Any parent will tell you that the frustrations of childrearing come under two headings:
In the same vein, behavior management has two basic objectives:
Classroom discipline usually focuses on only the first of these two objectives, reducing disruptions. But that leaves the job only half done. We will also need to build good behavior to replace the disruptive behavior.
Training kids to do what you want them to do when you ask them to do it is the other side of discipline management. We will call it Responsibility Training. Our objective will be to make responsible behavior in the classroom a matter of routine.
Students are most irresponsible when it comes to time. They waste time as though it had no value. They are in no hurry to start the class period, and they have no desire to hustle during a lesson transition. They know that you will put them to work as soon as these “breaks” are over. The students’ vested interest, therefore, is to stretch break time and shrink work time.
For this reason a typical class period is not on task until five to seven minutes after the bell rings, and a typical lesson transition takes five minutes. If the students have only one lesson transition per class period, they will waste approximately ten minutes out of fifty – one fifth of their total learning time for the year. This is a hemorrhage.
When looking at hustling versus dawdling, we are dealing with the issue of motivation. The management of motivation comes down to answering one simple question, “Why should I?”
“Why should I hustle instead of taking my time?”
The answer to that question is called an incentive. Incentive systems are based upon Grandma’s Rule which states:
You have to finish your dinner
before you get your dessert.
Incentive systems, therefore, have two parts:
When you are working with kids, dessert usually takes the form of a preferred activity – something the kids not only look forward to but are also willing to work for. In incentive management, therefore, we say, “No joy, no work.”
Incentive systems have always been part of effective parenting and effective classroom management. Your parents probably used them. Do these things sound familiar?
“As soon as you are ready for bed, we’ll have story time.”
“As soon as you are done with your homework, you can watch TV.”
“As soon as you have finished your chores, you can go outside to play.”
Finding Time for Preferred Activities
In family life routines lend themselves to grandma’s rule because you can usually find time for “dessert” right after the task has been completed. For example, you might have “family time” after the kids have helped you clean up dinner in which you all play a board game together. Then it is off to do homework. Similarly, there is always time to read stories after the children get ready for bed.
The problem with classroom management is that you have so many transitions during a day that there is no time to squeeze in a meaningful preferred activity after each one. Rather, we go from one activity directly to the next.
If, however, you do not provide preferred activities in order to produce hustle, students will take preferred activities anyway and not hustle. Call it the art of dawdling.
How can we turn dawdling into hustling? We will have to find a way of scheduling preferred activities that suits the classroom.
Preferred Activity Time (PAT) in the Classroom
Imagine a fifth grade teacher who values art as part of the curriculum and would do art projects whether she knew anything about incentives or not. This teacher, however, is wise to incentives and knows how to get “two for the price of one.” She might start the day with the following announcement:
“Students, I would like to direct your attention to the project table over by the window. As you can see, I have laid out art supplies for our preferred activity at the end of the day. As usual, I have set aside twenty minutes for Preferred Activity Time.
“Of course, once you get started on an art project, you would always love to have more time. And, you can! All of the time we save during the day by hustling will be added to PAT. We could have forty minutes if we really get things done.”
As you can see, a certain amount of Preferred Activity Time is given rather than having students earn all of the PAT. Students get more involved when they have something of value to protect. Student empowerment comes from their ability to lengthen PAT.
All For One, And One For All
How does the teacher arrange for the students to save time by hustling in order to lengthen the PAT? Here’s an example of a lesson transition:
“Students, let me tell you what I would like you to do during this lesson transition. First, hand your papers in on my desk. Then, if you need to sharpen your pencils, now is the time to do it, and if you need to get a drink of water, now is the time to do it. I want my clean-up committee to erase the chalkboard and straighten up the bookshelf. And I would like you all to put your desks back in place and pick up any paper you see laying around the room.
“I will give you 2 minutes to get this done, but as you know from past experience, you can get it done in 30 seconds if you hustle. In any case, if you get done early, all of the time that you save will be added to our PAT at the end of the day.”
Whenever you have a classroom routine to be done, estimate how long the routine might take if the students gave a descent effort. Then, round that number up to the next minute and double it. This time frame for a classroom routine provides a meaningful amount of bonus when the kids hustle.
This arrangement is called a group incentive because it is “all for one and one for all” just like the Three Musketeers. A group incentive not only gets the kids to hustle, but it also gives them a vested interest in helping you with management that keeps them from looking like a “goodie two-shoes.” A student won’t be “uncool” if he or she says,
“Hey, sit down you guys. We’re losing time.”
Give and Take
Students instinctively treat any squandering of time as time lost. Occasionally, however, students actually run over the amount of time that you have set aside for the routine. This is rare and usually happens during the first week.
If the students dawdle to the point of running over time, simply subtract that time from the total. Consequently, you will keep track of PAT in two columns on the board, time gained and time lost. Put your initial gift of PAT in the time gained column to serve as a pump primer.
The system is rigged so that the students come out ahead. In addition to your initial gift, time is gained in minutes, whereas time is lost in seconds. Also, time gained is the norm, whereas time lost is a rare event that simply keeps everyone honest.