Classroom Management 101

I’d planned to write about grading today, but got distracted because I made the mistake of checking a local newspaper forum (about three thousand miles from me) that had an irresistible thread about a student who got about the worst treatment grade-wise from a teacher that I’d ever heard about. Long story short, after exhausting all district appeal options, the family sued the county school district and the teacher. I intend to reconstruct that conversation later because it’s truly enlightening.

The really sad thing is that the state has a law (I verified this) that says a teacher’s grade, for a single assignment or for a report card, cannot be changed unless there is a mathematical error. The judge dismissed the case, and the educational merits of the case were never discussed.

I thought I was talked out, and the forum thread had forked into other questions regarding teachers and discipline. I tried to stay away, but failed. A question came up that may be worth putting out here. Besides, it gave me a chance to vent in a somewhat civilized manner. (That danged Billy-Bob — and Rufus, who didn’t make the cut on this blog — didn’t agree with me that the student had gotten the very short end of the stick. Martinets, both of ’em.)


I have one question for you, Repairman. What is your discipline procedure for your class and your students?

Repairman: That’s easy, Billy-Bob. It’s called mutual respect. If a teacher needs kick-butt disciplinary procedures in his or her class, they have a problem. In most years I could count the number of disciplinary office referrals I wrote on one hand. Some teachers at my school broke a thousand by several hundred. Disgusting.

I never dinged a kid’s grade for a behavior problem. And virtually every kid who turned in an assignment late had a good reason and did not make a habit of it. The mythical stack of forgiven late papers never appeared on my desk.

When teachers justify dinging kids’ grades for reasons like “teaching real world responsibility,” I have to laugh. The real world doesn’t function like that, only desperate little people clinging to the illusion of control. In the real world, real people with real values and real smarts seek the best in achievement, functionality, and profitability.

It’s a small minority of parents who buy into punitive grading, based on my experience over the many years of “back to school” nights, and parents are usually darned glad to hear a sane and humane educational philosophy from their child’s teacher. One, I might add, that is based on research not a personality disorder.

Billy-Bob: I’m a huge fan of respect Repairman. I think it can go a long way in diffusing a lot of problems. However, that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how respectful you are, every organization with more than 1 person HAS to have disciplinary procedures. You’re telling me you’ve never had disciplinary problems with a student or is it you’ve never had one you couldn’t handle?

Repairman: Billy-Bob, if I have written even one referral, it means I could not deal with the situation on my own — like when a student commits a Class A offense in my presence. Example, starting a fight. If I didn’t report it, I’d get in trouble with admin.

But you’d be amazed how much inappropriate behavior can be headed off by putting expectations in place at the very beginning of the year. And then you follow through with respect, firmness, understanding, appropriate social distance, and even vulnerability without weakness (letting students know you don’t take yourself too seriously, apologizing for mistakes, being able to laugh at yourself if you do something dumb like cause a roll-up map to jump off the wall…).

To avoid writing a complete book, here and in subsequent posts, on what I believe are good teaching practices, I’m going to list some great books with links. Every teacher should read them, and other folks interested in education will find them illuminating.

The first — and this should answer a great many of your questions, Billy-Bob, is The First Day of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry Wong. We give this to all new teachers and expect them not just to read it, but to internalize the principles and ideas, and use them as a jumping off point to develop their own student-friendly classroom management and grading policies.

Second — and this could raise another whole controversy, is The End of Homework by Etta Kralovek and John Buell. This book challenges the notion that every teacher should assign lots of homework every night.

Third — a book on education in general, The Right to Learn by Linda Darling-Hamilton. It will make you think about education.

With that for background, you should be ready for the upper level list:

Classroom Assessment for Learning from ATI/ETS, and Ken O’Connor’s two excellent books on grading that are essential reading for teachers who wish to maximize their effectiveness, Grading for Learning, and A Repair Kit for Broken Grades.

That’s a substantial investment in books, but perhaps the county library would responds to some suggestions for titles, and you might even be able to borrow from the Chippewa County Schools Curriculum and Instruction library.

In any case, if you consult those books, I can avoid calluses on my fingertips like I seem to be developing as I type.

If you want to revisit my own guidelines, they’re on post #298 of this thread.

As with any other occupation or profession, the learning’s never over, so all those recommendations are just a start.


11 thoughts on “Classroom Management 101

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I’m curious though, how did you find me? And…you don’t seem to be a newbie at this blogging thing, by any means 🙂
    BTW: I’m trying to read Wong’s book currently (my mom gave it to me), but I’m getting distracted by fun summer reading. Darn summer attitude!
    How long did you teach in the classroom?

  2. Yer welcome, Midwest!

    I found you while following links that originate on the blog site that got me thinking about doing one: What’s It Like On the Inside by The Science Goddess. One of her links linked to you. You need to read her stuff. Seriously grounded educator and serious blogger.

    I left a message because you seem to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for your chosen field, and that’s a precious commodity.

    I was licensed here in the Wild West in 1975 and retired from the classroom in 2003.

    Enjoy your summer. Become the best teacher you can be. There are always bumps in the road, but a professional attitude will smooth them out.

    BTW, The Science Goddess has some real good tips for newbie edubloggers (like me) at:

    Check it out! 🙂

    Thanks for the visit, Midwest. You’re welcome here anytime.

  3. Good question, clix. I have had students who had to be persuaded to upgrade their work if I thought they were being lazy, but rarely have I run into a student who just refused to work at all.

    Recalcitrant students usually have multiple “issues” that accompany their refusal to engage in learning that have to be handled professionally by all school personnel involved.

    If the student can’t or won’t meet the requirements of the course, summative assessments will tell the tale and that’s that. No need to engage in punitive grading for “school work” that is not completed. Keep the parent, principal, and counselor informed and meet with them all as needed.

    I kept a record of summative assessment grades and formative assessment grades (used INC rather than zero), but used only summative assessment scores for report card grades.

    I’m going to use this question as a jumping off point in tomorrow’s post. I’ll repeat some of what I said here with a few more comments.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  4. I think the information that you discussed here was great. One of my professors last semester encouraged us to read The First Hundred Days, but I have to admit that I haven’t read it. Harry Potter will be released at the end of the month, and that will be my focus – especially at the end of the semester.

    My son had a teacher that graded on the zero policy. As a result of her inability to recognize and work on the problem, she gave up hope and he basically quit. He had to go to summer school in which he passed math, his worst subject, with a 92.

    Although I’m not in the classroom yet, I believe that a teacher should set the ground rules from the first day and let the children know what is expected; however, I think a no tolerance for late or imcomplete work is wrong. My son turned in a math assignment in which everything was completed, it was a page of geometric shaped, but because he didn’t COLOR it she gave him a zero. He received a zero for a math assignment that wasn’t colored – am I the only one that sees something wrong with that? Am I naive in my thinking? Is there something wrong with laying down expectations; however, being able to compromise certain aspects?

  5. Thanks, Stephanie.

    Zeros are bad news, and teachers who use them aren’t necessarily evil, just asleep. It’s the ones who get the heads-up and fight it that I would like to show the door.

    When evaluating a student’s work, the learning goal should be foremost in mind. If the goal was to color the geometric forms, we don’t have much of a case. But if the goal was some other learning and the coloring was frosting on the cake, the teacher made a major blunder, and it totally frosts my pumpkin that these troglodytes get away with it year after year and hurt so many kids.

    I think you’re going to be a great teacher because you’re thinking about kids first, and you have real world experience. I worry about “kids” going right from the college classroom to teaching classroom with no “living” in between.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

  6. I’m curious… I’m a big fan of Ken O., but I’ve never seen the Repair Kit book. I have the new edition of How to Grade for Learning. Is Repair Kit one of his older ones? I couldn’t find the copyright date on the ETS site. Does it have anything not in the new HTGFL? I need to know if it’s a “gotta have” for my collection.

  7. EI, Ken and Rick Stiggins (AIT/ETS) were hoping to have Repair Kit out for the 1st Annual Grading Conference (ETS/AIT) in Portland, December 2006. It finally made it into print this past spring.

    The new book is a “practical prescription” for SBG. I wouldn’t call it “quick and dirty,” it’s more elegant than that! But it is pithy and to the point.

    The book you own deals more with the “theory,” although it is a totally practical book in its own right (I bought first edition — with a red cover — just prior to the two day May 2000 ASCD institute I attended in NM where I first met Ken. Couldn’t wait to learn, and I wanted to prep for the institute.)

    You will want to own both books and if you check my original post above, I think the link from the Repair Kit title will take you to the AIT/ETS page where you can order it.

    If the link doesn’t work, let me know.

    ETS acquired Assessment Training Institute in July 2006 (you probably already knew that).

  8. Great info – thanks so much! I have a conference call with Ken in mid-August to plan his presentations at our district curriculum days. He wants more detail on what we’d like him to do with our “intermediate/advanced” group on the second day. This will definitely help me pinpoint some ideas.

  9. EI, You might be interested to know that Rick Stiggins seems to have decided that the research community has been too passive with regard to provoking the adoption of effective assessment for learning in school districts throughout the country.

    I’m sitting here looking at PP notes of his keynote address from Monday morning at the ETS/ATI Summer Conference on Assessment for Learning (ends today). It’s titled “It’s Time To Demand Productive Assessment for Our Students.”

    Emphasis is on the word “demand.” I’ll be commenting on this when I get back from a couple of days at the coast. (My wife is pulling me out the door as we speak.)

    O’Connor looks more fit and younger every time I see him. Gonna have to find out what’s he’s eating! I’m looking forward to having him visit our district too. (That’s might even be about 30% of the reason I ran for the board the first time!)

  10. That definitely is interesting (about Rick). I could tell a long story about his history with our district, but I will spare you the details. I will limit my comments to: his material is phenomenal, but our district forced it down the throats of the entire district staff about 5 years ago, and they never got over it. The only way we could make SBG palatable was with a new name and face. Ken’s approach was more on the implementation end, and we seem to be making headway as long as we don’t use the “S” name. I secretly attend his presentations , hoard his books in my cabinet, and discretely reference him in small type when I must. His stuff is just too good to ignore. And Ken clearly is follower who has made made the research more palatable for teachers. Do you have the link to the ETS/ATI Summer conference PP? I’d love to check it out. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but SG and I have developed an SBG handbook for our district. We’re pretty proud of our work. Enjoy your time away… we’ll hold down the edu-fort while you’re relaxing. 😉

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