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!

No comments: