When students and teachers feel this connection, we are all responding from the higher cortical regions of the brain, and our dopamine reward centers are activated by these feelings, these positive emotions. Our interactions with students are intimately connected with our own feelings and agendas. When our efforts in the classroom meet with frustration and opposition, we can inadvertently mimic our students' negative emotions.
Introducing and Customizing the ModelIn this post, I'm proposing a classroom management model that I developed with the help of Judy Willis. This model for behavior and emotional engagement incentivizes students to self-assess and reflect, choosing options that are socially rewarding. The model resembles a video game, with students moving through levels and noting how they feel. They choose options at each level that motivate them to the next level, which lessens growing anxiety and anger. Many of our students don't have the social modeling from their environments to assess an alternate way of approaching a problem, especially in those moments when negative emotion is growing stronger.
Just as we discuss and model other procedures, we will initially need to teach students about this model. It will look different based upon students' grade level and age. Teachers and students must agree ahead of time about how they will communicate their growing frustration, ideally with a signal or gesture that indicates a need to choose an option at a specific level. Adjust this model to the growing and changing needs of your students and your personal teaching profile.
The first aspect of this behavior engagement model is to teach our students about their own neuro-anatomy. When we understand how the brain learns and feels -- with every word, thought, and experience -- we empower our students with the lifetime tools that will enhance their experience in and out of school.
As many teachers report that the most difficult parts of the day occur during transitions, we begin by creating a mutual goal for the students participating in this model, generating "forced academic and behavioral success." This goal must be clear, malleable, specific, and measurable:
- John will work on the assigned project for 15 minutes without distracting his classmates by talking, gesturing, or interrupting their learning.
- Alice will enter the classroom, gather her work or supplies, and be ready for instruction within three minutes.
- Anthony will choose a signal and a Level 2 option within a five-minute period when feeling angry or frustrated.
Level 2All learning has ceased. The student feels increasingly irritated, somewhat oppositional, and shuts down to feedback and learning. He or she is reacting from lower-brain and emotional centers and needs options to recharge and begin again:
- Revisiting choices previously discussed during a neutral time
- Movement, stretching, water, snack
- Focused attention practice
- Minutes off the task with an activity that de-escalates the stress response (such as running an errand for the teacher)
- Moving to another classroom to assist another teacher or serving another student
- Design instruction in an area of choice and expertise for a few minutes
Level 4The student is slightly engaged, a bit distracted, and the flow of learning is interrupted. It is at Levels 3 and 4 that we move in closer to the student, touching a shoulder, showing authentic interest while observing all forms of communication. Notice with words, tone, questions, and affirmation:
- What could I do to help you?
- What do you need?
- How can we come up with a plan?
- Should I check in with you in five minutes?
Level 6The student is engaged and trying to complete tasks.
Level 7The student is engaged and in the flow. Teaching and learning are happening seamlessly. Social intrinsic rewards work well here, because when someone else notices what's working well, we continue doing it.
Goals and Higher Levels of AttainmentThe social rewards can be many and varied for students who attain the higher levels of this model on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. Depending upon the student's age, grade level, and severity of reactions during stress responses, these higher levels can offer:
- Designing a special project and teaching a younger class or another teacher
- Choice of outside speaker aligned with the student's interest, learning about a vocation or life passion
- Song selections for a class blog
- Organizing a service event
- Teacher completes weekend homework that directly ties in with the student's interests and passions
- Positive referral certificates
- Developing a class newspaper
- Leading discussion groups
- Bring in college or vocational students to share different majors and minors
Do you offer your students incentives? Please tell us about it in the comments section below.
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