"Out of the Darkness"
George Cassutto,  North Hagerstown High School, MD
t was a good day in Mr. Cassutto's class today. I wanted to introduce
the Executive Branch in a way that kept the students engaged while they
gained some of the basic knowledge. I had already assigned the vocabulary
terms from the textbook for homework, so it was time to try something new.
I came up with a simple Internet activity that would help students gain
research skills while picking up some basic US history facts. I developed a
quick worksheet on the president of the United States. Asking for
relatively simple facts such as political party, facts about the presidential
candidates, and events of the president's term, I assigned each student two
presidents to research. I used two good reference sites on the Internet:
The Internet Public Library's POTUS site (http://www.ipl.org/ref/POTUS/) and
C-SPAN's American Presidents database (http://www.americanpresidents.org).
After a brief true-false warm-up, students went to the computers to toggle
between the two sites by having two copies of the Netscape browser running,
each connected to one of the two reference sites. Working on the computers
with the Internet engages the students even though they are being asked to
do many of the same tasks as they would if they were working out of the book.
But the computer-based activity keeps them on task to a much greater degree.
My classroom behavior problems were minimized after I finished giving my
instructions and after students went to work.
I discussed the problem of classroom management with my respected colleague
Kevin Jackson, a well-liked English teacher in my building. He
related to me his experience with a cooperative learning technique where
he just holds up his hand and waits for the students to yield the floor
to him. If the students begin chatting again, up goes his hand. When he
has everyone's attention, he begins again. After a few minutes of this
back-and-forth, students begin to manage themselves, applying peer pressure
to get fellow students to comply with class rules. If there are specific
students who continue to interrupt, then Mr. Jackson takes individual action.
Kevin also shared with me additional cooperative learning techniques
he implements at the start of the year. He discusses the process of how
to learn in class with his students. Known as the PALS program, he discusses
what it means to Participate, Attend, Listen, and Stay-on-task.
In a series of actual lessons, he uses the T-chart method to talk about
each concept with his students. The T-chart has what each concept "looks
like" and "sounds like" on either side of the T. For example, Mr. Jackson's
students talk about what it looks like and sounds like to listen in class.
the chart can have any number of descriptions, but he makes sure it has
Kevin creates a T-chart with his students on all four skills and then
he has them practice the skill until it becomes second nature. He also
makes a poster for each of the skills and displays it prominently in his
room so that he can refer to it when he is introducing an activity or
transitioning from one activity to another, which is often the time
when it is most needed. He told me that he often leaves the room and goes
to another teacher's room. he asks the other teacher to look in on his
students to see if they are implementing the PALS method. Then he inquires
with his students upon returning to see how many students knew he was gone.
If there are any students who admit to knowing he left, then they were
off task because they were looking around rather than working on the group
assignment at hand. Mr. Jackson then addresses both positive and negative
behaviors with the class.
Mr. Jackson's methods demonstrate why he and others like him are master
teachers. They use cooperative learning techniques that get students to
govern their own behavior rather then imposing positive behavior externally.
Students are trained in the intrinsic value of learning, and their behavior
reflects a desire to be successful in the learning process. It may be too
late for me to implement such a program with my current students, but we
begin a new semester after the new millennium dawns. Next semester, I will
be teaching the "CM" (Certificate of Merit, or "Honors") students that
Kevin has now in his English classes. He related that they too were lacking
in social graces in spite of their label as "CM." Therefore, it will be
even more imperative that alternative and intrinsic disciplinary methodologies
be implemented rather than imposing an authoritarian regime on the incoming
students next semester. Students need to learn the value of self-control and
academic success. Maybe Kevin's methods can help them learn it, especially
since many of them will be getting the same training they got from him again
when they have me as their teacher.
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