I might not be beyond discipline: Follow Up

After my Class Dojo-inspired crisis, I did what I should have done in the first place, which was to turn the problem over to the students.  I set up the above "tree map" (my school uses thinking maps), and they passed the marker around, adding things they like and don't like about the program we're using.  I was happy to see that even my most reluctant students actively liked several parts of the program.  I addressed each of their dislikes and then we brainstormed ideas to make our time together more fun, but still productive.  I wrote everything down, even if I knew it wasn't going to happen (i.e., free time).  Here are the changes they came up with based on our meeting:
  • My favorite suggestion (and one I was hoping they would come up with!) was doing a read-aloud for part of the time.  Last year I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Phantom Tollbooth with two of the students in the group, and it was so rewarding for all of us.  I love that one of them actually wanted me to read The Phantom Tollbooth again. I had three books ready to offer if the suggestion came up: A Wrinkle in Time (a personal favorite), Coraline (I thought it would appeal due to the creepiness factor), and The Watsons Go to Birmingham (I haven't read this, but two of the students are very interested in civil rights, so I brought it as an option).  I loved watching them decide what we should read with very little guidance on my part.  The two girls wanted Coraline, and the two boys first chose A Wrinkle in Time, but then switched over to The Watsons Go to Birmingham.  I wasn't sure how they were going to resolve the split, especially as we had one absent student.  One of the girls suggested that she didn't think we should read Coraline after all, because the absent student gets frightened easily.  Then another student said that Black History Month is coming up, so The Watsons Go to Birmingham would be appropriate.  I'm so, so glad they generated the idea of the read aloud themselves and then got to choose the book.  We'll be reading it for 15 minutes a day out of our hour together.
  • One student suggested class jobs, and they were all very into it! I wouldn't have thought of doing that since we're only together three times a week and we're actually in a large closet instead of my regular classroom.  They came up with the jobs of passer, collector, greeter (weird charter school thing... there's a designated kid to "greet" any visitors and explain what the class is doing), tracker (more on that later), and substitute. 
  • All of them agreed that they didn't like the Phonemic Awareness portion, which is the sound drill I mentioned in my previous post.  I explained to them how important phonemic awareness is in becoming stronger readers, and I gave the example of how several of them are much better at differentiating between short e and short i now.  I said that we could compromise and put a time limit on it, as long as we were extra efficient within the time limit.  Of course, they have no sense of time, and suggested a 20 minute limit, when in fact we rarely spend that much time on it anyway.  I said ten minutes, which is actually a win-win, because I'd rather have them engaged and "on" for 10 minutes than whiny and annoyed for 15-20 minutes. 
  • All but one of them were really insistent on wanting to use Class Dojo.  I explained why I wasn't sure about it by saying that I didn't want them to be competing with each other when we should be focusing on learning.  Still, they all wanted to use it, and the one reluctant student changed her mind by the end (as you can see by the top line scribbled out under 'Do Not Like).  I am thinking of making it so that you can only get a point if nominated by another student? I'm not sure on that part yet. The 'tracker' job will be to keep track of points on the iPad. 
I really felt the atmosphere become palpably less tense as the kids expressed their opinions and came up with ideas.  I didn't realize how much I had been attempting to bend the kids to my will until we had this meeting.  Not because they said anything like that, but just because I could feel myself letting go of that control as they started generating their own ideas.  I'm really happy for them to take ownership of our time together.

This post and the last are kind of a little case study for me on the struggle of letting go of control. The first item under "Do Not Like" is "lossing [sic] my marker."  We use dry erase markers during one portion, and I kept taking this one kid's marker away because he was messing with it.  The fact that out of all the things we do in the program, the first thing he thought of was the fact that his marker was taken away two or three times really speaks to students need for autonomy.  I immediately felt like a huge jerk.  Did I really need to take his marker away? I told myself it was to keep the other kids from getting out of hand with the markers, but Kohn says, and I agree, that the more you trust children, the more they'll rise to the occasion.  

If you by any chance got to the end of this, I hope you found some part of my thought process helpful, and I'd love to hear other teachers' experiences with this sort of thing! 

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