Classroom Management Without Quieting Kids, Part 4: Highs and Lows
I have described my happy point system of classroom management and explained how it has taken off in the last few months. Many classes have done really well. But in spite of receiving the same practice and explanations, some classes just end up with low scores. Also, previously high-scoring classes sometimes tank the next time I see them. The reasons for low scores seem to be:
- The students are not really aware of each other. The kids’ informal social structure is comprised of smaller groups without a cohesive group dynamic. For a class to get happy points, everyone must pay attention and communicate nonverbally. No child can quiet the room without buy-in from everyone else.
- Sometimes the schedule of the day doesn’t lend itself to being quiet. There might be a special school activity. We might combine with another class for a project or video. In these cases, the students don’t have as much control over their classroom environment to get those points.
- I sometimes forget to tell a classroom assistant about the system. A well-meaning adult can derail the happy point process. Happy points require adults to release some control of the room. If the class is getting noisy, we adults tend to jump in and settle the offenders. For happy points to work, we need to wait for the kids to notice the noise and then for them to carry out the process. I assist students by looking around with amusement, like, “Is anyone going to do something about this?” Inevitably a child looks at me. “Oooh!” and shoots up the quiet sign. But if the other adult is admonishing the students before this happens, the moment is gone. Sometimes I have written the other teacher’s name on the board, “She got that point. You didn’t catch it in time.”
- After a class learns the routine, some kids get bossy about quieting the class, thereby ruining the … well, the happiness of it. I am learning to stay in control of the class, even as they amass the points. I need to emphasize the quietness of quieting the class and how each student needs to respect everyone else. Amazingly, kids are responsive to this – if I do my part.
Even low-scoring days are full of benefits. Kids know that they are the first responders to noise, not I. If I resort to quieting them, they know that they have not done their job. This dynamic is vastly different from the norm, where the teacher is the only noise moderator.
Classes on low-scoring days also benefit from competing with other groups. One day my class joined one across the hall. My class walked in silently and I announced, “You can’t tell because they’re being quiet, but they just beat the town record for happy points – 17 points!” The other teacher asked his class, “How many happy points did you get with Ms. Dreisbach?” “Six,” was the sullen reply. But there was still a bit of fun in the exchange. It’s hard to be upset about something called happy points. You win some, you lose some. The low scorers were still in the game, still part of the conversation.
I asked a class of second graders what they thought about the happy points. Their responses showed an emerging community and persistence.
- We help each other more.
- We’re working together because we’re trying to get a point.
- When we lost a point, we didn’t give up.
- We used a “growth mindset” to get points. (A reference to a unit they had done with their teacher.)
I love seeing the students communicate with each other. I love their pride as their points go on the board and their joy at happy dances.
Ultimately, I love that I am freed to teach them. They’re doing the hard part of quieting themselves. Now Ms. Dreisbach can explain the lesson…
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