars, one point would not help this student and therefore there is no benefit for them this time.

As you can see, this Super Improver Team is so complex and filled with infinite possibilities.  Stars can be earned for anything the child improves upon.  If they decrease their time in a Super Speed Challenge, raise a test score, or raise their hand in lieu of blurting out, a child can earn a star and show improvement.  What an amazing opportunity to show how to track 100 or more improvements a child can make within a school year.  I cannot wait to get started.


Sunday, August 3, 2014


It's the age old battle.  Does homework have an added benefit to student learning and performance?  In the many years that I have been a teacher, I have always been a supporter of homework.  However, my perspective was that, it had to be with a purpose and should always be a review.  

Last year, I encountered an administrative style that believed that homework should be limited or not at all.  My initial reaction was, "No way.  It teaches responsibility."  So, I moved forward with the beginning part of the year limiting the amount of homework to just reading and writing.  This was my attempt at balancing both my philosophy and that of  my administration.  As I noticed that my students and their parents were growing weary of this monotonous assignment, I created a ritualistic schedule attaching a certain type of homework to a specific night.   That worked better, but I knew there was room for improvement.

Over the summer, I started reading some articles and realized my reaction to the idea of no or limited homework was all wrong.  My response was NOT, "They gain so much knowledge from their homework assignments!"  NO, my gut instinct and concern was responsibility.  I had an "ah ha" moment because I knew homework was not the only place to master that character trait.

At this point, I had to think about who my students and families were.  In this day and age, the family unit consists of so many different components.  Families who are two working parent households with their children in childcare.  They are divorced families who juggle visitation schedules.  Children with a heavy after school activity load, shuttling from dance, to soccer, to piano and home just in time to get a bath and go to bed.  The point is that our families are diverse and have changed.  Therefore, our own expectations and requirements for homework must morph too.

Homework must be short and sweet and foster practice.  In my pursuit of that answer to my homework needs, I found one of Chris Biffle's video broadcasts called "Universal Homework".

This webinar made me think, "How can this apply to Kindergarten?"  There are certain times in the video where Coach B references Kindergarten, but their learning changes and grows so quickly.  So, I adapted this plan for the beginning of the year.

1 STAR:    Read for 10 minutes
                 Super Speed Letters
                 Super Speed Counting to 25
2 STARS:  Trace your letters on the dotted line.
3 STARS:  Neatly write your letters without tracing.

I imagine this plan should only last for a month.  Once I have taught some of those basic sight words, then the Speed Letters will change to Super Speed Reading and I will use the suggestion from the video and take those first ten words and repeat them three times for a total of 30 words.  Also, my 2 STAR level will eventually become neatly written sentence or drawing about the story.  With a 3 STAR level expectation is to neatly draw AND write.  As the students grow in their writing skills, it is my intention to add onto the 3 STAR level and encourage students to use more sentences providing evidence using the word "because".  I also intend to increase the counting in increments of 25 through to 100.  Once there, it would make sense to use addition fast facts to five.  In Kindergarten, they learn so fast and achieve so much in such a short period of time, that they STAR levels must be adapted to new learning expectations.

The next layer of this plan is genius!  As the students complete their homework each day, they collect points for the class.  The amount of points they earn rewards them on Friday with minutes to play a fun review game called "Mind Soccer".  This is a quick content review game that the kids love.  The key is to keep them begging for more.  If you over-saturate them with too much game play, the intrigue wheres thin.  Keep the minutes at a minimum, making sure you set a timer, and watch them beg for more!  In Coach B's video above, he gives an example of a point spread for a class of thirty students.  I usually do not have more than twenty, so here is my point spread:

240-192 points = 3 minutes of game play
191-168 points = 2 minutes of game play
167-144 points = 1 minute  of game play

Here is the kicker.  On Wednesday, as the interest and stamina begin to decline.  Make them aware of how many more points they need to earn three minutes.  Ask the class for volunteers to do 3 STAR homework.  Chris Biffle advises us to write those names on the board and have the class cheer for them.  The idea is to generate an excitement and support system in your classroom surrounding homework.  Not only are the assignments quick but they are truly practice.

I love this idea and I cannot wait to try it out this year. Not only is this homework easily done in the car on the way home from a baseball game, it is rote practice.  This increase in fluency is exactly what we need in the classroom in order to layer our teaching with inference and higher level thinking.

Look out Kinders...Mind Soccer is coming your way!!!!