Oh, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Through some combination of spring fever and general boredom, it felt like my class was starting to come apart at the seams, tattered by frayed nerves and overworn patience. All of a sudden we were sniping and tattling and whining, problems we never experienced earlier in the year. Apparently one of my male students exposed himself (yes, that kind of exposed) to another student in the cafeteria, to which the other student responded by calling him "gay." And if I dried one more set of "she said she's not my friend anymore" tears, I was going to lose it.
On the morning of a recent field trip, I decided to give everyone a fresh start by changing everyone's seats, which had zero effect. On the field trip, we visited a restaurant where I was appalled and embarrassed by my class's behavior: bouncing up and down on the booths, crawling underneath the tables, flicking straw wrappers. I thought back to our very first field trip, to the farm, and how my excited, wriggly new second graders were able to contain themselves as they stood in two straight lines and waited to pet the animals.
When we got back from the field trip, I knew we needed a bigger change. When I asked the class if they felt like it had been hard to learn lately, they nodded vigorously and hands flew up around the room, eager to explain why. "Sometimes people are talking a lot and it makes it really hard to concentrate." "I keep looking out the windows and thinking about how nice it is outside and how I want to be outside playing instead of in school." (Honesty is the best policy, right?)
I came up with a points system in which I conspicuously walk around with a clipboard, adding or subtracting points from each individual student. Ten points gets you a trip to the small prize bin, twenty points the larger prize bin, and so on to more coveted rewards like fifteen minutes of free time or computer time. I'm fairly pleased with the results so far, if only because it justly rewards the kids who always do the right thing and always have to listen to my lectures to the whole class even though they always follow directions...and it does seem to have inspired those kids who are "on the fence," behavior-wise, to shape up. But there's still three or four kids (Julio among them, of course) who gain and lose the same one point over the course of the day and have yet to inch above three points even while my superstars have already collected their first rewards.
So today we took another field trip, and my class was overall much more well-behaved than they were on the last one. After we returned to school to eat our lunches, finish the last few satisfying chapters of James and the Giant Peach and pack up, I rewarded them with perhaps the most valuable prize of all: free time. And I was amazed: Whereas in the course of independent reading or writing or math time I usually have to ask them to quiet down multiple times, during free time I didn't have to say it once. Some kids were playing Hangman or Tic Tac Toe on their slate boards, some were drawing at the carpet (and managing not to squabble over the crayons and colored pencils), some were reading together at their seats, but no one was yelling or shouting or screaming.
Obviously, it wasn't complete silence -- the kind of silence I expect during independent reading or writing or math work -- but it was also quieter than it is during math game day or science groupwork. One of my devoted helpers took it upon herself to rearrange the schedule for tomorrow and then helped me post up the teaching points, while another begged me to help organize the classroom library. Several kids drew "you're the best teacher" cards. A number of boys chose books from the math bin, which we almost never get to read from because we're too busy trying to squeeze in all the components of Everyday Math. Others chose old favorites we read aloud at the beginning of the year, like Wemberly Worried and How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids. Some of them used our class stuffed animals to act out Mo Willems' The Pigeon Wants a Puppy.
It was -- dare I say it? -- peaceful. And it got me thinking about how I can better incorporate free time or "choice time" into our overworked, overstressed, overstimulated days.