In our last article, Positive Discipline Part 1: The School Discipline Code, we examined the limitations of the traditional approach to discipline management as embodied in the school discipline code. To get a different result, we will have to take a fresh look at discipline.
While school discipline codes focus on large infractions, discipline management within the classroom is dominated by continuous small disruptions. It is a picture of endless "goofing off" and time wasting.
The most typical patterns of goofing off have been described in detail in previous segments. The class doesn't begin until five or six minutes after the bell rings as everyone settles in; and lesson transitions take about five minutes. Students chitchat and fool around in the back of the classroom, while the teacher presents the lesson from the front of the class -- often from behind an overhead projector. Or students work lackadaisically and chitchat during Guided Practice, while the teacher tutors a few helpless handraisers. Research shows that out of a 50-minute class period, teachers get about 12 minutes of solid work from their students.
Tools for Teaching summarizes a thirty-year effort to find not only what works in discipline management, but also what is affordable for the teacher. To be affordable, our new system must begin with prevention. And prevention must begin with the proper teaching of a lesson, because that is where the most goofing off occurs.
A MODEL OF SUCCESSFUL INSTRUCTION
Imagine instruction at its most successful and efficient. When we work with students one-on-one we tend to be very efficient. We build skills through coaching. We give an input, watch its performance, check for understanding as it is being done, and immediately give corrective feedback before moving on to the next step.
We repeat that step-wise process until we construct the performance of a larger unit. In math, that larger unit might be a problem. In drama, it might be a scene. In a trumpet lesson, it might be a phrase. In sports, it might be a play. Let's call that larger unit a skill.
Coaches know better than to expect one-trial learning, of course. You repeat the skill, slowly at first; watching like a hawk in order to correct any error as soon as it occurs, so that only correct performance is repeated. With additional practice, speed and fluidity develop, but a good coach makes sure that correct performance is never sacrificed for speed. In the words of Vince Lombardi, "Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect."
PROBLEMS OF SCALE
The model of skill building described above is familiar to us all because we have experienced it in tutoring, in drama, in music and in sports. The process is not mysterious. To the contrary, coaching is utterly logical and straightforward.
The problem for a classroom teacher is one of scale. How can a teacher with a class of 30 students replicate the level of involvement and precision typical of coaching? If the teacher cannot expand the scale of coaching, he or she will be forced to coach one-on-one, as the rest of the class becomes disruptive, or give up coaching altogether.
Tools for Teaching might be viewed as an attempt to build scale while preventing the goofing off typical of most classrooms. As you might imagine, instruction and discipline go together.
At the simplest level, coaching is intensely interactional. It focuses on performance and feedback in the here and now. By being engaging, it preempts much goofing off: students are busy.
Analysis of the relationship between instruction and discipline in Tools for Teaching goes much deeper, however. For example, Responsibility Training eliminates wasted time at the beginning of class and during lesson transitions. A combination of Praise, Prompt, and Leave and Visual Instructional Plans reduces the duration of helping interactions to a few seconds. With lengthy tutoring replaced by a series of brief interactions, a teacher can "work the crowd." Working the crowd allows the teacher to constantly check for understanding while suppressing goofing off. Gradually, helpless handraising is replaced by independent learning. Limit Setting allows the teacher to deal with those infractions that do occur in an effective, but low-key, fashion. And, finally, Say, See, Do Teaching converts the lesson into a series of brief input/output cycles that engage students in learning by doing one step at a time.
Say, See, Do Teaching is another name for coaching. Various Say, See, Do Teaching formats represent different ways of solving the problem of scale:
Coaching with Partners
One simple Say, See, Do format is partner teaching. It is simple and easy to use. First, the class is divided into partner pairs -- a subtle process in which the teacher pairs strong with weak -- while avoiding best friends, worst enemies, and other combinations that just don't work. The teacher then teaches Step One of the skill and says, "Teach your partner." Partner A teaches Partner B, complete with verbalization and demonstration just as the teacher did it. Then, Partner B teaches Partner A in the same fashion. Then, the teacher moves on to the next step -- and the next. This format, although applicable to any subject, is uniquely suited to conceptual material. It not only structures step-by-step performance of ideas through verbalization, it also functions as a pre-writing activity.
Coaching The Old-Fashioned Way
Trying to teach a class with the involvement and precision of coaching always has been a preoccupation of effective teachers. I grew up with the most common solution -- three walls of slate chalkboards with erasers and chalk for every student. Throughout my grade school years, I did almost all my lessons -- vocabulary, arithmetic, sentence structure, verb tense -- at "the board." We rarely were at our desks except for reading and some group work.
A half-dozen times a day, I heard the teacher announce the beginning of a lesson by saying, "All right class, let's all go to the board." If it were math, she would write a problem on the board, and we would copy it. Then she would say, "Class, let's do this first problem nice and slowly so we all get it." She would give us a brief explanation of Step One, and then we would do Step One. The teacher could check our work from the front of the class since it was written large and in chalk.
Corrective feedback was given immediately, often by way of partner pairs standing next to each other: "Robert, would you check your partner's multiplication on that last step." We would walk through the steps of the problem with continual monitoring and corrective feedback so there was little worry about not getting it right. We were thoroughly engaged, but, since kids love to write with chalk, it was hardly work. The teacher coached the class through the new skill, just as a basketball coach might coach a team through a new play.
After completing the first problem, we would erase and go on to another problem. The process would be the same, but we would pick up the pace a bit, since we now were familiar with the steps. Then we would erase and do another, then another, then perhaps another. By this time we were "in the groove." Then the teacher would say, "Let's do this last one for speed, and then we'll take our seats." At our seats, we would do another five or six problems as the teacher circulated -- what is now called Guided Practice. We didn't need much guidance, though, because we already had done several problems correctly at the board. All but the one or two slowest students were at Independent Practice. To stay busy, the teacher checked our work as it was being done.
TWO MODELS OF TEACHING
In the final analysis, there are only two basic ways to structure student performance during the teaching of the lesson. The first is: input, input, input, input, input -- output. That approach characterizes classroom instruction in almost every subject area, at almost every grade level in America. It is the antithesis of effective coaching, because performance is delayed until the student has received multiple inputs. That, in turn, produces cognitive overload and performance anxiety. The resulting helpless handraising during Guided Practice forces the teacher into lengthy one-on-one tutoring as the noise level rises. Students not being tutored either chitchat or work "independently" in a feedback vacuum, so errors are repeated unknowingly. The work will be checked tonight at home.
The second approach can be characterized as: input -- output -- input -- output -- input - output. That approach, along with constant monitoring and feedback, is effective coaching. It was the method practiced by my elementary classroom teachers, my guitar teacher, -- and my basketball coach.
OVERCOMING NEGATIVE TRANSFER
The second approach, while the norm during my childhood, has become extremely rare in today's classrooms. Why would effective skill building be replaced by ineffective skill building in American education? Suffice it to say that by the time you go through junior high, high school, and college, you have had a solid decade of input, input, input, input, input, output. Ten years of modeling will have a profound effect on your teaching style regardless of your philosophy. It will be your dominant habit whether you know it or not -- your negative transfer from years in the classroom.You will have to work hard at making lessons interactive while bringing the precision of coaching into the classroom. I watch teachers struggle. The most common example is the social studies teacher who tries to make the lesson interactive without changing his or her framework. They give a twenty-five minute input followed by fifteen minutes of discussion -- the "interaction." The material from the first part of the lecture is gone from memory by the end, with the dominant experience for most of the class being cognitive overload and forgetting. Who participates in the discussion? As you might guess, the A students who read the assignment last night. Everyone else is just trying to disappear.
Tools for Teaching will help you retool. It will put the students to work while you work less. It will keep students active. It will accelerate learning. It will make learning fun. And, it will get rid of a lot of goofing off.