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Bad Students or Bad Situation?

Students Listening to Teacher Read.jpgAt last month's Education Week webinar, Addressing Diverse Student Learning Needs, I stressed the importance of breaking from classroom traditions that are no longer--and may never have been--in students' best interests.

One such tradition occurs every day in countless early childhood and elementary classrooms: students sitting on a rug as their teacher presents a lesson or reads to them. No matter how many times they remind students how to act while on the rug (criss-cross applesauce, pretzel legs, etc.), teachers still need to redirect kids more during rug time than at any other time. And you can't blame them, given all the fidgeting, shoving, hair-pulling, kicking, chatting, and complaining ("Jason stinks!").

But you can't blame the kids either. How reasonable is it to expect 20-30 wee ones to keep their hands and feet to themselves when they're practically sitting on top of each other? Yet many schools cling to this tradition. And when kids can't get it together on the rug, teachers banish them to their seats. But because this fails to address the source of the problem, it almost never eliminates the problem. Sooner or later students get another chance at the rug, and sooner rather than later teachers send them to their seats again.

Since rug time is such a rough time for so many students, maybe the problem isn't the students so much as the situation. That's what Tracy Allen, a kindergarten teacher I coach at West Oak Lane Charter School in Philadelphia, concluded after noticing that, for various reasons, some students are unable to function well while sitting on the rug. In turn, rather than send those students from the rug to their seats when they misbehave, Tracy has them bring their seats to the rug so they won't misbehave in the first place. Sitting in chairs along the perimeter of the rug allows these students to remain a part of the class rather than apart from the class. And Tracy spends very little time redirecting them.

Now a couple of key behavior management points that Tracy Allen's rug routine illustrates:

  • It's better to take a proactive, preventive approach toward managing students' behavior than a reactive, punitive one.

  • Differentiated behavior management is just as important as differentiated instruction.
Just one more point: No matter how rich in tradition a classroom practice may be, if students aren't benefiting from it, don't be afraid to pull the rug out from under it.


Image by Monkeybusinessimages, provided by Dreamstime license

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