Friday, August 29, 2008

College Habits

I stole this idea from the teachers at Impact Academy in Oakland. I learned about it two days before classes started, and pretty much immediately decided to implement it.

The idea is that you establish a few "college habits" that students should be working toward, and then they self-assess at the end of each class on how well they demonstrated those habits.

Here are the habits I am using:

  1. Punctuality: When the bell rings you are in your seat, binder and pencil/pen out, checking homework.
  2. Materials: Every day, you need your binder, planner, pen, and pencil.
  3. Supporting Others: Always support other students’ learning. Help others and ask for help when you need it. Never distract other students.
  4. Focus: Focus on doing your best work. Don’t let your mind wander. Your body language should show active engagement.
For habits 1 and 2, students can earn either 1 or 0 points. For 3 and 4, they can earn 1, .5, or 0 points. I save the last 3 - 4 minutes of the class to do this: students think about how they did, in each category, write it in their logs, and total their scores.

The key - which at first seemed a little off-putting - is that they then say their score out loud, one by one, for the teacher to record. The point is that students are being held publicly accountable for their behaviors in class, and have to face up to it when they have been harmful to the learning environment. I made a couple of rules for this. First, no students are allowed to comment in any way on other students' scores; it is silent during this time except for the person reporting their score. Second, even if I don't agree with the score, the student has final say over their score, and it does factor into their grade (albeit, only a small percentage of the whole).

I've seen my Algebra 2 classes twice each so far, and this has gone surprisingly well. I wasn't sure how they would handle it, but they are doing a good job. For example, today I had to send a student out of the room for being distracting. (We have a cool new reflection process for this sort of thing, which I'll write about later.) She came back in, finished the class in a much better mood, and at the end, gave herself a 1 out of 4 for the day. And I overhead another girl asking her group if they thought she was focused today.

I hope that this structured reflection on behaviors, tied in with some public accountability and the ultimate control over a small piece of their grade will help build a strong classroom culture this year.

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