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Mike Willmarth

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How do we get students to adopt specific classroom procedures without the use of negative consequences (punishment) or rewards?

This is the continuation of a discussion I posted previously. In response to the initial posting several respondents suggested changing the system to involve more student choice in terms of what is studied. Others suggested that the classroom model is the root of the problem. While we could debate both of these issues, the fact remains that the system in which my students and I work is one that requires students to show a given level of mastery in a given 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 also 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.

With that clarification in mind, I would like to again pose the initial question: 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.


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    Jul 30 2012: Ok I got it, there could be a class project where different skillsets are necessary to complete it, and it would be impossible for any one person to do everything. As in a kind of project that requires a good amount of art, a good amount of logic and conceptual understanding (like math or physics), a good amount of knowledge on things in general (history, misc. information). And perhaps, everyone is required to understand all these different kinds of knowledge or concepts to a certain extent. The grade for the class project cannot settle for anything less than 98%, or else everyone fails. And they need to try again.

    The idea is to create a feeling that each student in the course is NEEDED for their strengths.

    And maybe, what they could also do is have different classes compete with each other on the same class project?

    And the teacher's role is to be the regulator or the government. If a kid is getting frustrated or something, don't be like "You gotta do this or else you're gonna fail the class." The teacher has to be like "What's the matter dude?"
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      Jul 30 2012: James you have come up with a brilliant idea! It seems to resembles how the actual work place works. Now do the students individually work on their own part of the project, say for example one student works on the art and the logical part and then at the end bring it together with the other students to create the final project?
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        Jul 30 2012: I'm trying to keep the introverts and the extroverts in mind. But ideally, we want the kids to realize that in order to work together as a team, some kind of communication needs to be formed. They could use forum posts, Facebook, Google Docs, etc.

        So students can work individually since some students work better when alone. But that should not mean they're excommunicated with the majority. So these students need to figure out a way to communicate his own ideas with everyone else, meanwhile the other kids need to figure out a way to include the "lone wolves."

        Basically, I want a format that is flexible enough to give options. Kids can work individually if they want, but that shouldn't stop them from collaborating or hanging out with other people's houses to work on something. And neither should a very private person should be "forced" to work collaboratively. The only thing they are "forced" to do is be able to communicate to everyone else their ideas and intentions, and the other people are "forced" to accept the individual workers' way of doing things.

        Btw, did you receive my message?
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          Aug 6 2012: Hi James
          Your idea works in an environment that requires many kinds of abilities. It reflects the work environment of the 'real world.'
          However, what about the learning environment, where students are learning the skills they will need later. Skills must be learned at some point. Mixed skill set environments are not optimal when it is the skill set itself which is being learned. Or do you believe that beginning typists should be taught the same material as advanced typists, or that students studying documentary video-graphy the same as beginning photography? Getting students to cooperate is not the fundamental solution. Classroom flexibility is not a fundamental solution either.
          The fundamental problem is cost. Schools cost, teachers cost, materials cost, and support for the environment costs. How to get the most bang for the buck has led us to the situation we now find ourselves in. Finessing the situation through cooperation and flexibility may work when the required skill sets are present within the work group to satisfy the needs of the problems to be solved.
          When the situation is one in which the skill sets themselves are being developed, then utmost focus must be place on the students' achievement of those skills. Time chatting on Twitter is probably going to be wasted. Questions asked and answered in class will probably help more students more quickly.
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        Aug 6 2012: As for Required skills, that should ideally be within the core curriculum. The kind of required skills I was thinking about was stuff like, keyboarding, how to use online resources more effectively, government/economics, foreign languages, English communications, Math, Sciences, Computer Science, or Understanding how a Computer Works, History, Social relations/studies, etc. Most of these are already in their core curriculum, but a lot of them need to improve.

        "Mixed skill set environments are not optimal when it is the skill set itself which is being learned." Yeah, so I'm saying the education system needs to adopt a more flexible teaching style that addresses as many different types of learners out there, not just the booksmart people.

        Of course I don't believe that a kid on calculus level should really be with pre-algebra students in a math class. Most of those advanced students got ahead through outside of the curriculum offered. In this case, maybe that outside source is online education.

        In regards to cost, I can certainly say that textbooks are not the way to "get the bang for the buck." But you're right, one of the most fundamental problems is indeed the cost. Cheaper costs can be found through newly discovered cheaper/efficient methods to adopt.

        Cooperation can be seen at an early age. Like I've seen kids build stuff together in Minecraft or on the sandbox area on the playground. I mean, it really just depends on the difficulty of the project they're working on, but you can find easier things to do like Minecraft for example that any kid can play.

        "When the situation is one in which the skill sets themselves are being developed, then utmost focus must be place on the students' achievement of those skills."
        Aside from the basic skillsets that can let you be more succussful in the world, like personal financing, politics/government/current events, how to use your computers, communication skills, everything else should be free reign.

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