Practice makes perfect. We’re all familiar with that adage. As a teacher, it’s something I live everyday. There’s guided practice, independent practice, differentiated practice, etc. The start of this school year is teaching me that practice is not and should not be limited to academics. This past week in the Whole Brain Teaching Universe has taught me that, if anything, practice begins first with the rules and routines of an orderly classroom. That type of practice then allows you to spend more time on the typical academic practice that is the focus of our lesson plans. This was the week where I experienced the power of practice when it is triggered by disruption.
I recently had a chance to go online and catch the weekly Whole Brain Teaching live webchat. (You can watch it most Monday evenings at 7 p.m. CST, or view it later from the archives.) I like to watch it live whenever I can because the comments from the other teachers are so valuable. No disrespect to consultants or staff developers intended, but there is no better advice given than from one teacher to another. There were plenty of helpful tips from the online participants that night. So many, in fact, that I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer quantity! One participant in particular, however, provided just the inspiration I needed. He commented on the necessity of practice when it comes to managing your classroom. I realized then that I had not been leveraging the power of the 5 Classroom Rules to my advantage.
Kids Need to Practice
During that webchat, Coach B asserted that, “Telling kids what to do is not an effective strategy for teaching them how to behave.” How many times as teachers do we simply state our expectations? While that’s certainly a starting point, it needs to go farther in order for students to successfully demonstrate appropriate classroom behavior. These comments were further reinforced by a WBT veteran who tells his students that he has “an inhuman amount of patience. We will practice this until you get it right.”
Don’t Scold – Rehearse!
Fortunately, I had my own opportunity to practice the next afternoon. I was teaching grammar, a subject I enjoy. However, despite my best efforts at a compelling lesson, the topic of declarative and interrogative sentences was being met with a growing sense of restlessness among my students. Especially my students I had privately termed “challenging.” Instead of scolding students to be quiet, I used their talking out of turn to consistently reinforce the rules. Over and over, patiently but firmly I stated, “Rule 2!” Over and over, growing less and less restless, my students would repeat the rule and the gesture, “Raise your hand for permission to speak!” It hardly slowed down my instructional pace at all. Be realistic – you are either going to lose some instructional time shushing students or having them practice Rule 2. I’d rather they rehearse the rule. Since they were doing most of the talking with their practice, it allowed me to stay focused on the lesson itself. A perverse part of me almost wished they would keep chattering, because I was enjoying myself. Power to the teachers!
Disruption Triggers Unity
It’s important to remind students that you’re not mad at them and they are not in trouble when you have them practice a rule. “I’m not mad at you. I noticed you needed practice at Rule 2 and I want to give you this opportunity to get better.” Like the fictitious Mrs. Maestra in Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids, I adore this part of the WBT system. It turns “disruptive behavior…into an occasion that reinforces classroom rules. The actions of challenging students instantly unifies the class behind the teacher’s leadership. Disruption triggers class unity!” (page 43) Practice is fundamental to the educational process. Students need lots of practice for just about everything, but practice shouldn’t be limited to academics.