Journal entry: “Hijacking the class”

February 5

The students reminded me today of the math classroom’s absolute total dependence on verbal skills.  We are studying linear equations, and we just moved from slope-intercept form to point-slope form.  The students are beginning to be comfortable with the instruction, “Write down point-slope form.”

Some of them can use this on their own in response to my prompt, “What do you do next?”

But the book is inconsistent in the meaning of “form,” and the students sense my discomfort.  The template or model equation itself — y – y1 = m(x – x1) – is described as “point-slope form”; at the same time we say that a specific equation — such as y – 5 = 3(x – 4) –  is written in in “point-slope-form.”  I don’t know how I would teach this differently next year, and we’re too far into the process for me to make a big deal out of it right now.  I need to keep looking for these things (and find solutions for them) that make the students whine out loud, “Why does math have to be so complicated?”

February 6

Period 3 had 100% homework today.  All students brought in homework.  I was astonished and praised them way too long.  Some apparently went home with tales of their weird math teacher.  (I even heard of parents who responded to these tales with their own praise of their children.)  It all felt really good.

Students had been showing me a reasonable rate of return, maybe 60-70%, and a few had excuses occasionally.  A few however, were just never bringing in homework and merely shrugged when I asked them why.  A couple weeks ago, I cracked down: no homework → lunch detention; skip lunch detention → official after-school detention.  I found that one total homework abstainer (after he got done complaining about my calls home and his detentions) is now bringing in his homework every day and even seems to be understanding more of what’s going on.

So, I learned from the students that even though they complain about having to work, they also are happy to be learning.  This is what we want, since when they’re learning, they’re engaged and not screwing around.  Plus, they’re learning, since they’re not screwing around.

February 7

The principal visited today on a pre-announced observation.  I was surprised to learn from defiant Frank that not everyone fears the principal.  After a couple reminders to turn and face forward, and then my next classroom-intervention-matrix step of a writing assignment, Frank began complaining about being singled out.  He reached the point of demanding to see the assistant principal and even the principal, whom he knew was right there in the room.  I spoke to him calmly but firmly at each stage, and I think it may have felt to him that he was being singled out.  I believe, however, that this is someone who is usually not denied anything.  Or maybe it’s the opposite, and he feels like the classroom is one place where he can make his own decisions.

Nevertheless, I was forced to deal with his hijacking directly, and eventually I had to ask him to leave.  The other students were complaining about his behavior, and after the class was over, the principal told me I had done the right thing. Regardless, it would have been nice to have an errand to send Frank on that would have allowed him to calm down without having to get in trouble.

February 8

Sean wrote in today’s mini-essay that the lesson hadn’t gone well.  He had trouble focusing (which was reflected in his disruptive behavior) and wrote that this was because he hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before.  I now casually ask him, nearly every day, if he got plenty of rest last night, as a reminder to him to do so and as a way for both of us to recognize the cause if he becomes belligerent.

I learned to remember that behavior is not spontaneous and usually not premeditated.  I have tried since this discussion to be ready with questions about the students’ preceding 24 hours – enough food?  enough sleep?  enough peaceful opportunities to do homework? – whenever issues begin to arise.  This feels like a great use of my time and worthy investment toward classroom sanity.

February 12

I began using my 30-sided die today for random selection during lessons.  I learned from students today the following: this is a great technique for equity.  The first couple (or ten) times, they think you’re kidding.  Then they begin to figure out that the teacher is serious when he says, “Answer this question.  [Pose question.]  Turn to your neighbor, and discuss this for 30 seconds, and be ready to answer when I roll the die.”  Be sure they learn that you won’t let them off the hook with the response, “I don’t know.”

I’m happy with using this technique in just about any lesson now.  I knew, of course, that many students were hiding behind the hand-raisers and troublemakers and consequently not learning a thing. But I was letting the momentum of a marginally functional classroom keep me from fixing this problem.  So, the random-selection technique is working great.  And students are even learning about probability first-hand: “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the purple die will give each of you an equal opportunity to show us how much you’ve learned!  And the purple die doesn’t even remember that it chose Maria a minute ago: it might just choose Maria again.  She still has the same chance as everyone else!”

February 13

Terrible day.  My students taught me today, among other things: don’t let them use the stapler (someone stole the rubber feet off the bottom), don’t let them have paper clips (they folded them into dangerous macelike balls), don’t let them out of their seats (they chased each other around), don’t let them have rubber bands or paper (somebody got hit in the eye with a folded missile from across the room).  Probably better not to let them have any freedom at all.

More realistically, I need to do a better job of limiting the choices the classes make (especially my difficult afternoon periods), and I need to simultaneously tie the students’ choices to their freedom.  I have an official “Festive Friday” each week: 20 minutes of origami, music, reading.  I can (and have) taken this privilege away from individual classes for misbehavior during the week; however, it’s been way too subjective.  I need to make yet another system – a numeric scale to tie Festive Friday to various behaviors in the class, including punctuality (see February 12), attentiveness, respect, and homework completion.

I told the class at the end of the period that I didn’t think it had gone well at all and asked them for their opinions.  They agreed by consensus that they had had too much freedom.

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