Four weeks have passed in Parkland Florida since that horrific killing of 17 students and teachers and wounding many others. Quickly, the police arrested the killer, a young man nineteen years old, Nicholas Cruz. The news flooded my mind with facts that troubled me. Why? Why would Nicholas age 19 slaughter his own generation, blink out their future lives?
I mourned the death of the innocent students and brave teachers, who guided their students to safety, only to be shot down.
Each news report added to Nicholas’s profile: Nicholas is 5’7” 130 pounds. He’s small, an orphan, a loner, a student expelled last year for violent threats against students, emails warning teachers to alert staff if they see him on campus wearing his backpack. At least 66 reports phoned in to the Broward County, Florida police department that went unreported to higher commanders. Police were called countless times to his home. His profile expands each day, more folders needed to contain all the missed opportunities to catch Nicholas before he acted out his dream as a “professional school shooter.”
If anything positive can come from this tragedy, it would be how to keep it from happening again. Already in Spanish Fork, Utah there’s been copy-cat school threats several times a week. On Fox News, the newsperson for the hour suggested we give no press for the perpetrator’s “big day.” Thousands of high school students descended on government offices for gun laws to be stricter, most kids wanting no guns ever, disregarding the 2nd Amendment.
Finally, there is more talking about mental health care. Open up the mental health hospitals. Urgent need for nuclear families-father, mother, kids living in one home. Healthy mentality needed before buying a gun.
What resonants with you as a teacher?
Have you ever taught a kid like Nicholas?
Each year for each period, troublemaker students were part of my classes. One year as the drama teacher, just before the school year started, I naively asked the counselors to delete any kids on my class lists who were agitators. They looked at me like I was crazy. But I was desperate because I did not know how to deal with rebellious kids. In college, I know I never learned in educational classes about how to deal with disorderly kids in America’s classrooms.
According to Chris Biffle, author of Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids, “Year after year, good teachers leave teaching because they are tired of warring with disruptive kids.”
We know that blowing our stack only adds tremendous credibility to bad kids’ desire to demolish the teacher’s objectives. Teenagers live for their peers approval.
I remember how horrible this was one year.
In one class, I had about seven kids who were friends, talkers, non-listeners, and especially disrespectful to me. One day I met with the two leaders out in the hall and asked them to lead the class to be better listeners etc. They looked at me and said, “Ok.” Then they walked back in, smirking at my suggestions.
At parent teacher conference, the parents did not want to hear their boy was disruptive. They blamed me for his B grade and U in citizenship.
I kept citizenship records, chronicling each kid’s poor behavior. One day near the end of the semester, I printed the records off and handed them out in class. The regular troublemakers thought what fun. They read off all the bad they had done as if they were in competition to see who was worse. I sent these reports to their parents. If the parents received them, they never contacted me to say they’d get their kids acting right. By the end of the semester almost half of my class asked to be transferred to another class. I believe this happened because of the popularity of these two kids. Their friends and the parents of their friends wanted to hang with them no matter their negative influence.
No, these kids were not in any way close to having the same outcome as Nicholas Cruz. They were the Entitled Kids of our school. Nicholas Cruz came from a broken family, these kids came from good families.
However, another year, one student I taught wrote in his journal that he wanted to set the school on fire and I and a few other teachers would die. I had collected the journals to read and grade. His entry disturbed me. I decided to meet him in the library and asked him about it. He hardly spoke nor did he look at me. I told him about the Columbine shooting, about how he cannot say things like this in his journal and expect no one would care. I told him all the things I might do—tell the principal, call his parents, call the police. I think it upset him. He went back to class. I thought I should take care of this myself, so I didn’t tell the principal.
Now, because of the Parkland school shooter, I see how wrong this was.
A week or so later, the principal came to my class and said they decided to transfer a few kids who were giving me a hard time. This transfer included the journal boy. I don’t know how the principal knew unless the boy had lied to his parents, telling them how bad I was to him, and they requested a transfer. I don’t know how this boy fared with life, but so far no atrocity from him. At least he had parents who supported him.
Ten years ago I retired. About four years ago I subscribed to Michael Linsin’s smartclassroommanagement. His wise advice came too late for me. But I urge every educator to read his blog. Four days before February 14th Mr. Linsin posted this blog:
https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2018/02/10/build-rapport-with-challenging-students/. There is a strategy that builds strong, behavior-influencing rapport with virtually any student. It’s to take an interest in them. Read Linsin’s strategy. It seems too obvious, too silly but he advises how to do it so it will work and you will gain a student’s trust.
The following links are amazing strategies that treat troublesome students with respect. These ideas would save kids like Nicholas Cruz. It is so sad when a student is expelled. There should be a lot of interest on how to save a troubled child. Now more than ever there should be social and mental health workers to catch these kids before they fall through the cracks and kill innocent people.
https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2017/10/07/disrespectful-student-questioning-teacher/. How to Handle a Student Who Questions You with Disrespect.
Valentine’s Day is soon approaching. For the teacher, here is an easy class assignment creating loving or funny messages for classmates, teachers, parents, sibling, friends.
Hearkening back to the Halloween Scary Poetry post, this assignment is similar. Instead of frightening words, loving fun words are dropped on the unsuspecting students’ desks.
How To: 1. First print off several copies of the Drop Poetry Word Lists, according to the class size. Each student will have a pinch of words, so estimate about 5-8 words per student. Another List.
2. Also make transparencies of the word lists.
3. Ask your Teacher Assistants, student teacher, or your own kids to cut these words apart including the transparencies.
4 Put these tiny word pieces in envelopes, baggies, or a couple of bowls, You will walk among the desks or tables and drop the words on the desks.
5. Using an overhead projector, show how to make a little poem, by moving the small words on another transparency, until you have a good enough message. Using a marker, write in your own words to make sense of the dropped words, showing students they can add words, change word endings by adding or taking away.
Directions for the students:
Take everything off your desk except pencil, paper, or notebook.
The teacher will drop off some words found on Valentine Conversation Hearts.
Arrange the “dropped words” in different ways.
You may add your own words so the poem will make sense.
You may add endings to words, Ex: Lover + s > Lovers. You may take off endings. Ex. Lovingly –ly > Loving
Choose the best arrangement. Then write it down in your journal, notebook, etc.
Of course it is fun to share the poems, so students should write their poems on white construction papers, decorated with hearts. Display in the classroom.
8. A great Valentine story is the little book The UnValentine. The author Sam Beesom hails from American Fork, UT where he teaches high school English. You can buy this on Amazon for $1.99 from third party sellers. It is about a young girl who does not like Valentine’s Day. The rhyming narrative, gently sarcastic, creates a favorite for all lovers of Valentine’s provocations.
Enjoy the Valentine Gallery from the subjects at school.
“Caress the detail, the divine detail.” —-Vladimir Nabokov.
Sentences are the kernel of a paragraph, the molecules of an essay, the building blocks of a novel.
How do students learn to write impressive and effective sentences? They should learn the generative rhetoric sentence lessons enthusiastically promoted by Francis Christensen, writing specialist.
A key principle of generative rhetoric is that the “essential” content in a sentence is found not in the subject-predicate base but rather in what we add onto that base. The base merely prepares the idea, setting it up for more specific elaboration by adding modifiers.
If students want to write sentences that inform, delight, amaze, that move ideas forward, then applying the principles of generative rhetoric, students have a chance to write sentences born of their imagination and experience, adding specific ideas from the non-specific, their mind’s eye creating wonder at “the before,” “middle,” and “the end.”
Take these sentences, for example. The base or independent clause is colored blue. Notice the additions. Wow! Look how much more you know about the dog, the dancer, and the rodeo kid because of the wonderful additions, the modifiers.
Perched atop his dog house, scanning for cats, squirrels, bad guys, the dog barked all night.
Chosen as the foremost ballerina, the elated tiny dancer twirled home, so excited she could barely explain her success to her mother.
He entered the arena, tall hat shading eyes, chaps brand new, rope stiffly uncooperative, red silk scarf sopping up dripping sweat, eyes squinting for any fatal movement.
As you can see, the additions can be added at the beginning, middle, or end of the base. Students learn how to add-on, what to add-on, where to add the details, the modifiers, the verb clauses, the noun clauses, the appositives.
As a teacher you may hear: “Oh, man, do we have to add more stuff? What’s wrong with my five word sentence, “The dog barked all night?”
John Erskine, the originator of the Great Books courses, wrote in his essay, The Craft of Writing, “When you write, you make a point, not by subtracting as though you sharpened a pencil, but by adding.” . . . “What you found is not in the noun but what you add to qualify the noun. . . . The noun, the verb, and the main clause serve merely as the base on which meaning will rise… The modifier is the essential part of any sentence.”
So how does this work? Consider the student’s sentence, The dog barked all night. That is the base, the subject (dog) and the predicate (barked) but it is too generalized –we know very little about the dog or the consequences of his barking.
Now add modifiers of your choosing to fit your experience of a dog barking all night. For example, add to the front (shown as red): Perched atop his dog house, scanning for cats, squirrels, bad guys, the dog barked all night.
Add modifiers to the middle. The dog, little Taco, famous yapper, barked all night.
Add modifiers to the end. The dog barked all night, alerting the darkened cul-de-sac, angry windows thrust open, fiery expletives shoot the canine, yelping at the injustice of it all.
Adding modifiers moves ideas from generality to specificity. Adding can be more than one modifier at the beginning, middle, and end.
Francis Christensen deduced the four principles of generative rhetoric from Erskine’s essay. They are:
1. Composition is a process of addition. You use modifiers, be they adjective(s) A, relative clause RC, noun clause NC, verb cluster VC, adjective cluster AC, absolute, Abs, (i.e., a VC with a subject of its own), prepositional phrase, PP.
2. The second principle of generative rhetoric is the principle of forward or backward direction of modification or movement. When you add a modifier, you must either add before at the head (beginning of the base), or after it. If you add it before the head, the direction of the modifiers is forward, if you add it after, it’s like an arrow pointing backwards.
#1 Example from my “**famous sentences.” Can you see the movement forward? The tree, bedecked with lights, and red, green, blue ornaments, sparkled like a kaleidoscope, my squinting eyes blurring it into some kind of stained-glass mosaic. Each addition sharpens the tree’s reality. This example includes middle and after or end addition. So you move from a general idea of a tree to a specific description of a jeweled tree.
#2 Example: Can you find the backward detail, where we might pause and look back to the sentence’s ideas? **We donned layers of woolen sweaters, mufflers, mismatched mittens, little finger trying to cover the big thumb, —never quite the buffer against the cold we had hoped.” The phrase about the mufflers, mittens, little finger is an example of going backwards, stopping for a minute, to add to the reality of a childhood memory of playing in the snow.
3. The third principle is about decreasing the generality or abstraction in the sentence. With the base, the forward movement of the sentence’s ideas stops, so then the writer shifts down to a lower level of generality and adds more specificity, more detail. Just as you use binoculars to see more clearly, to see the detail of the moose’s location, so you use modifiers to adjust the knob to see him clearer in the meadow. Again, the mufflers, mittens, little finger phrases offer backward movement (remembering a past experience), the result of turning the knob for an up close picture in our mind, hopefully, touching a familiar memory.
The good, an example of dense texture: **”As we moved away from the “fox,” I remember how slowly we moved, loaded down with heavy parkas, our breaths exhausted in quick, short puffs, our throats ached as we gulped in the icy air.”
The bad, an example of bare texture: As we moved away from the “fox,” I remember how cold it was to play at night even though we had heavy parkas on.
**When I was a young college student, I discovered a breakthrough in my own writing in a writer’s workshop at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The professor instructed us about the generative rhetoric in the now classic Toward a New Rhetoric: Six Essays, by Francis Christensen. I still have that book–the yellow front cover is gone, the binding is strong but some pages torn off. Yet, the ideas in this thin yellow book is the reason for some of my**famous sentences. (**see above).
Finally, Click here: for the most graphic way to show the different levels and structures is to diagram the parts. Christensen indents the word groups and numbers them. For your information, here is a chart explaining the different grammar parts used in awesome sentences.
If you have questions or suggestions, please comment. I would appreciate your knowledge and experience.
Jack Prelutsky crafts troubling words to deepen your nightmares. Arnold Lobel illustrates ghouls to scare the unwary reader even more. Nightmares, Poems to Trouble Your Sleep-becomes a resource for a writing activity I call Scary Drop Poetry.
Objective: Given a cluster of scary words dropped on their desks, each of the students will arrange them until they’re satisfied with their scary poem.
Materials: 1. Words For Scary Stories And Poems Here is a list of the many words used in the book that are fun to manipulate into one’s own scary poem. Copy the list several times and cut out the words individually. Put a bunch of words into several envelopes. These will be issued to students.
2. Make a transparency of the list of words above and also cut them into pieces. Then put the bunches of words into envelopes. This will be used by the teacher on the overhead projector.
3. Make a transparency of the finished poem, My Bloodshot Brain.
And make a transparency of The Troll from the book. Click on the picture. Double click and choose Copy. Then paste the picture on a new page and print. Then using a transparency sheet, print off the Troll poem.
and the transparency of the draft of the poem. Double click on poem, choose Copy then on a new page, Paste the poem, then print off on transparency sheet. How To: 1. Using the overhead projector, if that can still be found in today’s classrooms, put a cluster of the transparent words onto the glass plate of the projector and move the words around until you create a scary poem.
2. Demonstrate adding or subtracting word prefixes and suffixes for effect. Encourage students to repeat words they like for onomonopatia or other literary devices. (seeliterarydevices.net).
3, During class time, walk around the classroom and reach into the envelopes and drop a pinch of words onto the students’ desk tops.
4. Go back to the overhead and show the transparency of the poem as an example of how YOU created the poem.
Evaluation: Create your own rubrics or standards the students will be graded against.
Create fun scary poetry with the word lists from Nightmares–Poems to Trouble Your Sleep. It is fun, easy, and rewarding for quick poetry and increasing students’ vocabulary.
If this year is your first year teaching, you may already have your room’s setup done. Mainly, because you love the idea of the first classroom of your career.
But as the year and years come and go, you’ll notice what is needed for the smooth sailing of your day. What about classroom traffic? Where will supplies be available? Are books easy to find? What about seating arrangements and paper load? No doubt you have one or more mentors assisting you with many good ideas that have worked for them.
Let me be your humble mentor here as you set up your classroom.My family came for a school event and wanted to see my room. They surprised me when they complimented me on how my classroom was cute and fun. I always thought it lacked so much in style. But red bookcases displayed books and magazines galore inviting kids to read. Evocative pictures on the wall requested them to take a second look.
Years ago I found this idea of a book summoning a student to read it. It was drawn on the cover of a pamphlet for a reading convention. I enlarged it from an overhead projector onto art paper and painted it. It was the first thing you’d see when you walked into the classroom.
The Main Thing to strive for is Charm with Function. Does the classroom invite the student to relax and wonder? Is the setup a place where it is easy to find books, workbooks, dictionaries, journals, pencils, crayons etc.?The red “book case” is easily constructed of particle board with moulding attached to hold magazines and picture books.
A new school year is an adventure of success and failure which can be parodied, satired, and even drawn such as in this awesome poster called The Journey. Kids stand before it figuring out where they are in their upward destination.
Look here for imaginative, inspiring boards for your classroom→
A new cookie sheet, pop-up craft paper for letters, red flags and magnetic clips— your pencil problem is solved! I would even say, “No one leaves the room until all the pencils are lined up.” Ha, ha.
A functioning seating arrangement allows you to access each student quickly so you may help her with the assignment or quash any misbehavior budding in that part of the rank and file of the floor plan.
This teacher’s plans cover all the “→what’s needed?←” for a well-oiled classroom’s seating system.→→→→
A clean desk inspires you to create your best lesson plans.Here are more great classroom decor ideas.
The mother lode of classroom function is found in Helene Segura’s Less Stress for Teachers.Helene Segura teaches you how to deal with disorganization, how to organize, get rid of clutter as well as covering paper load, handouts, and space management.
The first days back to school are always fun. There are many expectations that THIS year is the students’ golden year to succeed in academics, gain better friends, achieve personal best in sports and arts, and earn more privileges as they mature.
I could hardly wait for the first day to start and I was the teacher! I had awesome activities that were fun, easy to do, and gently inclusive.
Here are the best five “opening day” ice-breakers that will thrill classes and thrill you because you’ve got Day One off!
Have the kids number off–watch that friends don’t change places so they can be a 5 because their friend is also a 5. There should be 5-6 kids per group. Hand out the Statistics survey and give the kids time to fill out the sheet. Tell the kids to find out who’s the oldest and he/she will be the leader.
#2. Another favorite is the Scar Story. Scar Stories give students a rousing topic to detail their lifes’ emergencies.
#3 Take your class away with the Deserted Island activity.
#4 And here’s a true handout: Toilet paper.
#5. The Toss and Talk Ball–throw it to a student and he answers the question under his right thumb. Check it out here.
# Extra fun. Move into categories. The class divides along category lines such as brown eyes, blue eyes, laced up shoes, sandals, etc. Fun times.
The Elephant in the Classroom
It is August.
Do you know where your class management plan is? Take my word for it. For every August, 25 of them, I lived through dozens of classroom management plans.
Now I am retired and have the luxury of reflection and can say– I blew it!
From my experience, classroom MISmanagement, like an elephant in the classroom, upstaged any lesson I planned for students to be synced to my brilliant objective for the day.
Yes, such attentive students were there on the spot the first school days in August.
But as time went on–like September 1st, they checked out of attention and checked in with their fellow pilgrims about what’s up: their teachers, clothes, nails, hair, shoes, backpacks, gossip, music, phones, and who’s who with whom.
Once their brains absorbed the demographics of their classroom, they confidently pushed against any classroom boundaries set for them. That is how junior high students roll–the opinion of their peers is way more important than academics.
One day I googled “classroom management”and I hit the jackpot! The pay out comes from a blog by Michael Linsin loaded with sterling strategies for peaceful, learning classrooms. — http://www.smartclassroommanagement.com.
The posts are easy to read with instant common sense information you need to have a Dream Class.
The above links will get you started with his great philosophy and plan for well behaved classes. Mr. Linsin is an excellent elementary school teacher so some of his consequences for misbehavior might seem too young to work in junior high or high school. For example, a prime consequence in third grade is to remove a misbehaving student to another part of the classroom where he/she cannot participate.
Because some readers of his blog have asked him what about junior high, he said he writes for everyone but he has no time to create a junior high plan but that his ideas are for the most part universal and adaptable.
Yes, I would use the same plan for middle school students. There are obvious differences in how you speak and interact with older students, and some routines are different. But handling behavior remains the same. Other than minor age-related adjustments, there is no particular strategy I recommend that is exclusive to middle school students.
Lastly, if you already have your plan in place and it runs like a BMW, then that is great. If you have your plan in place but things start to unravel around September 15th, then click on this link. smartclassroommanagement.com Losing-control-of-your-classroom. There is always a chance to start over. I should know–I am a pro at starting over.