Monthly Archives: September 2010

On Tolerance

From one sixth grade boy to another this morning, paraphrasing a classroom expectation:

“It’s never okay to make fun of someone, even when you can’t help it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Kids Say the Darndest Things

Narrate the Positive

This summer I ordered Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.  I didn’t put it at the top of my must-read list.  This was before the school year started when, in my arrogance, I thought it would be nice to have a resource to refer to new teachers who might struggle with classroom management.  I like helping new teachers.  New teachers often need help with classroom management.  I was sure that this book would would lay out some management strategies that I could pass on much more succinctly than I could describe myself.   I’m also very interested in how new teachers learn (or don’t learn) classroom management in their teacher preparation programs.  I thought that any book that claims to be able to show all teachers, meek or charasmatic, how to effectively address such issues was worth a look.

Cut to my own issues with classroom management this year.  I was so humbled that I turned to Lemov’s book in search of advice to help me get a handle on the culture of one of my classes.

I have a feeling that Lemov’s book might not sit well with many progressive educators.  He’s a managing director at Uncommon Schools, and charter schools are a divisive issue.  There are many differing philosophies related to urban education and closing the acheivement gap.  But I have to give Lemov some props.   Technique 43, Positive Framing, has made a world of difference with my difficult class.  Part of this technique, to use Lemov’s words, is to “build momentum, and narrate the positive” (207).  Simply put, teachers should describe the type of classroom and behavior they want to see rather than harp on what is going wrong.  Students are more motivated by “a vision of a positive outcome than they are to avoid a negative one” (204).  This sounds obvious, and on every level I know this to be true.  But in the moment, alone with your students when things have been going wrong day after day, week after week, it’s very easy to become negative or sarcastic.

I’ll give you a real-life example from my class this year:  “I can’t believe this is the third week of school and we still don’t know how to walk through the halls.”  I traded this in for “We’re whispering as we walk, facing forward, one behind the other.”  I’ll give you one guess as to which satement motivates the students to do it right.  And they have been doing it right!  Finally! 

I don’t know how this works.  When they hear me narrate the positive, I wonder if this train of thought runs through their heads:  What did he say?  We’re whispering?  It didn’t sound like that to me.  Maybe it would be nice if we were whispering.  That could be pretty awesome and unexpected.  Let me try that out.

I think a teacher’s negativity and frustration can at times feel like a badge of honor to students, particularly students who have been scarred by bad schooling in the past and have yet to form a relationship with their current teacher.  I know I’d respond better to a description of a positive vision than an inventory of what I’m doing wrong.  Maybe this is common sense.  At any rate, I’m grateful for Lemov’s reminder.

1 Comment

Filed under Classroom Management