- Mike Willmarth
- Napa, CA
- United States

This conversation is closed.

## Without the use of negative consequences (punishments), how do we get unmotivated or oppositional students to follow classroom instructions?

I have an interest in having my middle school students use a particular organization system for their class materials. Having a uniform system allows peers to more readily help each other stay organized, allows parents to more easily check on their child’s progress, and allows the class to more efficiently move through our daily transitions. The question, how do I get all students on board without the use of if-then rewards or punishments? I know from my experience (12 years at middle school) that some students will be oppositional and some will be unmotivated. While these represent the exception, not the rule, they are often the students most in need of the organizational structure. Additionally, it is the parents of these students who most often need a simple to follow structure for supporting their child’s educational process.

[Some background that may help when considering your answers – I will be teaching five sections of eighth grade math with a total of approx. 160 students. The group is roughly 40% free and reduced, and about 50% ESL.]

## Michael Smith Jr.

Right off the bat, I would try to motivate these oppositional and unmotivated students with rewards, and only use punishments in extreme circumstances. I say this because that's what some of my favorite and my friends' favorite teachers did. But as you said "without the use if-then rewards or punishments", this could be a problem.

So, how I would handle them would make sure to maintain high energy, get them involved with hands-on activities as much as possible(I know you're teaching 8th grade math, but Pre-Alg and Alg offer up some interesting hands-on oppurtunities), maybe hint at some long-term future rewards, especially avoid dull and boring lesson plans/presentations, use repetition in sparing(Math requires some repetition but there's a fine line between hammering in a concept and causing insanity and discomfort), and ultimately, just make it as fun for them as possible.

## Fritzie -

Some popular systems of classroom organization are obviously quite disconnected from anything students will ever see outside classrooms and are, therefore, a very hard sell. Rigid rules about how to discuss math with each other, rigid rules of turn-taking, and so forth are examples.

There is a wonderful article by Alan Schoenfeld of UCBerkeley about the tendency in math classrooms to impose rigid structures that may convey an inauthentic and sometimes counter-productive image of mathematics as it is practiced in the field.

In terms of my experience, I have asked an inner city middle school math class on the first day for a show of hands as to which think college is in their futures. Practically all hands will go up in response to this question.

My response then is "Ah, then we need to run this as a serious college preparatory class."

It is amazing how much buy in I have gotten from this for most of what we do. and I do run the class as a college preparatory class. It's not a gimmick.

## edward long

## JEFF D.

## JEFF D.

## Robert Winner

Ok lets narrow the problem down. 160 students. The 50% ESL will group together and follow the rules through peer pressure. 40% means maybe half are girls who normally follow directions. 20% boys which, I'm guessing here, 15% are controllable. So we are looking at about 8 students that need further guidance.

No rewards and no punishment are the rules.

Of the eight perhaps three would be interested in sports. That becomes a carrot. Discuss sports with them and the importance of team work. Relate that team work to the class being a team and how the class playbook (your system) is important to the outcome / success of the team. Down to five.

Now you have a managable group .. you are going to have to do the homework here. Can they afford the binder? What is their home life like? Do they hang with some of the others in class? Have a girlfriend in class? Play music? Are they social? Shy? Like computer games? What is their academic history? Look at disciplinary history?

Your looking for a key. A door. A interest. If they like music .. art .. science ... show them the value of math through the golden number. PHI 1.618 and its relationship to all things. Look at last years math scores ... maybe they did not get it there and feel lost.

In some cases there is a fine line between those who do not get it and those who got it and are bored to tears.

Your notebook would work great in a flipped classroom.

What is free and reduced .... new terms to me.

Out of space. All the best. Bob.

## Mike Willmarth

I don't expect that all students will pick up the system at the same pace and I'm ready to work with those who take somewhat longer. My main goal in posing the question was to explore ways to motivate the students who initially push back without resorting to rewards or punishments.

## Mitch SMith

## Mike Willmarth

Mitch - While that may be a good solution long-term, as I explained to another respondent the system in which my students and I work is one that requires students to show a given level of mastery in a set of skills that neither they or I select. Students who do not show the required level of mastery will still be moved on to the next course in the sequence, however they may be required to concurrently take a support class to help them acquire mastery in the previous set of skills. This support class comes at the expense of taking an elective which they would probably find more interesting. I want to help them acquire mastery of the required skills on the first go around so that they don't miss out on the elective choices later.

## Mitch SMith

Teaching is essentially a passive role. Activity needs to be there on the part of the student.

Punishment is for pleasure - if you are wired that way.

The only alternative is to catch teh student's attention somehow.

If the system insists that all are to be there for the sake of a grade .. hack the computer and fake it.

## Efrain Torres

## Efrain Torres

## Tanka Poudel

The question is based on assumption of a standardized education system which gives standard output. Its best to accept the fact that different students may have different interests. If we can focus on identifying those interests we can avoid negative consequences as well as bring about positive outcome.

## Mike Willmarth

In an ideal learning setting we would have the flexibility to allow each student to pursue her or his interests. Unfortunately, the system in which my students and I work is one that requires students to show a given level of mastery in a set of skills that neither they or I select. Students who do not show the required level of mastery will still be moved on to the next course in the sequence, however they may be required to concurrently take a support class to help them acquire mastery in the previous set of skills. This support class comes at the expense of taking an elective which they would probably find more interesting. Given these conditions, it is my goal to help as many as possible acquire mastery of the required skills during the initial class.

## Tanka Poudel

## Mike Willmarth

Can you give me the name of the Schoenfeld article?

## Fritzie -

As you mention a binder system, one issue for middle-schoolers is that it becomes extremely confusing and physically burdensome to growing adolescents when every teacher requires either a dedicated notebook for her class or a different system of organizing the binder. Each teacher sees what is ideal for his class, but ideally all teachers would consider the big picture of what the student experiences from six or more teachers all with different prefered systems.

Sometimes students may be oppositional but sometimes there is a solid practical reason why they throw up their hands.

You might check with your colleagues about how many different systems students are expected to adopt for different classes.

## Fritzie -

## Debra Smith

## Fritzie -

## pat gilbert

And learn how to repeat yourself over and over as if you are saying it for the first time.

## V Alexander

## pat gilbert

And learn how to repeat yourself over and over as if you are saying it for the first time.