Saturday, November 2, 2019

Implementing Plan B: when the classroom management strategies just aren't enough

Plan B: I wanted to share a little bit today about how I have two classes that are really challenging this year- for different reasons- and how they have become my Plan B classes.  
First, here is what I mean by Plan B.
A little background:  
One class is the class that I have not yet been able to finish a story with. There are constant interruptions. I have a personal belief against sending kids out of class, and in general none of the interruptions are truly horrible or worth sending a kid out for- they are just unbelievably frustrating. Like dozens, or hundreds of low-level constant interruptions and annoyances that bring everything to a screaming halt. 
I have tried a bunch of different strategies and interventions over the last 5 weeks, but finally at the beginning of this week, I decided to go to Plan B.
So, why am I doing it? Well, I realized I was being drained. I was trying everything in my toolbox of classroom management strategies.  

Here are those tools and interventions I used:
  • I taught and practiced procedures. Over, and over, and over again. I refused to move forward until everyone was doing what I expected them to do. With a smile! (I smiled- them, not so much.) (In L1)
  • I responded quickly, and positively, to every single instance of a student not doing what I wanted. I have posted rules, and each time a student spoke out of turn or had a side conversation, I walked over to the rules and waited, patiently, smiling, until I had the full attention of everyone.  (Rules are in L1.) (This is a strategy I learned from here.)
  • I narrated the positives constantly. In L1.
  • I reviewed the expectations before each new activity. I asked students to volunteer to be positive examples and model the desired behavior, and narrated it. In L1.
  • I used proximity, seating charts, and secret signals to indicate to a kid that they were going off the rails.
  • I found something positive (behavior wise) to write home about and emailed or called the caregivers of the most challenging kids, to show that they *could* be successful in my class. Sometimes I wrote about how Little Johnny had a rough day on Thursday but really turned it around at the beginning of class on Friday. It was *something* positive, right?
  • I met with the kids who just didn't get it, individually, and tried to connect, build relationships, find what they are interested in, etc. I even paid attention to student athletics- which for me, is a big deal.
  • I sought help from other teachers in our student support meetings, documented behaviors so I could try to see patterns within myself, time of day, activities, and/or students.
  • I implemented different interventions such as rocky stools, weight belts, fidgets, and bouncy sensory chair pads. (One kid sliced one of my homemade weight belts with scissors. That was not awesome.)
  • I changed the kinds of brain breaks I did in those classes (from energizing to focusing and silent).
Whew! That's a lot of interventions!  
But NOTHING WORKED. And I was miserable. And I hated that it felt like a power struggle. I know that no one wins a power struggle.
Worse? I was spending so much time redirecting, responding, and eventually reacting, that there just wasn't a lot of input happening. And for the kids who want to be there? For the kids who are controlling themselves? Who crave the input and the fun? They were getting nothing except frustration.
Now, an earlier version of me might have justified throwing out the ringleaders. And yes, on a day with one of them absent, well, we got a TON accomplished.  
But I have to ask myself: will kicking them out solve the problem? Sort of, but only in the short term. And also, won't that eat up a ton of time in meetings with parents and admins, follow up meetings, documenting, writing plans, etc.? And you know that time will come right out of my planning and/or after school hours.  And will it change the behaviors?
Will it just turn our relationship into kid vs. adult? Will it cement their identity of "bad kid" and trouble maker? Can I break that cycle? Don't I have a responsibility to teach all kids, even the ones who make it the most difficult?  
But don't I have a responsibility to the other kids too, those who are losing out due to the poor choices of the few?  
This, my friends, is the eternal teacher question. And also why Plan B makes so much sense to me.  
In short, Plan B means that students get input that they understand, but the interaction as a community is missing. The input might be from a story, a pre-written text, a video, or whatever else was in my plan for the day. The activity to deliver input is altered so that students do it all independently. It is very heavy on reading. 
What it looked like: 
This week, the plan was to Clipchat (Movietalk) Sr. Wooly's video for QuĂ© asco, read a more complex version of the video written up to be like a story, and invent our own gross combinations (like the song) to see who had the grossest and which one would smell the worst.  
I knew that at this point that students would not be able to manage a ClipChat/MovieTalk. Their interruptions would be too much, so I had to let that go. Oh well.
Instead, I decided to have them read and interact a bit with the reading (available with a Pro subscription) and then we would watch the video, then I would have them write (instead of draw and eventually use their illustrations for card talk) the gross combinations. Rather than trying to have a discussion about their gross combinations, I would have them respond ONLY with hand signals. If they could handle it. 
It has been more work. I had to create slides (ugh! I HATE creating slides! I hate working from slideshows in general!) with very clear directions.  
It has been work that I am, frankly, not used to doing. I have to very carefully plan out each activity and write it out- then make sure there is a text to read, a way to support their comprehension, and then something to do for fast finishers. 
Now, I do all these things normally, but I do them in the moment, based on how I am feeling and how the class is going. (This is one advantage of being experienced. I give directions on the fly and change how we use a reading or activity based on what is happening that day. That does NOT fly for Plan B.)
It is boring- while they read, I circulate. I monitor. It is NOT interaction. I am even more strict than usual (absolutely no talking. None!).  
I hate it. It is not my personality and it doesn't feel right to me. It is *not* an interactive classroom. It is not wacky, memorable, and it is really not fun. For any of us. is working. Kids are getting input. I am not super frustrated at the end of the day. (Bored, but that is better than angry.) 
Kids who didn't get input because of all the distractions are getting input. Kids who were distracting are...getting input. Is it as rich and compelling as it would be if we were acting out the movietalk and exploring what they think are gross combinations? Not at all. is input, and it feels a lot more equitable in that I am able to do my job and not spend most of my time and energy on just a few kids.  
And at the end of class yesterday, I tried a turn-n-talk. (This has not yet worked consistently.) They managed it. It felt nice. We reflected on the feeling of class in L1. It was a better day. One kid in particular got a positive email home.  
The next day, I tried another turn and talk and lead a short discussion. Each day, I want to give the class back to interaction, just a bit more, so that we can get back to the fun. But for now, Plan B is going to let me stay sane and keep doing my job of providing comprehensible input, so I am very thankful.


  1. Wow, Elicia, you just described my 7th period class! I have thought to do something different with them,
    and I might adopt these strategies. Thanks so much!

  2. Thank you for this post. I needed this because I am losing my sanity over one class. In 15 years I have never had this, and I hate the way I feel each day. Plan B might be the answer!

  3. This is a couple of my 3rd - 5th grade classes now! I’m new at a high needs school. I’m highly frustrated. School has no real consequences for incorrect behavior.