By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: deliberate practice
Posts 1 - 3 of 3

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Can you improve student behavior?

There is often a problem hidden behind a question like, "Can you improve student behavior?" The question seems to imply that it's the student who needs to be "fixed." That's not always the case.

I remember when I was in ninth grade my homeroom teacher was Mr. Posthuma, a first year teacher. The poor guy had absolutely no control in his classroom. I'm sure he must have been miserable throughout the day and must have been reluctant to return each morning. He must have been so disappointed to have spent years preparing to be a teacher, only to find this as his daily experience. Classroom management is often cited as the reason that teachers leave the profession.

But classroom management is a set of skills. Skills that can be learned. And once learned, the newly skilled teacher finds that his students' behavior has improved. So, were the students "fixed" or was it the teacher?

Our Behavior Manager product does a great job of helping make the processes of PBIS and traditional discipline work more easily and smoothly. But we felt there was something missing. Were we doing enough for poor Mr. Posthuma?

We recently added some new capabilities to Behavior Manager for Mr. Posthuma. First, when a teacher creates an office referral, the system now pulls up articles related to the student's behavior problem. If Mr. Posthuma is feeling exasperated or is just looking for some new ideas, he can browse through these articles that are specific to the immediate problem he's facing. It's sometimes called just-in-time training.

Another new capability in Behavior Manager is called Practice Classroom Management Skills. It's a gamelike system that teaches the skills of classroom management. But as any teacher knows, you don't master skills by reading about them. They must be practiced. And that's what Practice Classroom Management Skills does. It provides a way for deliberate practice in these skills with real students in real classrooms.

The system is gamelike in that it introduces skills in small steps and, as each is mastered, moves the teacher ahead in experience and levels. But the deliberate practice is not conducted in a simulation, it's conducted in the teacher's own classroom.

I'll bet Mr. Posthuma would have appreciated it.

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Keywords: PBIS, Behavior Manager, classroom mangement, Practice Classroom Management Skills, deliberate practice


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Facts are friendly

Several years ago I had a friend who would often say that facts are friendly. What she meant was that it's better to know the objective facts of a situation rather than speculate on scenarios, what-ifs and feelings about possibilities.

An example of the friendliness of facts is when trying to change habits. Let's face it, very few of us are good at keeping New Year resolutions. Whether we've resolved to lose weight, exercise regularly or learn a new language, the implementation of the resolution rarely survives a few weeks of effort.

One of the most successful ways to stick with a behavior change long enough to become a habit is to simply keep track. It isn't a guarantee of success, but it is one of the best ways to increase your likelihood of success. Keep a food log for losing weight or an exercise log for fitness or a simple tally of the days you studied your language lessons. For resolutions where you want to do more of something, such as a student's resolution to study more, keep track of hours studied each day.

Logging activity and especially logging hours used to be a burden. If one were highly motivated she might record events or hours on index cards and later tally them up. But that's a lot of work in itself and could be one of the resolutions that doesn't last.

Keeping track is easier with smartphones. First, it's convenient: the phone is always with you. Second, events can easily be recorded in a simple text file. Third, time recording apps are available to record start times and end times on a variety of tasks with a simple click. The app takes care of adding up the time spent on each task (e.g., studying vs. chatting with friends.) Fourth, timer apps are available that beep to remind you that it's 7 PM and you should be studying or that it's the top of the hour so if you're goofing off, get back to work.

Facts are friendly. Having the facts from logs and tallies about efforts to change habits does two things: it repeatedly keeps you aware of your intention and it confronts you with facts about how well you're sticking to your goals. It's similar to deliberate practice: being mindful about what you're trying to change rather than simply going through the motions. It's the same technique recommended by Ben Franklin and others for centuries before him, but is made just a bit easier with our smartphones. 

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Keywords: habits, deliberate practice


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflection and continuous improvement

As the business proceeds, there will be mistakes. Some things will go badly. Some novel situations will arise. But the careful entrepreneur can continue to update and refine the processes. Over time, the business gets better and better at doing what it does.

As a teacher, as in every other vocation, you too will make mistakes. Some classes will go well, some will go less well. Sometimes you will end a class period on a positive and enthusiastic note and sometimes you will just run out of steam. But the key to continuous improvement in teaching is to maintain a habit of reflection (a reflection process, actually) about your teaching.

We learn from practice, but not all practice is the same. Deliberate practice, where we think about what a perfect performance is, try to achieve it, and then reflect on how to do better, is the most effective way to practice. Simply repeating the same performance without a conscious effort to improve is unlikely to result in much improvement.

The simplest way to reflect on your daily teaching experience is simply to keep a notebook of your thoughts each day, looking back over what worked, what didn’t and how you might improve next time. This habit of reflection and the continuous striving for improvement can be the basis for becoming a better teacher.

Another simple and revealing technique is to make an occasional video recording of yourself teaching.  Just  as athletes see things they didn’t know they were doing, you may find some surprises also.

As with any learning, learning through reflection is likely to be enhanced by discussing issues with mentors, other teachers and your students. Ask for help or for ideas on how to better address the issues. Ask students to rate the difficulty of a recent topic or the most interesting or most important part of the week’s lesson.

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Keywords: reflection, deliberate practice

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