On-Line Lesson: Structure
Vertebrate or non vertebrate -- backbone or no backbone,
External discipline recognizes the importance of an authority figure, places a high value on compliance, regulation and product. It is more of an "assembly line" idea rather than honoring individuality. It also suggests a belief that we can and should train people. At an extreme, it results in regimentation. It is effective when community skil ls are not desired, when one outcome or expectation is valued or needed and when obedience to authority is critical. It is also essential while placing an internal discipline plan in place.
Both types of structure have strengths and drawbacks.
To provide the best possible learning environment, we learn to utilize both types of structure. The master teach has a knack for balancing the needs of self and student. This is reflected in the way structure is taught and shared, and the flexibility the teacher and students feel in interchanging one for the other, addressing the best good of commu nity, content, and personal gratification.
Building a structured classroom is a developmental process and begins and ends with structure and consistency. True democracy consists of both rights and obligations. If either is downplayed, then personal freedom suffers. In exercising our own rights we obey the laws and thus protect our own and our neighbors' peace. Being human, we can recall times when human weakness and desires combined and we broke the law. At times we were caught and suffered the sanctions or consequences of breaking the law. Sometimes we were not caught, but suffered consequences that were a natural part of damaging the rights or property of others. In those instances, we suffered the natural consequences of our actions. We were able to gain a clear linear recognition of l aw and a growing awareness of how freedoms and choices could be curtailed.
As we matured, we began to make our own set of laws and rules, recognizing patterns of cause and effect. Many of these rules were not codified into law or written down. Some dealt with relationships, some with the foods we could and could not eat, some came from "on high" and were given out and collected upon by adults and authorities. If the imposed rules seemed too weighty, too autocratic, it began a thought process of "me and them." "Me" is the victim, the one who must take orders. "Them", the enemy, becomes a focal point for future action. "Someday I'll be in charge, and then I'll show them." Even those of us who assumed a pseudo stance of compliance, who recognized the value of pleasing others, had many scripts written for getting around the rules and for taking the place of "them." It certainly did not teach a democratic view of life.
So, in the classroom, in order to set up a discipline system based on freedom and obligation, law and consequences, we must establish a structure of freedoms inherent in being a member in a democratic setting. To be effective, it will be clearly defined. There will be a fully developed set of procedures, practices, written rules and consequences. The classroom setting can neither initiate nor perpetuate the "me and them" or autocratic feeling if we are facilitating students taking on the responsibility of being life long learners
In addition, there must be a teacher at the helm who is aware of self, of unspoken expectations and aware of unspoken ideas and belief systems from the community. Those undercurrents are some of the most viable rules and regulations in our lives. We refer to them as "norms" and they are the true parameters, despite what may be written and posted as the rules. At times we admit to them as a bias or a script. Regardless of the names we give them, they are strong imperatives and make it difficult to maintain a democratic process. A few examples of hidden feelings that emerge in verbalizations follow:
The feelings often become reflected as a pecking order - Larry comes to school having been bawled out by Dad, so teacher becomes the butt of retaliation. Teacher becomes upset so s/he overreacts to Jason's behavior and Jason (the nasal kid) "gets it"; Jason becomes enraged so two neighboring students, usually friends, get upturned from their seats, --- and the pattern moves through the classroom like pocket billiards. Much as each of us wants to be fair, consistent, above reproach in our emotional stability, human beings are not as naturally consistent or logical as we would like. However, by addressing norms, reviewing and recognizing biases and world or student vie ws, we add to our consistency and become better able to provide the democratic setting and model egalitarian demeanor.
Further, there are many natural laws, especially those dealing with relationships and ethical practice toward one another, which have not been codified. Some have not been written down because they are passed through oral tradition and modeling.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Layers of meaning or connotation:
The successful classroom cannot be legislated. One set of rules or ways to manage students cannot be mandated because it is a complex, very personal, evolving situation. Initially, the students cannot be given responsibility to establish the setting and the rules, because they must be tutored in the skills before they can be expected to envision their importance. And students, through our work in the classroom, will be gaining a better understanding of rules, of responsibility, the onus of ownership before they can make informed decisions about the setting for cradling and nurturing the democratic spirit and practice of honor and justice.
The effective educator recognizes the complex interplay of rules, routines, norms and human needs. These are carefully considered and included as rules, practices and procedures as the democratic classroom is initiated.
These factors are interwoven and embedded in one another. As we recall and review the positive and negative modeling, recalled from parents, authority figures and teachers, we gather clues about verbalized beliefs as well as submerged behaviors we act out spontaneously. These become the basis for explicating norms and hidden beliefs or expectations which creep in and color the classroom environment and which catch us up in behaviors we would not normally exhibit. They also point up and clarify some we use without thought and when under pressure. Once we have established them for ourselves we will be more vigilant in recognizing and controlling them. We will be more alert to them as they surface in the classroom, too.
The rest of this lesson has a number of practical or PRAXIS sections. They provide opportunities to think about structure and building blocks for ways to change or strengthen structure in the classroom. These are not literal assignments and none of them is necessary for completion of the course. You may even wish to do them as the extra component for your "A".
You can use them to construct the course to meet your own needs. If you decide to do some of these activities, remember to keep track of the points and add them to the objectives you are completing. You can share the experiences at WebCT with the professor and fellow students, or email your outcomes to the professor when completed.
Establishing a positive classroom climate
Though we give lip service to the notion that dangling a carrot works better than brandishing a stick, our school settings may not always reflect that. Perhaps it comes from modeling, from our experiences in the classroom, from the notion that structure and punishment go together. Maybe it comes from getting caught up in the bustle of getting the day completed, objectives met, students taught. However it happens, the classroom may not reflect a spirit of reward, of positive excitement and positive power. So as the teacher works to describe outcomes , it is crucial to spend time developing the privileges and positive empowering elements of the classroom.
In keeping with a democratic setting, it is important to verbalize the privilege of education. It is good for students to know that the whole community is working together to fund their opportunity to spend time in the classroom. It is important to self esteem for them to see themselves as a bright hope, worthy of the love and support of community and country. It is just as important to self esteem that they see themselves as being responsible to the community for these educational opportunities. By sharing a view of education which underscores privilege, we help students to recognize the value of the experience. By sharing the idea that they "get" to go to school, are "allowed" to learn and study, we put a different light on education and learning. We also build a perspective of appreciation and gratitude. Gratitude is a magnificent gift which can be bestowed on youth, but it is not automatic. It is a frame of mind which must be carefully developed and reinforced. It is essential to moral devel opment and to the development of an appreciation of others. It is a crucial step in moving beyond "what's in it for me" ego development. It is a vital moving force for assisting the student to view life as more than a selfish pursuit and more of a social, democratic experience, and it is sweet!. .
"Sweet is the breath of vernal shower, The bee's collected reassures sweet, Sweet music's melting fall, But sweeter yet, The still small voice of gratitude." - T. Gray
Building the idea of education being a privilege also gives a sense of reward just from being a participant in the process. Helping the students to recognize and then revere the teacher for the love, time and care bestowed on students is important. It develops warmth and relationship if teachers build an atmosphere which reflects respect of human beings, respect of self and provides opportunities for expressing that respect. In one sense this is an attitude, but it can be developed through specific ac tions and communication patterns.
The following activities are suggested for implementation by those who have access to a classroom or who are initiating democratic practice in the classroom.
Once the rules are considered and established for the classroom, the teacher attends to the sanctions. All of us are motivated by outcomes, by rewards as well as a wish not be be punished or negatively impacted by actions. Youngsters often have difficulty seeing around situations to visualize the likely outcome of actions, misdeeds, failure to complete a job. Some of this is due to cognitive development, some is a lack of life experience. [Children who have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or who were "crack" babies are especially delayed in this area and may not be able to learn cause-effect]. Rules without consequences have little value. This insight was well described by a teacher in a staff development meeting:
I thought about what would be happening if officers just gave a nod to those who broke the law, or a stern look, maybe stopping them and yelling for a few minutes. At that moment I began to realize the importance of consequences being established for every law and those consequences being well understood and consistently carried out.
If it is illegal to park, but there is no sanction, then the rule is pointless. If congress passes a law mandating education to children four years old, but includes no sanction - neither money to fund the program nor penalties for failing to begin the program, then few children will ever see a classroom. I determined at that moment to try to carry that principle of rules and consequences into my classroom and share it with my students.
It is important for the teacher to assist students as they reason through the possible consequences of actions. There are a number of factors that contribute to the slow development of students recognizing or cognitively thinking about the results of actions. Even those patterns which have become second nature are often unreasoned. Many things we feel anxious about are left over responses or consequences of actions which affected us deeply, but thoughts which we did not consciously produce.
Since it is difficult for students to see the ramifications or to attribute moral meaning to most deeds, it is important for the teacher to point out consequences, both good and bad and verbalize about them. The consequences need to be logical or natural. It is important to show the connection between an action or rule and the consequence that follows. Even with those consequences which are established, it is helpful for the teacher to provide cues and prompts about the impending consequences of acts. When a consequence naturally occurs or is a logical extension of behaviors, it does no harm for the teacher to be sympathetic about the predicament of the student. Certainly demeanor which projects "I told you so" or "You asked for it" detracts from the opportunity the student has of learning to cope with choices and outcomes. It also produces the feeling of punishment.
It is important to deliberate about the role of teacher, as an executive in a democratic setting. Experience has often cast the teacher as the enforcer and cast a sense of rule by hickory stick - enemy of childhood. In the democratic setting, the role of teacher as guardian seems much more apt and more reasonable. There is a legitimacy in the construct that is both natural and comforting. It is a role we can respect and appreciate for ourselves, something we can feel is a worthy and hono rable model for students, a position well suited to passing on the torch of knowledge, keeper of the keys of freedom.
These are suggested activities. Feel free to complete them and send them to the professor. They provide a natural progression of activities to facilitate proactive discipline.
The classroom setting is likely to appear radically altered by these subtle changes. For some teachers change signals anxiety, just as it does for some students. Remembering how much learning means to us, and seeing the changes as learning, reflecting , growing, and developing adds energy and excitement. Recognizing an opportunity for greater effectiveness, stronger relationship to students, deeper meaning and service to society balances with the discomfort of change. The rest of this hands on materi al outlines the processes and steps which will help the excellent practitioner. The suggested changes are a blue print. In each classroom there will be original ideas, and personally stronger, more efficient ways to move toward democratic discipline.
It may be helpful if a cadre of teachers form a partnership to discuss the changes and provide support and insights as the implementation progresses. It is vital to remember the partnership with community and family and enlist assistance and insights fro m these members as well. Great teachers know, as business leaders are learning, that some of the clearest perspective and freshest ideas come from students. Providing appropriate times and places for student input and perspectives helps as well. All th ese supports can assist in the journey to a rebirth of the meaning of education, a commitment to support education, the profession of teaching, the vision of democracy taught and honored in the schools.
Preparing the Classroom
Clarify expectations for behavior
Include different modalities - whole class presentation, lecture, discussion,
Develop work procedures - communication and recall of assignments, make-up work
Provide feedback to students about progress, grades, failure, record keeping
Plan consequences - rewards and results of choices
Communicate expectations and practice expected behaviors
Explore and develop relationship skills - self-esteem, PEPSI, individual needs, teacher-student camaraderie,
Process education- encourage social skills, life skills, study skills, communication skills
Lead the class
Set rules (when possible, together) and agree upon them and what they mean
Describe choices of roles and consequences or outcomes of those choices
State rules positively - three to six, clarify meanings and provide rationale
Set procedures and practice them as they come on line
Give overview of the scope and sequence and work requirements
Provide a method for students to communicate personal needs for changes in assignments and development of alternative learning activities
Provide students with successes from the first day
Provide students with means for self evaluation and validation of such practices
Set up accountability and practice and reinforce the utilization from first day
Establish norms which help establishment of relationships immediately
Teach students self monitoring and recognize them for successes
Handle inappropriate behaviors promptly and dispassionately
Watch to see if teacher responses defuse or escalate behaviors
Change actions if escalation occurs with troubled student or spreads to others
Maintain unobtrusive presence during "on-task" time
Communicate with parents from the first day - note home, call, etc.
Model appropriate self control
Call students to control self -Give "I" messages, nonverbal signals
Prepare appropriate, meaningful work
Use effective teaching skills -presentation, pacing, involvement and interaction, continuity, organization, enthralling, hands-on oriented
Reward students using a wide range of modalities - social, tangible, intrinsic
Develop ways to vent frustration without a punitive behavior set