Supernanny Part II

>> Sunday, November 16, 2008

Discipline:  Students need consistent discipline and consequences that are carried out.

In addition to a lack of a routine, Supernanny would probably take issue with the discipline that takes place at my school and, in particular, the consequences for bad behavior.  Students are constantly being threatened that they're going to "lose points," but this never actually happens.  Many teachers like to say that students are mal educados, literally meaning badly educated, but it implies something more like poor manners or being poorly raised.  Really, though, students are really quite smart--they realize that there are no consequences for bad behavior, so there's no reason to stop.

I am a very big believer that decisions and actions should have consequences, and that people should follow through with the consequences that they set.  This simply doesn't happen at school, and the students all know it.  In Nicaragua, students are assigned a classroom and the teachers move from class to class.  The students, therefore, are responsible for sweeping and mopping their classrooms before school begins and during recess.  This rarely happens.  Sometimes the vice principal will come into the classrooms that aren't clean and tell the students that they're all losing five points off their grades, but everyone knows this is an empty threat.

What happens, then, is that the students do their cleaning during my precious class time.  It's impossible to teach class or even have students copy an exercise in their notebooks because they have to scoot their desks around so that the whole room can be swept and then mopped; we normally lose about 30 minutes of our class time from the first class of the day and the first class after recess because the students haven't cleaned.  And why should they?  They can either spend their coveted recess cleaning the classroom, or they can enjoy recess and then be rewarded for it by getting to spend class time chatting and scooting desks instead of taking notes or learning. 

I think the whole cleaning process is silly to begin with; this is a dusty place, so the classrooms are going to get dusty.  There is a lot of trash that gets thrown onto the floor, but I believe the focus should be put on teaching the kids to put their trash in trash cans in the first place.  I became very tired of wasting so much class time with the cleaning, so I convinced my reluctant counterpart that instead of rewarding them for having a dirty classroom by letting them clean (they really do enjoy it--they all fight over who gets to sweep and mop), we should instead tell them that they have to clean before school and during recess like they're supposed to, and just make them suffer through a dirty classroom if they don't.  I really thought this plan was going to work and, even if it didn't, I can teach just as well with a few wrappers on the ground.  The plan lasted only about two days, however, before the principal came into the classroom and said they had to clean right that minute; I suspect that my counterpart asked her to come.

The grading systems that are used here are a big part of the problem.  Teachers are not able to decide how to distribute their grades; instead, this is determined for them by the Ministry of Education.  For the final grades, 37.5% of the final grade comes from the August partial exams, 37.5% of the grade comes from the October partial exams, and 25% of the grade comes from the final exam.  So teachers have no way to actually enforce attendance, participation, or homework for the last month of school or for any of the grades that actually go on the permanent record.

For the rest of the year, the partial (quarterly) exams must compose 60% of the grade with 40% of the grade that can be determined by the teacher.  There's no syllabus, so this last 40% can be determined in any arbitrary way.  Teachers usually take attendance every day, though it's never figured into final grades.  Participation is also not very common.  Homework is supposed to be a large part of this last 40%, but I have never seen a teacher collect homework to grade it.  Instead, the students take all their notes, do all their classroom exercises, and do all their homework in their notebooks, and then my counterpart generally does a "notebook check" about once every two months to determine their homework grade. Obviously, it is impossible for her to check two months' worth of work in 50 notebooks and precisely record how many of the assignments have been done and if they have been done well all in the 45 minute class period, but that is what she pretends to do.  Students figure this out and know that they only need to scribble a few notes and do a couple of the exercises to get their points.

This frustrated me to no end, so I decided to hold students accountable for the homework I assign.  At the start of class, I would go around to each student, check their homework assignment, and write down their name and student number if they had actually attempted to complete the homework.  I then gave my piece of paper to my counterpart to record in her gradebook whether they had done the work and should get the points.  The first day I did this, about 10 of the 45 students completed their homework.  After assigning a little bit of homework for every class for about a week, I was up to about 35 of the students actually making an attempt to do the work.  This proved to me, at least, that students are capable of doing the work and will do it if they know that they will be held accountable.

Copying here seems to be as much a part of the culture as gallo pinto; students do it all the time, and teachers are either unable or unwilling to make it stop.  The copying is shameless and poorly-executed; students normally just give their notebooks to another student to copy from, and make no effort to even hide it if a teacher comes by.  Paul and his counterpart once assigned students to physically describe their family members; a large number of students chose to write, "My sister is short, fat, and handsome."

When I made my homework reforms, I also instituted a rule that if I saw students copying or loaning their notebooks to another student to copy, neither student would receive credit.  I am sure they all assumed that this was another of the countless empty threats, so they proceeded to shuffle notebooks around and copy.  As I was making my way through the aisles of desks and recording homework on the first day, I saw one student copying from another student's homework, drew a sad face by both exercises, and wrote that they had copied.  Students were shocked when I refused to write down their names and student numbers so that they would get credit for the work.  After word got around what I had done and that I was serious, I never caught students copying homework during class again.

Copying is perhaps worst on tests.  With 50 students pack into a small classroom, it's impossible to situate desks so that students cannot see each others' papers.  All the teachers tell students not to copy, but none follow through and do anything if they see copying taking place.  When I have to proctor exams, I tell the students that they cannot talk, that they should look only at their papers, and that they should guard their papers so no one else can see.  I also tell them that if I see them copying, I will give them a warning the first time, then take the test away the second time it happens.  Again, being used to hollow threats, the students normally ignore me until I take a test away from the first student that won't stop copying.  Then they realize I'm serious and that there will be consequences for not following directions.  This always seems to shock the students and even my counterpart, but I would happily agree to stay at home during test time if enforcement of the rules poses too much of a problem.

Supernanny says that "positive attention and praise are the most effective rewards for good behavior, but sometimes it's important to give your child boundaries and let them know that certain behavior is unacceptable."  Students aren't mal educados for not following the rules, they're smart for knowing that rules will never be enforced with the stated consequences.  Each time I made it clear to students that I would follow through with enforcement of my rules and that I don't make empty threats, their  behavior improved markedly.  I think the problem here is that this is the way things have been for so long that no one is willing to change and try something new, even if it might improve the classroom conditions or the education students receive.
This is my fourth year class along with my afternoon counterpart, Carmen.  They're by far my favorite students, and none of my above complaints apply to them.  Carmen is also always willing to go along with any of my weird ideas, and then is actually willing to admit if they work.  I'm actually a little sad that the school year's ending and I won't have this section anymore.


  © Blogger template Palm by 2008

Back to TOP