Sunday, November 30, 2014

More Working in the Reggio Way Giveaway

I recently attended a one-day workshop on Reggio Emilia. That sparked my interest in how to make the Reggio way work here in the United States and in learning more about how the classrooms I work with could be Reggio inspired. In my quest to learn more about ways to apply the Reggio Emilia philosophy to early childhood practices and classrooms I read the book More Working in the Reggio Way.

More Working in the Reggio Way was a quick and easy read and allowed me to easily apply Reggio-inspired thinking to the early childhood education system we have here in the United States. The book offered easy to understand explanations and descriptions of the basic tenets of Reggio-inspired practice, as well as suggestions for addressing and reflecting on the challenges of bringing Reggio-inspired practice into American classrooms. 

While Dr. Wurm addressed a whole list of cultural barriers in the book, there were a few that really stood out to me. 

Children develop along a unique timeline. We must leave behind the notion that all children evolve in an orderly fashion and in the same sequence. 

Adding "Reggio" objects to the environment does not make a Reggio-inspired program. Objects should be added to the environment based on the children. 

Emergent curriculum is not just free play. It requires intentionality on the part of the teacher. Placing materials in the environment and leaving children to simply explore them without some type of to and fro interaction can only go so far. 

Giving young children more freedom is not a bad thing. A significant tenet of the American education system is the attempt to completely or greatly control student behavior and choice. 

More rules do not solve all problems, but rather rules should result from a demonstrated need or condition. 

With each challenge that Wurm addresses, she offers ideas for how the American classroom teacher can apply the Reggio tenet to his or her own classroom. I have now gone back to read Wurman's first book Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner's Guide for American Teachers to gain an even clearer understanding of the way to bring Reggio-inspiration into the classrooms I am working with. 

I am excited to say that I have a copy of More Working in the Reggio Way to give away to one lucky blogger. This book has been such a great and inspiring read that I am super excited about sharing it with someone. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below with your name and email address in it. The giveaway ends Saturday, December 6th at midnight. 

In in my search to learn more about incorporating Reggio-inspired practices into the American early childhood classroom I have also created a Reggio-Inspired Pinterest board. You can check it out here

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Creating the Block Center

This post is part 2 of a series of posts about learning centers. This post will focus on the block center. I have repeated the general guidelines for setting up centers from the initial post. If you would like to read about creating an art center, then click here.

Setting up Learning Centers

Organizing, developing, and carrying out centers is an extremely complex task and one made of up many layers. When the work is put in up front and centers are well thought out and planned for, they can run smoothly and offer great academic, social-emotional, and developmental value to an early childhood classroom.

These are a few of the resources I have used over the years to assist me in implementing learning centers with young children.

General Guidelines for Learning Centers

Organize Using Appropriate and Engaging Materials

Every learning center should contain materials that are displayed in a neat organized and attractive manner. Materials should be on display on low, open shelves that are within reach of the child. Materials, activities, and equipment should be stored in their own containers. Label each storage container with both a picture and words written in the correct mix of capital and lowercase letters. Designate a special place on the shelf for each individual container with a corresponding label. 

Supervising All Centers

When setting up your room for learning centers, consider whether you will be able to visually manage activities in all of the centers from wherever you are in the room. Look at the way centers are arranged in relationship to one another. Your students need to be able to moved freely from one center to another without disrupting the work of other children. 

Define Clear Center Boundaries

Clearly define the space in each center using small area rugs, colored tape lines on the floor, or by arranging shelves and other pieces of furniture to create and define center boundaries. 

Using Signs

Label each center clearly with center signs that include words and pictures that define that particular learning center. 

Block Center

When young children build with blocks, they learn about mathematical concepts such as quantity, size, shape, and number. They become mindful of scientific principles such as the force of gravity and the operation of simple machines such as levers and inclined planes. They learn to think, plan, and problem solve as they work with others and their structures take shape. This center is especially important for those children who intelligences are in the areas of visual/spatial, logical/mathematical, and bodily/kinesthetic.  

Oftentimes, the block center is one of the first ones early childhood teachers get rid of or don't use, when, in fact, it may be the most important center of all. Block play gives children opportunities to create, cooperate, and communicate with others. It supports social learning through children working together to share materials, space, and ideas. It supports literacy development when children "write" signs and "read" task cards. Hand-eye coordination and visual discrimination are strengthened when students group blocks that are the same size and shape at clean-up time. Almost anything skill you might want to teach a young child can be taught through block play. 

Creating the Block Center

Space and Location

You will need a sizable area for your block center. Ideally, the blocks center should be in an out-of-the-way corner of the room where there is little foot traffic. This will prevent problems that occur when children passing by bump into structures that have been built with time and care. 

Essential Materials 

-rug (a rug can define the space as well as provide a comfortable surface of sitting, kneeling, and crawling while students construct)

-shelves, rather than bins (the problem with keeping blocks in bins is that children have to "dig" through them to find the shapes and sizes they are looking for, this can be frustrating as well as it creates an unnecessary amount of noise and disarray)

Block building is encouraged when children can quickly see the shapes and sizes of blocks that are available for building. When blocks are in a bin it sends children the message that the space lacks a sense of order and that things can just be dumped out without order or purpose. 

-unit blocks (wooden unit blocks)

-additional props (wooden people figures, cars, trucks, traffic signs, props that fit themes of study, measuring tools such as tape measures, rulers, yarn or ribbon, roles of adding machine tape, cutouts of hands and feet, post-its, etc.)

**TIP** like the different blocks, additional props need a specific space and place to be house in, reserve a space on the shelves for these additional items, be sure to mark them with a label that includes a picture and words (signs and labels in the block center help to make it a print-rich environment)

**TIP** Introduce one or two additional props at a time and change them out or add others as the year progresses
I love these prop tub labels from Irresistible Ideas

-writing materials (index cards and pencils)
This is a great example of labeling and sign making from Learning and Teaching Preschoolers

-visual aids (photographs of different types of buildings and structures to provide inspiration for creating and designing)
Check out this great post about block play by You Clever Monkey. Click here

-task cards (task cards made up of drawings and/or photographs and words that show children how to use the materials, task cards may show how to choose blocks, build with blocks, and put the blocks away or when teaching about zoo animals a task card might show how to put animals in a cage made of blocks)
Click here for a task card freebie from Kindergarten Lifestyle

Management Suggestions

Use construction paper to create a pattern of each block by tracing around all of the different block shapes and sizes. You can also use a copy machine to scan and make a copy of each block shape and size. Use clear packing tape to attach the outlines to the shelves. 

Guidelines for the Block Center
-build only as high as your shoulders

-whoever builds it, takes it down

-put blocks away before leaving the center (this guideline is questionable, in some cases you may allow students' structures to remain standing over night or for several days)

-take blocks down with your hands, not your feet

-when cleaning up, match the blocks to the shapes on the shelves (place them gently on the shelf, do not throw them to put them away)

Block Center Teaching Tips

Respect Developmental Stages 
Very young children, who are in the initial stages of block play, tend to explore the nature of the blocks by experiencing their weight, texture, and shape.
After awhile, children will begin to build structures. They might first lay the blocks out so that they are end to end and flat on the carpet. 
Later on, they are likely to begin building upward by stacking blocks on top of each other. 
Eventually, they will build more elaborate structures such as enclosures, bridges, tunnels, etc. 

Talk with Children about their Structures and Play
Take a minute to stop and talk with children about what they have created or what they are working on. Ask questions and make statements such as:
"I see that you used a lot of rectangular prisms in your building."
"Your building is made up of high places and low places."
"You used some long rectangles and some short rectangles to make your building."
"Tell me how you made this building."
"How many blocks did you use to make the tower?"
"How many blocks do you think you will need to make the bridge?"

Encourage Literacy Through Block Play
You will have to model how to create signs to go with block structures and creations. Children in the earliest stages of writing can dictate their ideas to you. When students are going to leave their structures standing overnight, encourage them to create signs that have their name on them or say "Do not knock down."

More Resources for Block Play

Guidelines for Creating an Art Center

One of the most chaotic times of day I see in an early childhood classroom is center time. It is one of principals biggest complaints. They ask where is the planning and where is the purpose. It can also be a stressful time for the teacher and one wrought with behavior issues when not structured, organized, and implemented properly.

Organizing, developing, and carrying out centers is an extremely complex task and one made of up many layers. When the work is put in up front and centers are well thought out and planned for, they can run smoothly and offer great academic, social-emotional, and developmental value to an early childhood classroom.

These are a few of the resources I have used over the years to assist me in implementing learning centers with young children.

General Guidelines for Learning Centers

Organize Using Appropriate and Engaging Materials

Every learning center should contain materials that are displayed in a neat organized and attractive manner. Materials should be on display on low, open shelves that are within reach of the child. Materials, activities, and equipment should be stored in their own containers. Label each storage container with both a picture and words written in the correct mix of capital and lowercase letters. Designate a special place on the shelf for each individual container with a corresponding label. 

Supervising All Centers

When setting up your room for learning centers, consider whether you will be able to visually manage activities in all of the centers from wherever you are in the room. Look at the way centers are arranged in relationship to one another. Your students need to be able to moved freely from one center to another without disrupting the work of other children. 

Define Clear Center Boundaries

Clearly define the space in each center using small area rugs, colored tape lines on the floor, or by arranging shelves and other pieces of furniture to create and define center boundaries. 

Using Signs

Label each center clearly with center signs that include words and pictures that define that particular learning center. 

Creating an Art Center

The art center is a place where young children can express themselves creatively, while exploring a variety of art materials. This center is especially important for those children who have a strong visual-spatial intelligence.

Creating the Art Center

You will need:
-an easel

-a drying rack or area for children to lay out or hang up their work to dry (you might need to rearrange artwork and paintings from time to time so there is always space available)

-tempera paint (tempera paint is nontoxic and least expensive way to paint, place paint in no-spill paint cups, empty juice cans, or any other container that is deep enough to hold at least at day's worth of paint, make sure the container is deep enough to hold a long handled paintbrush without tipping over)

**TIP** stuff crumpled up pieces of newspaper or newsprint around paint cups to prevent spills
**TIP** tempera paint starts to smell if it is stored for a very long time, on Friday afternoons wash cups with soapy water to avoid unpleasant smells
**TIP** prevent stains and stretch your tempera paint by adding a small amount of liquid or powered detergent to each cup

-a variety of types and shapes of paper (butcher paper, newspaper, wallpaper, leftover laminating film, aluminum foil, etc. )
**TIP** use masking tape, clamps, or spring-type clothespins to attach paper to the easel for painting, spring-type clothespins tend to be the easiest for young children to use

-pencils, pens, and markers

-a table (tip: cover the table with several lays of newspaper or butcher paper or use a vinyl tablecloth with a felt or flannel back)

-smocks (men's cotton shirts worn with the buttons in the back work well, t-shirts do not work well because they tend to absorb the paint, screw vinyl covered cup hooks into the sides of the easel for hanging the smocks)

-shelves (provide low, open shelves stored with a variety of open-ended art activities and the necessary supplies)

-scissors box (provide a large cardboard box big enough for a child to sit in and with work space to spare, children can cut as much paper as they want, scraps will fall on the floor of the box rather than the floor of the classroom)
Post: Fine Motor Skills: Scissor Skills from Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes

Teaching Tips

Listen carefully when children want to share about their artwork. Encourage your students to "write" down their thoughts. When appropriate, take dictation from the student, writing the exact words the child said as they were spoken and without editing. Be sure to write on a separate sheet of paper from the child's artwork.

Remind and guide children to see their work through to completion. Some little ones will have a hard time staying with the task, especially in the first few weeks of school. Seeing the work through to completion includes not only finishing their artwork, but also cleaning up spills and putting materials away. 

If a child believes they can't do something or that they don't know how to draw and appeal to you for help in drawing and creating, then explain to them that if you do it, then it will be your work. Explain to them that it is their work and they need to do it in their own special way. Talk children through their ideas by asking questions such as "How many legs does a horse have? How many eyes?". You can also include sketches, drawings, and real photographs of items for student's to use as a "live" model. 

Closed art activities that have a "right" and "wrong" way of being completed are best for other times of the day and for older children.

When you talk with young children about their artwork, avoid questions such as "What is it? or What did you make?" Children may have simply been experimenting with materials and the project was not meant to be anything specific or the child may feel discouraged if you do not recognize something they worked very hard to make. Try using a statement such as "Tell me about your painting." This allows the child to respond in a variety of ways and for you to decide on other appropriate statements to say and questions to ask.

This is the first post in a multiple part series. I will also address other centers such as blocks, dramatic play, literacy centers, math, and science in future posts.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shared and Interactive Writing

I recently had a teacher comment on a blog post and ask several questions about interactive writing, so I decided to address them in a post.

It takes an extensive amount of teacher modeling and student participation to get young children to learn to see themselves as writers. Shared and interactive writing, both in small and large group, are two ways which allow young children to participate in the writing process while also offering a high level of support.
Create lists in small groups or ones written in whole group over a series of days. 

I wrote the letters I wrote in one color and the ones my students wrote in another color.  This allowed me to introduce them to phonetic rules. As they grew as writers I had them write more of the letters and any letters and sounds they heard or knew on their own. This way I knew what sounds and letters I gave them and what they wrote on their own. I used these pieces during parent conferences so it helped in showing parents where students were in the writing process. 

Add labels and write sentences together on sentence strips.

**Independent writing alone will not engage students in the writing process, teach them how to write, or prompt them to see themselves as writers. Shared and interactive writing can provide a powerful and much needed model of how the writing process works as well as examples of the many reasons we write.

Shared and interactive writing are collaborative processes, meaning the students are involved in what is written, how it is written, and even in the writing itself. All of the aspects of writing, including craft, conventions, and process, can be demonstrated through shared and interactive writing. The more young children experience these types of writing, the faster they will want to write for themselves.
Write poems together. Students can generate words and ideas and "share the pen" with you. 

Shared and Interactive Writing
Young children need to write multiple times throughout the school day. Besides setting aside time for independent writing, drawing, and bookmaking, you also need to make time for shared and interactive writing. In shared and interactive writing, the teacher and the students compose and write a text together. The text is then made available for students to read. Students love to go back to these class composed pieces and read them over and over again. Morning message, experience stories, and predictable charts are great for this.

The processes of shared and interactive writing are similar in that you compose the message together. In shared writing, the teacher is the only one who uses the pen. In interactive writing, the teacher "shares the pen" with the students by periodically calling a student to come up to the writing easel or chart to:
-write a known letter (the first letter of their name is a great example)
-place a hand on the chart to "hold" a space while the next word is being written
-write a letter that is connected to a sound the children know or are working on
-write a known word
-sign his or her name
Write to tell about something you have learned or read about.

Write to label things. 

**IMPORTANT TIP** Be choosy when you have children come to the easel or chart to write. You do not want writing the message to take too long. Decide on a few places in the text where student contributions will be relevant and add value to the learning.  Start by writing short lists or single sentences.

In my own classroom I gave every student a dry erase board and marker during interactive writing. This allowed every child to practice writing, not only the child I called to the easel. As the student who was called up to the easel wrote a letter or word, so did the students still sitting on the carpet.

For more tips on implementing interactive writing in the classroom, visit Kim Adsit at Kindergals and check out her post "Here Comes Interactive Writing."

Ways to Write in Prekindergarten and Kindergarten (these can be done with shared, interactive, and independent writing experiences)

-Draw and write about their experiences.
-Draw things they like such as foods and label them.
-Make up stories and draw pictures to represent the sequence of events.
-Use different aspects of print such as speech bubbles, punctuation, and titles.
-Construct menus, receipts, signs, and other functional items for centers they are working in.
-Write notes and letters to each other.
-Draw, label, and invent writing to tell about their scientific observations and discoveries.
Write in response to read-alouds and to compare things. 

Writing About Reading
-Draw or paint pictures about what they learned about a topic.
-Label pictures or talk to others about them.
-Retell stories using pictures.
-Draw speech bubbles to represent characters talking in a story.
-Draw and write about the most exciting part or ending of a story.
-Write to tell an interesting fact or something about what they have learned.
-Make a book that tells a story, describes and experience, or that provides informational text they have heard read.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Rainbows Within Reach Red, White, and Blue Giveaway

Last week I attended the NAEYC conference in Dallas and had the pleasure of meeting Debbie Clement from Rainbows Within Reach. It was so exciting to meet a fellow blogger in person!! I had a great time in Debbie's session singing and moving to songs that help little ones learn to form the letters and strengthen their fine motor skills.

One of my favorite songs that Debbie shared was her book Red, White, and Blue. This song was written by Debbie in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. It is a simple song that is perfect for instilling a sense of patriotism and American pride in your little ones. 

The song is perfect for a study and celebration of Patriot's Day, Constitution Day, Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, and Flag Day. I hate that I missed getting this post out earlier because the song/book is a great resource for teaching your kids about Veteran's day. 

The picture book version and the digital download are both available at Debbie's TPT store. 

Click here to check out the book version on TPT. 

Click here to check out the digital download version on TPT. 

The digital download includes all of the following:

This unit is a 'zip' file that includes the original song "Red, White and Blue" in Mp3 format in two versions. The first variation includes the sung vocals by Debbie Clement against a choral backdrop including both children and professional vocalists. The second version is instrumental only and is included to accompany students to sing in performances or to be used in a song-writing workshop setting. 
Also included in the file are other materials to support the performance of the song, including both a chart of sign language of the lyrics of the song, a chart for music notation including the chords and a set of flag facts. 

Check out this cute group of preschoolers singing Red, White and Blue on You Tube. 

You can also find a wide variety of patriotic Art projects created in response to the song and book at RainbowsWithinReach.

I am so excited because Debbie has offered to give away a digital download copy of Red, White, and Blue to 5 lucky bloggers. All you have to do is comment below and leave your name and email address. The first 5 people to leave a comment and contact information will win the download. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Using Timeout in the Classroom

I just spent the last several days at the NAEYC conference. I attended several sessions on behavior and classroom management. I think many of us would agree that this is an area where we can always use help, always grow in, and that no one answer or strategy applies to all children or classrooms.

This post is going to focus primarily on understanding children's sense of time and using time out effectively. It will conflict with my follow-up posts related to self-regulation and conscious discipline, but I decided that was ok because we all need a toolbox full of tools rather than just one single tool and many of you are already using time out, so I wanted to offer some suggestions and ideas for you to think about in relation to it.

Some of what I discuss below came from the book Difficult Behavior in Early Childhood: Positive Discipline for PreK-3 Classrooms and Beyond. 

Before Using Timeout: Understanding a Child's Sense of Time
Young children's developmental sense of time is situated in what is immediate and relevant to their lives. What is occurring in the present is relevant. What is not occurring presently might as well not be happening at all.

For young children, without a framework to organize and store memories, it is challenging conceptually to recall past experiences and anticipate future consequences. This makes it difficult for children to find motivation to repeat or avoid desirable or undesirable behaviors and their consequences.

Motivation for young children that is meaningful is what aides or impairs them in their immediate circumstances and immediate present.

Good teaching and a positive discipline remind children of past choices and lessons learned from realizing that the consequences of behavior reach into the future in foreseeable and manageable ways.

As you teach about choices and consequences:
1) remind children of a past choice that may impact their behavior
2) warn them about what happened after that choice, what happened as a result of their behavior
3) provide immediate motivation  for children by naming immediate consequences for appropriate and inappropriate decisions and behaviors

For example, you might say, "Abby, calm down. Last time you got into trouble fighting over the blocks. You won't like being in timeout again." This message implies "you better not" rather than "you may not." When an implicit message is not enough, you need to make a clear and foreful command such as "You are not allowed to throw crayons."

Three Common Uses of Timeout and Why They are Unsuccessful

"Suffering Theory of Timeout"
This theory of timeout maintains the belief that being forced to sit away from other children is greatly upsetting to the child. For some children, this theory of timeout can be motivating enough to change the child's behavior. Whatever impelled the child to act inappropriately is not as powerful as the negative motivation to avoid timeout. However, there are some children who do not find being removed from the group to be terribly upsetting. They do not learn their lesson in timeout and in fact, may even have fun as they find creative ways to entertain themselves while sitting there.

Potential Abuse of the Suffering Theory of Timeout
A short timeout becomes a long timeout.
Sitting in a chair for timeout becomes sitting in a chair without any body movement allowed.
Being removed from the rest of the group becomes a denial of interaction with anyone or anything.
Sitting becomes standing. Standing becomes facing a wall or putting your nose in the corner or holding heavy books until your arms ache.

The "Think About it" Theory of Timeout
Asking a child to "think about it" implies that a child can judge all of the possible consequences of a behavior and then logically consider both the positive and negative aspects well enough to make a good decision and choose the appropriate behavior. This also requires that a child be able to look to the future and consider the consequences of the decisions they make in the present. However, if the consequences aren't immediate, then they aren't relevant to young children. If a child could actually stop and consider being in trouble at home, loosing a classmate as a friend, developing a bad reputation, and so on, then the child most likely would not have acted inappropriately in the first place. Some children are very good at parroting the right words of remorse and responsibility, but these words will only serve to get them out of timeout.

Young children do need to consider their actions and how their decisions impact present situations and circumstances. You need to model the thinking process out  loud. A young child needs to be guided in how he or she should think about what they have done. This guidance will help them understand the principals of cause and effect and their responsibility in managing and developing their own lives, circumstances, and rewards. Young children are much more likely to pay attention to you modeling the thinking process when they don't have their own punishment to bypass.

The "How Would You Like it if..." Theory of Timeout
This theory of timeout is based on the belief that a young child has empathy and that it is developed enough to motivate change in behavior. However, young children do not have a mature level of empathy. Additionally, children may not have a particularly accurate sense of alternate perspectives. Meaning, young children do not have a good understanding of what another person feels or thinks and they assume that others interpret situations the same way they do.

Teaching Empathy to Young Children
To prompt a child to feel what another child is feeling requires consideration and thought. Most of the time we only ask the question "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" When trying to teach a young child empathy, a few additional questions could be asked. Here are a few examples:
Does Abby like being hit? (If the child does not answer or says he or she does not know, then tell the child that Abby does not like being hit.)
How does it feel to be hit?
How do you think Abby felt when you hit her? (If the child does not answer or says he or she does not know, then tell the child that it feels awful to Abby just as it would to him or her.)
Do you like to have blocks taken from you?
How do you think Abby likes having blocks taken away from her? (Again, you need to restate that Abby feels the same way that he or she would.)
In teaching empathy to young children, you need to direct the child to the similarity of feelings between the other child and him or herself. You will need to teach the child that there is room for the feelings of both children.

Developing a Sense of Community and a More Effective Timeout
You have to first establish boundaries and confront the inappropriate behavior. Name the behavior and confirm what is appropriate or inappropriate. Lead the child to think about what happened, the choices he or she made, and the consequences of the decision. Direct the child to think about the other child's feelings and how they are the same as his or hers.
For example:
"Abby. You hurt Braeden. We do not hit in our classroom. You sit down in this chair. You are in timeout. Think about what you did. Something happened and you did not like it, so you hit Abby. I understand that you did not like what happened, but you cannot hit Abby.
Since you hit Abby, you are now in timeout and that means you do not get to play.
Only the students who are kind to one another get to play in this classroom.
How would you like it if Abby hit you?
Does Abby like being hit? No, she does not like being hit. You would not like being hit either.
How does it feel when someone hits you? It does not feel good and you do not like being hit either.
How do you think Abby feels about being hit? It feels very bad to be hit, as same as it feels very bad to you.

When the child's timeout is over and you return to him or her you will  need to explain the basic rules of the classroom community- that if he or she wants to participate and be included in the classroom community then he or she cannot harm himself or herself, cannot cause harm to others in the classroom, or harm the community process by taking the teacher away from facilitating other's learning. Relate each one of these rules of community to the inappropriate behavior the child displayed.

While a stay in timeout should remain short, some students will have to return again and again because you will want to follow through and be consistent in not letting them rejoin the group until they can obey the basic rules of the classroom community. You can repeatedly place a misbehaving child in timeout, but never for an extended period of time.

Timeout will not necessarily change a child's behavior, but it can decrease the destructive effect of the bad behavior on others and the operation of the classroom.

If timeout does not achieve the effect you are looking for, then work with the child to create a plan to do something different. Some children will repeatedly promise to not repeat their previously poor behavior, but when left on their own will continue to struggle with behaving differently. When having a discussion about what he or she will do differently next time, some children will be able to suggest an alternative behavior, while others will not. If a child is not able to give suggestions or other ideas for how to behave better then offer some suggestions for him or her. For example: You and the child might develop a signal for when they seem to be gravitating toward the wrong classmates, the wrong spaces in the room, or the wrong activities.

Timeout is not a magical wand that will solve all of your classroom behavior problems, but when done correctly it is one tool you can use.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Preventing and Responding to Challenging Behavior: Physical Space, Transitions and Routines, and Teaching Strategies

I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to post about this week. As I considered my options, the one theme I kept coming back to was classroom management and dealing with behavior issues. There are so many topics that can be addressed under these two big ideas. I decided to start with using physical space, routines, transitions and teaching strategies to prevent challenging behavior. I will address how to effectively use time out, setting and following through with boundaries, and punishment, praise, and rewards in my next several posts.

You can imagine that with almost 20 years of classroom teaching experience I have seen many challenging behaviors in some of my students. Over the years, I turned to colleagues and administrators, professional reading, and personal experience to try and work through these issues. Two books that have been very helpful are Difficult Behavior in Early Childhood: Positive Discipline for PreK-3 Classrooms and Beyond and Challenging Behavior in Young Children: Understanding, Preventing, and Responding Effectively. 

I expect that some of what I am about to share will be what you already do, while other ideas will be strategies and tips you have heard about or used to do and have moved away from. In some cases, the ideas may be new to you or you may have never considered the impact they have on classroom management and behavior. Regardless of whether the ideas I am about to share affirm you for what you are already doing, push you to go back to something you used to do, or move you forward to try something new, I hope this post will help you prevent challenging behaviors in your students through classroom setup, routines and transitions, and teaching strategies. 

In his book, Caring Spaces, Learning Places, Jim Greenman wrote "Space speaks to each of us." For example: consider a restaurant, a library, or baseball field-- each of these spaces lets you know exactly what behavior is expected there. The same is true for a classroom. 
The overall layout of the classroom, the arrangement of the furniture, and the use of wall space will determine if students feel comfortable or apprehensive, calm or out of control, inclusive or elitist, social or threatening. It is most definitely easier to change the physical space of a classroom than to change student behavior, but ironically, altering the space can change behavior. 

Young children with challenging behaviors oftentimes have trouble functioning in a physical space permeated with rules and restrictions. While all children need some limits, too many set limits may make matters worse. Eventually, young children will stop listening (which can be dangerous in the case of an emergency), therefore it makes sense to organize the room so that children can move freely and without constant redirection or guidance. 

As you arrange and organize things in your classroom. consider the empty space. Too much open space encourages running, chasing, and chaos. Use low shelves and other furniture pieces to separate large spaces into uncluttered, well-organized areas. Mark boundaries clearly and lay out well-defined paths from one location to another.    

There are different lines of thought concerning seat assignments. While it is oftentimes a best practice to let students make decisions and have choice, in their book, The First Days of School, Harry and Rosemary Wong suggest preparing seat assignments for students. This allows you to mix up students who are close friends, promote social skills, and empower diverse talents and intelligences to emerge. For those students who are easily distracted, you can cut down on the stimulation around the room by placing them away from windows and high traffic areas such as doors, the trash can, the sink, and the bathroom. 
Rather than taping names down to the table, use velcro so they can be easily moved. 
The materials, games, center activities, and books you choose have an effect on your student's behavior. To engage students, consider their interests, abilities, culture, and developmental levels. Materials that are too difficult can easily turn into simple figures such as a gun or sword. Competitive games and games that require a  lot of waiting can encourage aggressive behavior. Tactile experiences with play doh, sand, and water can help a child to relax and move through difficult stretches and materials such as parachutes and group projects can incite cooperation. 

Classroom noise can make it difficult for some children to hear, focus, talk quietly with others, and settle conflict peacefully. As you move through the room during the day, pay attention to the noise and hubbub. Possible suggestions for reducing stimulation: turn music off, leave some areas of wall space blank, put away some of the materials, decrease clutter, organize children's artwork by color, and dim the lights by turning one off or using lamps throughout the classroom. 

A Daily Schedule
Help your students settle into learning through predictability, consistent expectations, and a daily schedule. Post the schedule to help children remember and refer to it throughout the day. 
Teaching Procedures
Develop and teach procedures to establish predictability. Procedures and routines are the grease that make the classroom run smoothly. Teaching procedures can cover everything from entering the room in the morning to packing up to leave in the afternoon, attending to personal needs, transitions, participation in teacher-led activities, working in small groups and at centers, getting help, and handling materials and equipment. 

Introduce only a few procedures at a time. Start with those students need first such as entering the classroom, using the restroom, putting their backpack away, etc. 

Before starting a new activity, always teach any procedures that go with it. 

Review procedures regularly and post procedures along with visual cues. 

Provide Choice
Children are motivated and empowered when they can make meaningful choices about the way they spend their time. If you build choice into your program and give children the opportunity to make their own decisions, they don't need inappropriate ways to seek power and independence. 

Children who feel anxious when no one is directing them will manage better if you reduce their choices and remind them to ask for help. 

Too many materials can breed confusion, but too few can create conflict. One possible solution is to provide duplicates of popular activities and materials.  
For those students who have trouble sitting still during group time, offer them the choice of quietly leaving the carpet and reading a book, drawing, or doing a puzzle instead. Make sure to create a procedure for leaving and returning. 

Differentiated Instruction
Consider students' learning preferences such as do they prefer bright or soft light, quiet or noisy surroundings, moving around or sitting down, working alone or with others, using sight, sound, or touch to understand material. Intelligence preferences also impact learning. According to Howard Gardner (1983), different minds work in different ways, so some students will fit into conventional methods such as linguistic or logical-mathematical, while others will fit into others such as musical, spatial, kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential. 

The Importance of Play
Play is fundamental to learning and essential to children's cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Be sure to set aside enough time for children to play. Teach with themes that will extend the content of their play. Choose props and materials that encourage children to develop their play skills. 

Working in Groups
In small groups, young children can work together to achieve a common goal. Working in groups can also increase motivation, engagement, and academic achievement. 

Peer Tutoring- Older students can help younger students or children who are the same age can take turns teaching each other. 
Partner Learning- Young children can work in pairs to practice skills, complete academic tasks, follow routines, and practice their social skills. 
Cooperative Learning Groups- Children can work in small heterogeneous groups on multidimensional, open-ended tasks. 
Get the Going
Motivation is key. Research has shown that the motivated brain operates better and signals faster. Your students will be more motivated when they have choice and when the task is challenging, achievable, interesting and meaningful to their lives.  

Children's prior knowledge or schema is the starting point for new learning. Therefore, it is important to activate and work with that knowledge. KWL and schema charts are great tools for taking students' learning deeper. 
From the Chalk Talk post Turtle Time- Creating a Schema Chart

Expect the Best
Have high expectations for your students, because your expectations for each student will influence what and how you teach. Your students will internalize your expectations and comply with them. 

Give it Over
Give students a say in what they will learn. Marzano (2003) suggests letting students set goals for themselves at the beginning of each unit or theme of study. 

Break it Up
Give instructions to students in small, manageable pieces. Provide concrete examples, visual cues, demonstrations, and sequence cards that list and illustrate each step. Give instructions in a clear and direct manner, using positive language. 
Mix it Up
Variety will give an lesson a little spice. According to Jensen (2005), young children can pay attention for only about 5-8 minutes, so plan to frequently switch gears. Schedule your most demanding lessons during the time of day when engagement is highest. Place preferred activities such as centers or recess after demanding ones. Slow down to teach harder concepts and speed up to teach easier ones. Alternate tedious tasks with more exciting ones and alternate simple demands with difficult ones. 

Shake it Up
Push your tolerance for the wiggles as far as you can. Resist using whole-group instruction for lengthy periods of time. Make movement and active participation an  integral part of your program. Some suggestions include moving furniture, joining and leaving groups, using centers, partners, and small groups, acting out stories and concepts, and turning lessons into games. 
Wait it Out
In order to gain control over students who continuously speak without raising their hand, ignore shout outs, but when the child raises his/her hand, call on him/her immediately. Help children learn to wait by using a timer that ticks or an egg timer that shows time passing. Research has shown that waiting at least 3 seconds for a reply or an answer will elicit longer responses. 

Out in the Open
According to Jensen (2005), by allowing the brain to relax, recess enhances learning and helps children handle stress and conflict. If your recess time is nonexistent or limited or its a rainy day, extend the music, movement, and break time in your classroom.