Using a positive challenge!

My teaching partner and I have always provided a home reading program for our grade one students. We give each one a ziplock bag in which to store their home reading books and every morning they make an exchange, taking two new books home.

Well, that’s the theory of it anyway! In reality, we have never had a high rate of consistent and continued participation in this program. Although in the first few weeks of any particular school year, most families manage to send the home reading bag back and forth on a regular basis, as time goes on, fewer and fewer students actually participate to full advantage. They don’t maintain the routine of returning the bag on a daily basis.

This has always been discouraging to us because we know that establishing a nightly reading routine is extremely important for beginning readers. In an effort to improve participation, we have always emphasized to both the parents and the students, the importance of nightly reading practice.

Since becoming familiar with Discipline without Stress, we have also always taken time to guide our students in building a hierarchy for this situation:

Level D – Motivation is internal.
Student brings the book bag back in the morning, remembers to take it from the backpack and put it into the Home Reading bucket so as to be ready for the daily book exchange time.

Level C – Motivation is external.
Student brings the book bag back, but depends on parents to give reminders about bringing it and waits to be reminded by the teacher before putting it into the book bucket.

Level B
Student doesn’t return book bag and/or leaves it in the backpack, despite adult reminders to put it in the Home Reading book bucket.

Level A
Not applicable in this situation.

Although hierarchy discussions have helped, we have never succeeded in getting this program to run as smoothly as we would like. This year it seemed that participation fell off even earlier than usual. Only two months into the school year, typically only five or six bags would be in the bucket each day. In a class of 24, only 25% participation! True, there were always a few additional students who had actually brought their bags back, but they hadn’t bothered to follow our procedure of taking the bag from their backpack and returning it to the Home Reading bucket first thing in the morning. That was discouraging too!

Feeling depressed about the situation, I started to fall back into old habits. I’m not proud to say that I began nagging, complaining and even giving big sighs when I looked in the bucket each day!

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I had to admit to myself that book exchange time was becoming quite a negative experience, so I consciously decided to re-think the situation in terms of Positivity, the first Principle of the Discipline without Stress Teaching Model.

I remembered something Dr. Marshall had once recommended: To improve students’ performance of procedures, he had suggested that a teacher might set up a challenge. I decided to try his advice—I would challenge our students each day to do a better job than they had the day before.

That morning, after our regular school announcements, I brought the book bucket with the returned home reading bags to the front of the class. I said, “Let’s count and see how many people have been responsible today in returning their home reading bag and getting it over to this bucket!”

We counted together (without mentioning or showing any names), and then I asked them to put their heads down on their desks, close their eyes and just think honestly to themselves about whether or not their book bag was in the bucket. I asked them to silently evaluate their own levels–B, C or D?

I explained to them that if they weren’t happy with how they were feeling inside about their level today, that was okay–they could do something about it for tomorrow. Then I simply wrote the number of returned bags in a corner of the chalkboard–8, circled it and then challenged them: “Let’s see if we can improve on this number tomorrow. I wonder how many bags we can get back!”

The next day we had 15 bags! The following day, 18! Then one day last week, we had 21 – 88% participation! The kids were delighted and so was I! One day, only 12 bags had been returned, but my partner handled it by laughing and brightly saying in an exaggerated voice, “Surely, we can do better than this tomorrow, can’t we?” The kids all laughed and sure enough we were back up to a high number again the following day.

This little experience has really proved to me that it’s far more effective (not to mention, more pleasant!) to phrase communications positively than negatively. Consciously choosing to be positive is a habit worth developing!  I love this approach to discipline!