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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 13 2012: Well one thing is for sure! This has been a pertinent and important conversation. Thank you Mr. Willmarth for putting yourself out there in what must have been a reeling process.
    I have some questions remaining for you if you don't mind?

    Does finding a uniform system in an already perceived "broken" system present to you as an obvious success?

    What percentage of observed students do you expect to find success utilizing said system?
    What is expected if the student fails to use the "system" successfully?
    What do i do if I don't think the "system" is for me?
    Does knowing where to find something Constitute knowing how to understand something?
    What do you think learning means to me?
    How am I reflected in the "system"?
    To what extent do you believe I am capable?

    Welcome to a new year!

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