Glasser-Sterling has a much wider scope then I have described it, so when I say I used as much as I could…it amounted to not much, considering the scope of it as a whole. So, I changed my classroom rules. Instead of follow directions, stay on task, and show respect, they became: be prompt, be prepared, be productive, be respectful, and be responsible. I had not changed my rules in a decade, but these rules were better. These rules were more than just demands; these rules included the students inside of them.
Then I created an Issue Bin, where students could place notes under four categories: concerns, questions, kudos, and requests. The notes were discussed during a daily class meeting. I had to put a stop to them requesting a classroom Nintendo Wii, but they handled the other categories pretty well. They loved writing notes. During the first weeks of school many of the notes were placed in the concern category. They were about how one particular student bothered them constantly. We spent time discussing his behavior during the meeting…fully disclosing. He stopped bothering the other students pretty quickly. He stopped without disciplinary action too, a victory to be sure.
Next my class and I set a classroom goal: Everyone in Mr. Souppa’s class will get a 3, 4, or 5 on the FCAT Reading and Math exams to be prepared to go to 4th grade. Everyone, 100 percent of my students would pass third grade, a high bar. I was told my goal was not realistic, but I did not change it. My principal did not ask me to change it and I put it in my professional development plan, which I posted for the students to see. I told them, “we are in this together” and I meant it. Finally, my students tracked their data as a class and individually. Because of time constraints we talked about the class data more than the individual data. And I never really got around to setting individual goals based on the data, with the exception of my lowest scoring students. Setting smaller goals for them did have an impact on their progress though. However the ultimate goal of every student having a plan of action was never fully developed due to our time constraints.
As the year progressed, district mandates increased and took over. I stated the rules less and less (mostly because they were a pretty well behaved bunch). We had less time for the Issue Bin and it eventually blended into the wall like the other posters in my classroom. Our meetings became less frequent and finally ceased. My class did write that goal down every day though. I continued to talk about how we were going to meet that goal. Everyone was going to pass the FCAT and be promoted to fourth grade.
By January we were heavily preparing for the FCAT. We worked on critical thinking skills more and more. I taught my students to use critical thinking skills on test questions they could not answer (because they lacked the prior knowledge, did not recognize a specific word, or something got lost in translation). I started realizing these critical thinking skills were enabling them to see right through the test questions. Students that can think critically, students that can creatively problem solve are students that can find more than one answer to a question. On a multiple choice question, a question with only one correct answer and three incorrect answers, it becomes transparent to critical thinkers which answers are wrong and which one is right. Interesting discovery.
So we entered March. March is FCAT month in Florida. My students took the tests. The high stakes tests were sent off to be scored and we waited. They still wrote that goal down each day and we acted as if that goal was met. My class prepared for fourth grade, not knowing if they made it or not. Tune in Saturday…to find out if my class made it and the answer to the question: Can creativity and standardization co-exist? The answer is with the roaches…
This is a guest post by Ted Souppa.
I really like the idea of the Issue Bin with different categories. I have something similar, but much more simple. (and quite honestly, after the thrill of a Q/Comment box is over, it doesn’t get used much.) I also like that you go over and discuss what’s in the box at daily meetings. Keeps the class in on everything and contributes to the sense of community.
Isn’t it a shame when we lose sight of these important things when it comes closer and closer to testing time??
Mr Souppa, it is refreshing to see that you are still keeping creative problem solving alive in your Florida classroom. The “MacGyver” approach, as l call it, is an improtant life skill that continues to be pushed sideways by the Florida SSS and the FCAT. I have been a fourth grade teacher at a title-one school in Pinellas County for 27 years, after 13 (yes that number is correct) administration changes, we just keep putting more emphasis on the writing scores as each new administrator moves into their office. I am sorry to say that my retirement in three years can not come soon enough. Please keep fighting the good fight for creative problem solving. I hope you can continue to MacGyver it into your lesson plans.
Elizabeth, I hope to use my issue bin continuously next year. When I stopped, I found myself having to raise my voice more. The instructional time it took to have a class meeting was worth the instructional time lost after I stopped having them.
Bob, I will continue to incorporate creative problem solving and critical thinking into my lesson plans until and administrator actually tells me to stop (and then I will anyway). Creative problem solving and critical thinking are far too important academic; life skills to be done away with, because they make standardized test questions transparent. Too bad…let us get back to performance based assessment in that case…