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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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    Aug 1 2012: As a student, I like to be organized but that's just in my nature because i discovered some years ago that if you stay organized you do half the work in half the time. They need to realize this as well and why not make time to explain the alternative systems to yours and if indeed yours is better than they will undoubtedly embrace it. As well, are you sure that the system you use is appealing to them? As middle school students are still children and can be easily motivated to adopt a certain system, you cannot expect the same response as from high school or university students. Also, maybe think of a system to run along the organizational one so they understand how your way of doing things makes it easier for them to learn. Or better yet, get past students of yours that used your system to come and talk to them and explained how it made it easier for them, and how your current students should approach the learning process.

    It would really help if you gave more details about the system as I don't know if I should think about a set of rules for learning or weekly assessments of their work or how they organize their homework and lessons.
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      Aug 2 2012: I'm considering a system whereby all students need a binder or single folder with sections for:
      - Home and class practice
      - Exit problems
      - “What are you thinking about right now?” pages
      - Returned tests and weekly Pacent reports
      All students will need a binder or single folder with the above listed section labeled. Students would not have the option to substitute other forms of organizing the class materials.
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        Aug 3 2012: Well from my point of view this would be great, although by the end of the term I think it would be a bit too big to carry around, but as the students do not have the option to organize the materials differently I think you could let them personalize their binders or make them think it's their idea. Why not begin with a session of brainstorming with them and try to lead them on the right way to understand how it is better to organize their materials and they themselves come up with your solution. Of course, it won't be exactly like you describe it but what matters is that they will accept the idea as one of their own and embrace it.

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