Friday, May 29, 2009

Misbehaving Students need Programming

I don't mean that students who misbehave should have their frontal lobes "formatted", and then have the necessary upgrades made to the operating system so that they will behave. What I mean is that students who misbehave should begin doing computer programming.

This year I have tried to offer many opportunities for my students to collaborate and creatively express themselves in a variety of ways. What I have found has been interesting; students with behaviour problems enjoy the computer programming unit the best, or behave the best during computer programming class.

We use Scratch - free programming software that uses drag and drop instructions and a litany of cartoon characters who will act out whatever instructions you give. Here is why I think the students with behaviour problems enjoy programming.

1.) No need for collaboration on this assignment - just the nature of my assignment. You could do collaborative projects, but I haven't for this unit. This does avoid the tricky business of working well with others in a give and take relationship. One where other people's efforts influence an individual's grade.

2.) Consistency - no matter what, you program this instruction in, the cartoon character (or sprite) will do it. I think some of these kids need this kind of consistency to feel they "trust" what they are doing will work.

3.) Structure - I ask them to create 11 scripts exactly. Same moves, same timings, same sprites. At first some students voice their disapproval saying that I am hemming them in and forcing them to comply with instructions. But once they settle on task, they become self-propelled, and they don't go off task often. They know what to make, and if they apply themselves, they can do all 11 exercises in less time than they predict.

I ask students to predict how many of these exercises they will make in a class. Often they say I can make only 3. Then they end up completing all 11 in a single class! This leads to two things:

1.) Boost in self-esteem - self esteem only increases with accomplishing tasks when the student had to apply themselves. No amount of telling a student what a good person they are will ever help their self-esteem.

2.) They want to do more - nothing breeds success like success.

So I guess what need to figure out now is how can I make more of their assignments like the computer programming classes? Conversely, how can I use what I have learned about their learning styles and needs to make them more comfortable and productive when doing creative assignments.

Write me back if you think of something!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Why Do They Come Back

Why do they come back? We see our former students roaming the halls of their elementary and middle schools, with the same faces but bigger bodies. They poke their heads in classrooms, and they seem to be looking for something. What are they looking for?

Maybe they are looking to once again see the world the way their smaller selves used to. Back before they knew all the terrible and wonderful things they know now. Maybe things aren't so easy now, and they long for the days when recess felt like it was long enough, and that a field trip to Science World was just around the corner.

Maybe they are looking for one of us, a trusted teacher whom they counted on. Counted on to show them right from wrong, even if that meant occassionally being punished - becauase that's how they learned. Looking for the one who held them up as champions on Sports Day for finishing the obstacle course, or for noticing their new haircut and saying it didn't look so bad. Looking for the person who opened up their world of wonder with stories read out loud. Sometimes they are looking for the one person who day after day was consistent as the tides, but held them like an anchor when everything else in their young lives was unravelling.

But something happens in the conversation. We exchange a few memories, trade a few laughs and smiles and then we realize it. They think we the teachers have changed. And we have. But they have changed, too. It starts when the students notice how small everything is; the chairs, the desk, how low the waterfountains are. Even the door frames feel so low they imagine they have to duck to get through. But then they realize that they have changed. That teacher that they held in their hearts and minds is not their teacher anymore. That teacher belong to someone else; or rather a bunch of someone else's. And they can't go back home again.

I always smile when a familiar face walks through the door, and comfort them when they come to this realization. And I let them know, maybe you feel like you can't come back home because this isn't your home anymore. But I still am happy when you visit. And I will always be glad to see you.

And then just like that, off they go. To find their own way, and their own home.