Monday, July 26, 2010

Ask yourself one question: Is it Important?

Freedom (choices) is one of our basic needs. Changing from a teacher controlled classroom to one where students are given more freedom is difficult for many teachers. In fact, I think it is in our “teacher DNA” to control everything in our class. Why? For many, that’s how we experienced school. My teachers controlled everything and I assumed that is how I was supposed to teach. Indeed, the biggest obstacle to school change is our memories.

When I learned about William Glasser's Control Theory about basic needs three years ago from Diane Gossen and Joel Shimoji, I discovered that a classroom could look and feel different. I learned that if I could meet the basic needs of students, I would have a happier class. Indeed, a happier class leads to more learning.

Meeting the basic needs of students, however, meant I would have to abandon the “total control” mindset. One of the things I would have to do was meet the freedom need of my students. It was not as easy as I thought. So, how did I begin the transition to a more student centred class? Diane Gossen recommended I ask myself one simple question: Is it important?

What does “Is it important” mean? If a student asked me a question, for example, if he or she can sit on the floor to complete a project, the old me would have said, "no." I used to think that the only place for students was in his or her chair. Now I ask, "Is it important if the student does not sit at his or her chair?" Of course not. Another student may ask, "May I listen to my ipod?" My immediate reply before would have been, "No!" Now I just say, "yes, if you are working alone and we can't hear your music.

There are instances, however, when it IS important to you. For example, if not eating in class is important to you, then you will say no if a student asks to eat. Moreover, listening to ipods in class may be something that you just won’t accept. I think about it this way: If a request is made that interferes with the learning of others, that student has to think of a different way to meet the freedom need.

A teacher receives many requests from students. Each time you get a question ask yourself, is it important? This simple question is the first step to transition from a teacher controlled environment to one with more freedom for students. Indeed, challenge your memories all the way to a happy class where students can flourish.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Meeting the Needs of Students

Well, this is my new blog. I have been thinking about writing about student needs for awhile and finally got enough energy to do it.

In the fall of 2007 I attended a P.I. conference and learned about William Glasser's Control Theory. Basically, Glasser says we all have 5 basic needs, one physical and four psychological. If all needs are being met then people will be happy. Translation for a classroom teacher: If we meet the needs of our students we will have happier students; Hence, more learning.

So, what are the needs?

1. Survival: Food, shelter, water, etc.

2. Fun: anything that gives us pleasure, enjoyment.

3. Freedom: This means choices. Freedom to choose what you do.

4. Power/Success: Being successful. When you are successful it increases your self-esteem.

5. Love/Belonging: Feeling loved through family, friends, being a part of a team, organizations, etc. Not feeling lonely.

The way I plan my lessons is influenced by these needs. I try to ensure that the lessons and class activities contain all 5 needs.

Here are a few examples of how I meet each need:

Fun: 1. Hands on activities. 2. Sometimes I take the last 5 minutes of a class and show a few funny videos from the pod cast The best of You Tube. 3. Any type of game like heads up 7 up. 4. Cooking- baking bread in a bread maker. 5. Pizza party.

Freedom: 1.I allow students to sit where they want. If their choice becomes a disturbance, I talk with them to solve this problem. 2. Giving students choices in assignments is well received. Ex. The way they choose to do a novel assignment is a good way to meet this need. Do they do a report, diorama, play, etc. You can give them the choice.

Power/success: Ensuring that all students have a chance to succeed is essential. If some are not good at tests, they might be good at debating, acting, music or art. I ensure I give them the opportunity to succeed at their strength.

Love/belonging: I greet my students at the door each day. I have a calendar board for the month where I write various birthdays or events the students have that month. This makes each student feel included. Group activities are good too for meeting this need.

Survival: If a student is hungry they can get a juice and a snack at the office. We also have a breakfast program.

Some activities meet all 4 psychological needs at the same time. I like those.

I teach the needs to my students at the beginning of the year and review them throughout. If they do get upset for some reason I discuss which need is not being met and I ask the student to try and solve their problem. They come up with their own plan. If it is realistic we put it into action. (For some major problems such as fighting or drugs, it is dealt with by the office under our school policy.)

Like most teachers, I was meeting some needs for students before I learned about Control Theory. Now, however, I have a better understanding of why students behave the way they do. Through this understanding I questioned my old classroom practices and changed a lot of my ways. As a result of my change, my class is a happier place.

Thanks for reading.