In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve looks at how consistency and flexibility in the classroom can lead to enhanced student learning.
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Announcer : 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics, connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:33 Consistent and flexible classroom management. Consistency and flexibility are observable in outstanding teacher’s classrooms. Students know what to expect from the teacher. There’s a calmness generated from consistent expectations that the teacher has for students and the students have for the teacher. Consistency isn’t consistency of consequences. It’s consistency of actions, attitudes, and procedures. When you have routines each day and you react with patience each day and you treat students as fairly as possible, then you are consistent and students know what to expect.
Steve: 01:27 It’s important to note that fair does not mean the same. Actually, treating students the same can be completely unfair. Flexibility requires knowing your students. Relationships with students build easier in a consistent environment. Relationships increase knowing and they drive flexibility and the relationship grows deeper. It is a positive spiral. One way to look at consistency and flexibility in your classroom management is to identify the verbal approaches you use with students, which establish a decision making process. Consider a continuum that ranges from the teacher, giving a lot of decision making to the students, the teacher sharing decision making with the students and the teacher keeping decision-making. At times, we as teachers are at each of the spots on the continuum, but consistency creates a usual response that students grow to expect. Consistency is built when students sense that usual expected teacher behavior. Flexibility emerges when the teacher changes from that approach in response to a situation or individual student’s needs. Let’s take a look at different verbal structures teachers can use and identify where those structures fall across that continuum of giving, sharing, or keeping the decision making power.
Steve: 03:33 The first strategy I’ll look at is called the problem solving inquiry. There’s generally two steps in this process. One, a problem is defined either by the teacher or the student and by problem, we could mean opportunity as well as problem. And then in the second step, the teacher either asked the students for possible solutions or ideas, or the teacher offers possible solutions or ideas. The problem solving inquiry is a strong power giving strategy and at its strongest power giving strategy, the teacher is asking the student to define the problem and asking the student to come up with a solution. In its broadest sense, it could sound like this. What do you see as the problem? And what actions will you take? The problem solving inquiry moves more towards power sharing when the teacher defines the problem, especially if the teacher chooses to define it more narrowly and the teacher is now offering solutions for the student to choose from.
Steve: 05:04 Here’s a series of examples, consider how they move from most giving of the decision, making power to the students, to a more shared decision making role. We need to plan a community service project for our homeroom. What might we do? So the teacher has defined the problem but made it very open by asking the students for possibilities. We need to plan a community service project in response to homelessness. What might we do? Notice here, the teacher has moved more towards a shared decision making by the teacher defining the problem and more narrowly connecting it to homelessness, but still open-ended in the students coming up with ideas. We need to plan a community service project in response to homelessness. Should we explore the issues of nutrition, mental health, housing, or employment?
Steve: 06:18 In this case, the teacher is now limited somewhat more by the teacher, giving the options. We need to plan a community service project in response to homelessness. Should we explore the issues of nutrition or housing? By offering fewer options, the teacher has moved more from the power giving spot on the continuum to a power sharing. Here’s the problem solving inquiry applied in another example. There’s too little being accomplished when we are in the independent stations. What ideas do you have for improving that? This would probably fall pretty much in the shared area, in that the teacher has defined the problem, but opened up to the students for possible solutions. There is too little being accomplished when we are at the independent stations. We could try setting goals for what needs to be accomplished at the start. Maybe we could set a challenge with a partner for what we’ll accomplish or try working at our desk instead of at the stations.
Steve: 07:29 What do you think? Now the teacher has narrowed down to three options for the students to select from. The problem solving inquiry can also be used as a power keeping strategy. This occurs when the teacher defines the problem and offers unequal options. In other words, the student is forced to accept the option that the teacher wants implemented. Example – you can work more responsibly on the independent task or have them assigned as additional homework. The teacher using this strategy is confident that the students will select to work more responsibly rather than have the additional homework. There is a caution however. If I offer the choice, a student may choose the option that I don’t want and then I’m stuck having to follow through. I learned this early in my teaching career, when I informed sixth grader, Jimmy, that he could finish his work or go
to the office.
Steve: 08:40 With that, Jimmy picked up his books, headed to the door, turned and said, “see you later, mr. Barkley.” I felt a little foolish when the principal came to my classroom and wanted to know why Jimmy was in the office. A second verbal strategy that we can take a look at is called the contingent action proposal. It’s mostly a power sharing skill. It’s a form of making a deal and often follows a if then, that kind of structure. If the contingent action proposal requires a student action to happen before the teacher action, then it falls more on the power keeping side of the strategy. Example – if you bring your work in by Monday, I will give you full credit. In this case, the student has to perform first by bringing in the work on Monday for the teacher to follow through with her part of the deal in giving the student full credit.
Steve: 09:52 If the contingent action proposal requires the teacher to take action first, then it falls more on the power giving side of the continuum. Example – if I postpone the exam until Monday, will you use the time over the weekend to practice and study? This example falls more on the power giving side because the teacher in effect could get burned. Meaning she postpones the test, but the student doesn’t follow through and use the time. In my experience, I’ve often found that when there’s a student I’m having difficulty connecting with, the contingent actual proposal where I take the action first, it’s kind of like I go out on the limb and I give the student the saw, can be a way to break through with that student who is not trusting of teacher authority. Two other verbal skills to consider that are on the power keeping side of our continuum are disapproval and authority.
Steve: 11:16 When a teacher makes a disapproval statement to a student, the action that the student is expected to take is implied. For example, the teacher might say the noise level is too high. That disapproval for what’s currently occurring informs the student of the need to change behavior. When a teacher uses a authority statement, the behavior expected of the student is now spelled out. As an example, we need to complete the assignment. Let’s work in silence until everyone has finished. It is often valuable to provide a reason for your authority when you use it. Most of us find it easier to comply with authority when we know the reason that the directive is being given. Example of that in an authority statement – there are many new vocabulary words in this unit. I will introduce five words each day this week, and you will complete a homework assignment each night with the five new words. Take a look at the conscious verbal skills you’re using to present to students, either a giving sharing, or keeping classroom management style.
Steve: 12:49 If you put the continuum of giving, sharing, keeping on your desk, you might stop several times during the day, think back to the last period or two and note where on that scale, your comments to students fell. A teacher lacking consistency is moving around on the continuum too often and therefore students are unclear what to expect. A teacher with a consistent style is now prepared to consider when he or she needs to consciously move from that style. If you are finding yourself, struggling with a student or group of students, you might consider consciously changing with that student to a different power structure. Here’s just two examples. I worked with a teacher – high school teacher who had a very strong power keeping style that led many students in his class to be successful because they knew that the purpose of his power keeping was to create their success and they followed and complied with his request.
Steve: 14:21 There was a student that he struggled with and kind of butted heads rather frequently. And when he and that student met with a a peer advisory group, it was teachers and administrators who met with a teacher and a student who were struggling. They came up with a modification that gave more decision making power to the student. Matter of fact, it went as far as to say, the student could decide whether or not she came to class. If she chose not to come to class, she had to report to the library for that period. At the same time, she was responsible to always be in class for an experiment, always be in class for a exam and to always complete all the assignments with no responsibility on the teacher’s part to chase after her or follow up.
Steve: 15:24 Interestingly enough, the teacher reported the student was in class early, moving ahead from that time excited to inform other students that she didn’t need to be there but she was there and doing the work. Example of a teacher changing his style in order to increase the success of that individual student. I had a reverse process in my own work with middle school students. And my style tended to be more on the power sharing, even onto the giving side of it. At times I found students who could not be successful, who weren’t making the right choices with that structure. And so there were particular individual students that I had to go to a contract basis with in order to put requirements on that students, for the behaviors the places they need to be and when they had had to hand things in while other students had the flexibility to make those choices on their own. That was a forced change in my style that led to the student being more successful.
Steve: 16:50 Most of our classroom management decisions are made unconsciously. When we’re struggling, it’s a great time to stop and think consciously about what my normal responses are and when do I want to experiment with a different approach with a group of students or a given student. Sometimes teachers who want to be more on the power giving side, find out that they have to start with their students more on the power keeping side. When that’s the case, it’s important to consider how you would move step by step to give students more of the decision making power, because the students may not be prepared to make that big step from teacher as power keeper, to teacher as power giver. Take the time to reflect and consciously decide. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 18:00 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.