Going back to carrots

I’m thinking of going back to positive participation tickets. Instead of giving my students actual things in the draws though, I’ll try for less tangible prizes, like having a group in for indoor recess, or taking a small group to the gym or getting first choice of responsibilities.

My reasoning? Well I’ve been trying for the past three and a half weeks to get my students motivated, not only to learn French, but to be respectful and supportive in our classroom. I’m trying to create a classroom environment that is conducive to learning and at times I’m struggling. I feel bad for the students in our class who are trying very hard and I would like to reward their struggles with more than just words. I feel like I shouldn’t have to. I feel like they are doing what they are supposed to and they should feel wonderful about themselves because of it, because they’re meeting their learning goals that we set, but I’m also starting to feel like it isn’t enough.

I’m also finding that quite a few of my students are hesitant to try, hesitant to make a mistake. I hope this is not because of anything I’ve done. I model that I make mistakes all the time and have to fix them “Madam a fait une erreur!” I exclaim and fix it, or look up a word I don’t know on Google Translate. But learning a second language is tough and it’s put them out of their comfort zone for sure. I get that. I’ve been there. After all, French is my second language and I didn’t learn it until I was 12.

So my idea is to start off using the tickets and then gradually use them less and less frequently in hopes that the external motivator will help build some positive habits that will become internal motivators. Am I foolish in thinking this? Am I opening up a can of worms that I won’t be able to close or am I doing the right thing here? Really looking for some advice on this one.

School in Norway

A few days ago, someone posted a video on Facebook or Google+ about what Kindergarten in like in Norway. It’s a documentary done by BBC Scotland comparing how much outside time students get in Norway as well as some other differences in what children are expected to do. Here’s the video:

I was amazed at some of the things they show in the video. For example, that they spend one day a week outside. How wonderful is that? I love that they have a culture that is more interested in wearing clothing that is appropriate for the weather than “looking cool”. One of my favourite quotes from this video is

“There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”

It’s so true and I wish more people had that philosophy in Canada as well. Instead, we get students coming to school in shorts when it’s way too cold for shorts.

I also enjoyed hearing their laid-back attitude towards students getting hurt. I certainly don’t want my students to get hurt, but I also dislike the fear that if something happens to a child and they hurt themselves then we are totally at fault and there could be a lawsuit or whatever. I find that our obsession with keeping children safe also prohibits them from a great number of learning experiences. Imagine being able to take a Kindergarten class to a farm and interact that much with the animals! Or teaching little children how to safely use knives!

It’s a very different culture and one I wish we could see a little more of in Canada and North America.

Read to Self trials

I haven’t been keeping up with my blogging this past week. I had a feeling I would slow down a bit in September. Things are so busy. Last weekend’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival was amazing and a well needed break. My husband’s band had an amazing show and placed second in the competition. Thanks to everyone who voted and came to the show. I’m so proud of them.

At school, my class is progressing. We’re starting to develop some good habits and routines. Some days they seem to require more reminders of those routines than others. There French skills are progressing as well. It amazes me, watching them figure out what I’m saying, what they need to say, learning the sounds and the grammar of a new language. It’s been a few years since I started French Immersion, 15 years now actually, and I have a vague recollection of how frustrating it was at first. But despite their frustration, most are catching on to the daily phrases and routines that we do in French and are getting more accustomed to me speaking in French.

As I mention in my First week with students post, I’m integrating some parts of the Daily 5 program into my Intensive French classroom. In February I’ll be implementing the whole program. For now we’re focusing on read to self. We did an I-chart of what that looks like, we talked about the three ways to read a book and we have a chart on the board for a visual representation of our stamina progress. More so than any other year, I’m finding their stamina is erratic. Some days they are able to read for 14-15 minutes, other days they only have stamina for 2 or 3 minutes, or can’t get settled at all. I am noticing a general trend of more time as we go along, but we have setbacks still. Today their stamina was 2 minutes.

I had one student today who did not want to read at all. This student had been having a difficult week and was being obstinate. I tried having other students encourage this student to try and reminders of the three ways to read a French book but to no avail. And I do believe strongly that when we’re building up our class stamina, it has to be the whole class.

Does anyone have any tips for how I can help this child? It wasn’t just this one issue today. I tried speaking one on one a few times, and have attempted to contact home to see if there’s something else going on but haven’t been able to reach anyone yet. How do you deal with students who refuse to buy in to this?

OT: Please Vote

School is coming along. Each day I’m getting to know my students better and we are coming to an understanding of our expectations and how to show respect to each other. It’s slow going at times but I have so much support from the other teachers and principal and vice principal. They are awesome. I’ll write more about this continuing journey another day.

But tonight I have a different story. My husband is in a band called the Jaclyn Reinhart Band. They are an amazing group of musicians who work so hard an practice in our basement once a week. I have seen them grow and develop as a group and I love all of them. My husband plays bass guitar for the band. They’re an amazing group of people that are almost like another family. 
Every Fall there’s a music festival, the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton. It’s a pretty big deal for us. Fredericton is relatively small but once a year we attract people from all over the world to play music here. It is an amazing time. They have a competition called the Galaxie Rising Star competition, taking bands from New Brunswick to compete. There are three main parts to the competition, the on-line voting, going on now, the showcase show tomorrow (3-6pm in the Barracks Tent for anyone in the Fredericton area) where there will be 
judges as well as text voting at the show.
Even if you live far away, if you could spare a minute to vote, I would be very happy. All you need to do is go to this address http://www.galaxie.ca/en_CA/risingStar/futureEvents/Harvest+Jazz+%2526+Blues+Festival/167 sign-up with an e-mail address (they don’t need your name or anything, just your e-mail address to confirm you’re only voting once per address) and then vote. Jaclyn Reinhart Band is the only band in the competition with women in it, and they’re amazing musicians. 
If you’d like to check out their music first, my youtube channel is http://www.youtube.com/user/jcchssn?feature=mhee where I post the videos I take of some of their shows. 
This one is one of my new favourites,
Please vote. Voting is done at 12PM Atlantic time.

Moving from carrot and stick motivation

Even before I became a full-time teacher, I struggled with the idea of how to motivate students. While in university we looked at various methods and discussed how students who are intrinsically motivated (motivated to do something because they know it will benefit them) work better and have a more meaningful education than those who are extrinsically motivated (those motivated by either fear of consequences or because they will get something else if they do well).

Extrinsic motivation is often called  using “Carrot and Stick” motivators. So you tell a student that if they do this thing you want them to do, they will get a candy (carrot) but if they don’t do it, they will get a detention (stick). In some way it is nearly impossible to get away from using carrots and sticks. After all, if a student does well they get a high mark, if they don’t do well, they fail. I suppose the amount of importance you give to those marks can change whether or not they become motivators. I myself as a student was highly motivated by marks and by praise.

In a previous post over the summer, I thought about Video game style motivation where I talked about using goals to help motivate my students. This is something I have started doing a little this past week, having the students express their learning goals in writing.

But I also spoke about my positive participation tickets. So far I have not resumed this practice and I would like to refrain from using it this year for several reasons. One is it’s a carrot. It motivates students to something I want because they will get something from it. I found it difficult last year to see the students become greedy about the prizes last year and it also took up a lot of time and money to get the prizes. The positive participation tickets came from a system developed for the intensive french program. Most intensive french teachers use them or a variation to motivate their students to speak French. I’m concerned that if I don’t use the system that when my teaching is observed, my choice to not use this system will be questioned and I’ll be told to start using it again.

My other concern is what to use instead. Last year I tried to go without my tickets with one of my grade 5 classes. After a few days of not getting any hands I started in with the tickets and suddenly the hands went up. I also randomly call on students using a random name selector. But so far this year I haven’t seen participation from a lot of my students. What motivators have you used in your classroom that work for you?

First week with students

It seems like only yesterday I wrote about the night before the first day of school, and here it is, the end of the first week. It went by so very fast. There were some big challenges this week as well as some big wonderful moments. I’d love to list off all of the highlights but to be honest, there is just too much to talk about so I’ll give a few of the big ones.

First off, my classroom does seem crowded with 25 students in it. It’s amazing to think that there are classes with more students than that in other schools. In our school that’s a very large class. I have three students who are new to our school. All three are lovely and are starting to make connections with their classmates and with me. I’m so happy to see that they’re starting to put their hands up during discussion and letting their voices be heard.

We spent much of this week talking about and practicing our classroom and school expectations. I’ve had to remind the class a few times that, because there are so many of them, that the expectations for independent work and being mindful of others is much greater. I’m the only adult in the room and getting around to all 25 of them to help them just isn’t possible. I make an effort to get around as much as I can though. The discussions and practices of routines is helping. The first day was more of a struggle. After that, as we worked through what needed to be done, our days have improved greatly.

One of our big routines that the students love is read to self. I took the idea from The Daily 5. We build up our stamina for silent reading. So rather than saying we’re going to read for 20 minutes, I get everyone settled and then I start the timer. Once I see that they’re no longer focused, I stop the timer and we graph how we do throughout the month. I let them sit where they want. As you can see from this picture, there are a few in the closet, one at a desk and one lying on the desktops. A few chose to lie down on the desks the first day, then they discovered it was uncomfortable and so the novelty of that has worn off.

On the first day, we managed 5 seconds after three tries. I think they were just too excited about being back and were having trouble focusing on anything. But we worked on putting the books in the right places and being gentle with them and finding spots, what silent reading should look and sound like, all of those good routines that they were able to show again the rest of the week. On Wednesday they read for 3 minutes. Now keep in mind that these are students who do not have very strong reading skills in French yet. So even though they are in grade 5, their ability to read in French at this point is at about a Kindergarten or Pre-K level. This is more about having the experience of looking at the books, reading the pictures, making some connections between the words and the pictures and some of the “mots d’amis” the words that are almost identical or the same in French and English. So 3 minutes on the second day was wonderful.

The third day they got 11 minutes. I was so proud of them I nearly cried. You could have heard a pin drop in the classroom. They were focused. All I could hear was pages turning. Occasionally, someone would whisper quietly to a neighbour. Then I would hear the neighbour quietly ask the whisperer to be quiet. It was beautiful.  Today they were tired and having trouble focusing again, but we did get 9 solid minutes in. I’m so proud of their progress.

This weekend I will try to write more about my new endeavors to get away from the carrot and stick methods of teaching. It’s very challenging and deserves its own post.

This is off-topic for my blog, but I am so excited about it that I feel the need to share. My husband’s band is in a competition called the Galaxie Rising Star. It’s a showcase of artists from New Brunswick and takes place during our big music festival next week, the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival that happens each September. Former winners of this contest have gone on to do amazing things. My husband plays bass in the Jaclyn Reinhart Band and, even though I’m biased, I really do think they are amazing and talented. If you’re in Fredericton, they are playing on Friday, September 16th in the Barracks Tent. It’s a free show starting at 3pm and if they win they get to play on Saturday night.

But even if you’re not in Fredericton, if you could please vote for them in the on-line competition they would be so grateful. all you need to do is go to Galaxie Rising Star, sign up (they just need your e-mail to make sure you only vote once), check out the six bands and then vote for the Jaclyn Reinhart Band. They’re doing well in the competition but would love to get some more votes. Their website has a lot of videos that I’ve shot for them at different shows that they’ve done as well.

I hope everyone has a lovely and relaxing weekend.

Twas the night before the first day of school…

… and all through the town,
Not a teacher was idle,
Neither uptown nor down.

The supplies were all nestled
All snug in their places,
Awaiting new children
With bright smiling faces.

Bulletin boards were hung
In the hallways with care,
In hopes that some visitors
Soon would be there.

And I in my pj’s
My cat on my lap,
Spent a few more hours working
Before my brain could nap.

My challenge to you… finish this poem! I’d like to work more on it but I have a dozen more things on my to do list before I can try to go to bed.

Happy first day of school tomorrow!