Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hiccups Happen

Inevitably, class rules will be broken.  And we, as adults, need to be prepared for that.  I spend a great deal of time at the beginning of the school year creating class rules with my students.  Involving them in the process is crucial for everything we do throughout the school year.  Every year there is a rule that is related to how we care for ourselves, each other, our materials, and safety and/or learning.  Although we create the rules together, agree on them, and practice what they look/sound/feel like, there will be times when rules get broken.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the rule that gets created about materials.  We spend a lot of time learning how to use and care for materials in the classroom.  Using guided discovery and interactive modeling we discuss and respond to questions like these:
  • What can we use markers for?  
  • How do we make sure they last?  
  • Where will we keep them?
  • How will this help us follow our class rule to care for materials?
We do this for many materials in our room including highlighters, base-ten blocks, counters, rulers, colored pencils.  This is an incredibly empowering process that provides a touchstone experience for the classroom.  When I think my students may need a reminder about how to care for the counters I may ask, "Who remembers how we use counters?" or "Who can show us what it looks like to be responsible with our counters during Math Workshop?"

Even with these proactive steps, rules can be broken.  Someone may stick a counter on their forehead, throw a marker cap, or poke someone with a colored pencil (all common occurrences in an elementary classroom).  When my students do one of these things that break the rule related to class materials, sometimes a simple reminder or redirection is all that is needed, "Put the counter in the cup."  Sometimes, a consequence is necessary, "Colored pencils are for coloring.  Put them away for today and you can try to use them again tomorrow."

Just as this is true for traditional classroom materials, it is true for more modern materials like iPods, iPads, Flips, NOOKs, laptops, etc.  So, when I teach my students how to carry the laptops from the cart to their work area and I see someone using one hand instead of two I may say, "Carry the laptop with two hands."  When I hear a child tapping loudly (which means it is also hard) on a NOOK or iPod I may say, "Show me how we use the iPods." or, "Put the NOOK away.  You can try to use it again tomorrow."

It can get a little gray when it comes to things like social media and recording because you can get into things that can be deemed as inappropriate or unkind, but I still use guided discovery and interactive modeling to introduce these materials.  We talk about what it means to follow our class rule of 'be serious' on twitter or 'be responsible' with the flips.  These conversations bring in a lot of what if scenarios, but are well worth it because they too serve as touchstone experiences.  When a child posts something in a blog (or on Twitter or Facebook) that can be interpreted as unkind this is a great time to have a conversation with the child.  A conversation about a potentially unkind comment could be handled like this:

Remind me how we follow our class rules when we blog.  What does that look/sound/feel like?
We only use capital letters to begin sentences, proper nouns, and if we are excited.
Why is that important?
If we write everything in caps, someone may think we are yelling at them which might make them think we are mad at them.
I noticed that your comment is all caps. Let's look at it.  What might someone think when they read that?
That I'm mad at them, but I'm not.  I just had the caps lock on.
That can happen.  Take the time to re-post your comment with proper capitalization.
Could I put a little note that this is replacing my other comment because of the caps lock?
What a great way to remind other people to pay attention to how they use capital letters!

Each instance of rule breaking brings with it a different way to speak to a child and/or what type of consequence is necessary.  Some may require the child to fix their mistake while others may remind them of the expected behavior, and others still may have them lose the privilege of using that material for a period of time.  It is important to remember that not every child or instance requires the same type of language and/or consequence.  It is important for us to have empathy for the rule breaker (we all make mistakes) and approach them with the benefit of the doubt.  It is also important to ask yourself, if this were a marker would I take it away indefinitely (a punishment) or just for a brief period?  If your answer is the latter, then it should be the same for the tech tool.  Instead of getting discouraged and thinking its the tech, remember that things like this could happen without the tech and go from there.  How are you prepared to handle hiccups when integrating technology?