Notes from Tools for Teaching Part 11

July 10, 2005

Building Cooperation
If you consistently increase the behaviors you want and consistently decrease the behaviors you do not want, sooner or later you will be left with what you want. Getting students to stop disrupting, therefore, is only half of discipline management. Getting students to start doing what they should be doing is the other half. Irresponsible behavior costs the teacher as much in terms of stress and lost learning time as does goofing off.

You need cooperation from every student in the class, not from just the few difficult students. Simply improving the level of cooperation from students is a hollow victory. What is the practical difference to you in terms of stress and lost learning time between four kids showing up late and two kids showing up late? You still have to deal with interruptions just as you are starting the lesson. For your life to be significantly improved, you need to eliminate the problem.

The difficult thing about managing cooperation is that cooperation is voluntary. It is a gift. You cannot force someone to cooperate; if you tried you would get coersion, the opposite of cooperation. Cooperation requires a decision to cooperate on the part of the student. The management of cooperation in the classroom, therefore, focuses on supplying the students with a good reason to make that decision.

Students have no vested interest in saving time. If they were to save you enough time to teach an extra lesson, they would get an extra lesson. Who wants that? In order for students learn to manage time, they must have time to manage. We must, however, teach time management to the entire class; any one student can waste time for the group. Consequently, we must devise a system of group management. We will name this system of group management Responsibility Training.

In order for the class to have time to manage, we must give the class an “allowance” of time. As with money management, the purpose of this allowance is to teach a lesson. If we structure the incentive system properly, we will be able to teach time management quickly and efficiently. Our incentive will be built around a reinforcer — something that the students want. The time that we give them must be desired or “preferred” by the students so that, as a group, they will work for it. The only type of reinforcer that fills time is an activity. The allowance of time that we give to the class will, therefore, be referred to as “Preferred Activity Time” or PAT.

As I mentioned, you can gain nearly a full instructional period during the day by simply training the class to start on time and hustle during lesson transitions. You can gain additional instructional time during the day by eliminating traditional forms of foolishness such as showing up without pencils or sharpening pencils during class. All of the time that you set aside for PAT, therefore, is “found” time. If you do not give the class PAT in order to teach them time management, they will waste the time as usual, and you will have nothing to show for it. Also, the PAT itself will not be time away from learning. Rather, you will use PAT for learning.

People will only take responsibility for things that they control. Making choices implies that we have some control over our destiny. If we do not control the outcome of our actions, then choice is a sham since our efforts are to no avail. Before people will learn to make wise choices, therefore, they must a) have power, and b) know how to use it. Our job as teachers is first to empower the students to make choices, and then, to teach them to make good choices.

While Preferred Activity Time lays the groundwork for Responsibility Training, it is the bonus PAT that empowers students to change behavior.

Hurry-up Bonuses achieve one of the most difficult objectives in all of behavior management: training kids to hustle. One of the greatest hemorrhages of time-on-task in any classroom is the lesson transition. Your average lesson transition can easily be accomplished in half-a-minute if the students choose to hustle. But why would the students hustle if hustling only puts them back to work sooner? Using a Hurry-up Bonus, you can announce to the students that while they know they can make the transition in thirty seconds, you are giving them two minutes, and any time they have left will be added to their PAT.

Suppose you have stated that all paper must be picked up and you see a student standing near a piece of paper on the floor. As you point it out you say, “Class, there is a piece of paper over there on the floor.” If the student claims that it is not his paper, you shrug. After all, it is not your problem. What do you think several classmates seated nearby will say to the student? “Pick it up! Pick it up!” You have just observed peer pressure in the form that it almost always takes in Responsibility Training — urgent whispers.

The role into which you are consistently placed by Responsibility Training is “benevolent parent.” You give time, you protect time, and you congratulate the group for saving time. Your benevolence, however, is tempered by the next component of Responsibility Training, time loss. Some days, in spite of your best efforts, the Hurry-up Bonus bombs as the students run overtime. Just as saved time is added to the PAT, excess time is subtracted. However, because the time allowances are designed to be generous, the system is rigged so that the students will come out ahead.

The time loss component of Responsibility Training is necessary because Responsibility Training does not work consistently without it. Responsibility Training is group management: all for one, and one for all. Turning management over to the peer group has significant advantages; however, without a time loss component, the peer group lets you down just when you need them.

Automatic bonuses are used when you cannot measure the amount of time that the students have saved. Imagine, for example, that the students are in their seats ready to go when the bell rings. How much time did they save? You have no way of knowing. When students are on time, automatically give them a bonus of a predetermined size. Automatic bonuses are most commonly given for students being at the right place at the right time with the right stuff. They are most useful in training students to begin class on time rather than wasting the first five minutes of the class period with “settling in.”

During small group instruction, it is much more difficult to manage the rest of the class from a seated position. At the beginning of our research, we gave the teachers a stopwatch to hold up as a warning cue when they saw a disruption. If the disrupting students returned to work, no time was lost; otherwise, the teacher started the watch and let it run until the students were back on task. Any time on the stopwatch was deducted from PAT. The peer group immediately became involved in “shushing” disruptive students. Subsequently, we learned how to exploit bonuses through trial and error so that management was more a matter of giving than taking. Yet, from a seated position, the original version provides an effective alternative to both noise and nagging. To put it simply, time can be substituted for distance.

When students have a vested interest in “taking care of business,” they often take care of it when you are nowhere around. Neither Classroom Structure nor Limit Setting can do that. Classroom management is much easier when you have some help. Responsibility Training give everyone a vested interest in helping. The proper domain of Responsibility Training is relatively narrow. It builds behaviors such as hustling or showing up on time with books and pencils — those jobs for which Classroom Structure and Limit Setting are poorly suited.

Never use time to manage a behavior that you could have managed with your body.

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