August 3, 2013

Changing Behavior: Being Heard

We've talked about how students behavior is driven by their needs,

I need to be
To be seen
To be heard
To be loved
To be forgiven
I need 
Nutrition and

Today we will talk about the need to be heard.
Being heard in the art is a lot more difficult to address then in the regular ed classroom. Why? Because we only see the students for a very limited time each week. A classroom teacher has the time to know each student on many levels and engage them throughout the day. 

Ever wonder why your students want to talk right when they come in your classroom? It's because they know it's their only opportunity to see you. We have to shush students in the hallways, so your art class is their one chance to be heard by someone as compassionate and creative as you! Some kids are willing to do whatever it takes to be heard and will act out just to get your attention. Creating an atmosphere where they know they will be heard, can extinguish some behaviors before they even begin. 

How then can you make every child feel heard without wasting valuable lesson time?

1. Stop thinking of listening as a "waste" of time. We are all guilty of this to different degrees. Most teachers feel effective when they are speaking and the children are listening, but is that really the most effective way to teach? 

2. Try starting your lessons with a question. If our lesson starts with an explanation then maybe we should be reevaluating the motives of our lesson. Take it one step further and make your opening question relate to students lives in a personal way.
Here's an example
A. Today we will be learning about Van Gogh and looking at his art work blah blah blah.
B. Look at the three paintings by the artist Vincent Van Gogh. Which one would you buy to put in your house? Why? 
C. Van Gogh was an artist who sold only one of his painting during his lifetime.  His brother, Theo, believed in him when others did not and helped him by giving him money so he could live and continue to paint. Is there anyone in your life that has believed in you and offered you help when you were having a hard time? 

See the difference? All the openings have their place, but the third is the one that will engage kids to open up and be heard. I know because I have begun my lesson these three ways. I usually have kids respond in writing to the opening question when it is one as personal as this. Getting kids to relate on a personal level to your lesson and hearing their story is going to change behavior immediately. But wait! It won't change their behavior if you miss the most important step. . . you must read their responses (if they write them.) I respond to my students with a quick comment sometimes as I walk around during the day or in writing. 

2. Have a talking stick (ball anything) and sit in a circle. It is really that simple. Older students can pull up chairs, younger students can sit on the floor, but the circle is really important so you can see all your students and they can see eachother. The circle makes everyone accountable and no one in the front or back, everyone is equal. Most of my classes had assigned circle seats which works out beautifully, but the ones who I did not assign seats to was more chaotic. Take the guess work out of the students day and assign seats anytime they are asked to sit down. The only person who can talk in the circle is the one who has the talking stick (yes you too have to hold a talking stick to talk.) The tradition goes back to many Native cultures, think people gathered around a campfire telling stories, or tribal councils. The teacher standing in the front of the class is a newer model contrived by hierarchy (does this make sense?) Of course circles aren't always possible, but they do create a space where more students can be heard.

3. Create a Listening Box. I have a box in my room with ears taped on it. Every time I can't get to a student who needs to be heard by me, I ask them to write down their problem and put it in the listening box. At some point during class I can quickly read their note and understand their problem. Most often by the time their note is read and I address it, they've already moved forward. Usually the act of writing it down and me reading it, is all they need to feel heard. 

I hope these three suggestions are things you can bring into your classroom to be proactive in creating a classroom that values everyone's voice. 

Any suggestions on how you make your students feel heard? I would love to know!


Mrs. C said...

Great suggestions! Sometimes they just need to be heard.... :)

Hope Hunter Knight said...

I will try your listening box idea. Not having the time to interact with each of my students is the most frustrating aspect of my job, and maybe this will help. Thanks for the tip.

Katie Morris said...

I love the listening box idea. :)

Mrs. Carroll said...

Love the Listening Box! I'm so going to try that! Check me out over at