Saturday, February 25, 2012

Classroom Management: Sticky Notes

There are probably hundreds, no...THOUSANDS...of ways sticky notes can be used in the classroom. These handy little pieces of paper with a small strip of sticky adhesive made their debut in American stores in 1980, and are so loved by the general public that you can even download sticky note apps onto your computer or smart phone.

I'll be the first to admit that my classroom is a little louder than most. When you are trying to teach skills-based health education, there's a lot of moving around. When teaching certain topics, there can be a lot of emotion boiling; personal opinions and experiences are defended vehemently. I don't view it as a bad thing when students get into the lesson I'm teaching, although there is a point where lines are crossed. When this happens, it's important to try to minimize the time lost to dealing with discipline issues. There are many ways in which a teacher could do this. Enter sticky notes.

I began using sticky notes to assist with classroom management this year, after it was suggested by my former (now retired) curriculum director and evaluator towards the end of last school year. I was looking for an easy way to keep track of student behavior that would minimize disruption to the learning of other students, and asked him if he had any ideas. Using sticky notes requires no verbal action and I can warn a student about their behavior literally without breaking stride or taking time away from what I am trying to accomplish in the classroom that day.

So, what exactly do I do? My protocol is as follows. If a student is disrupting the class, has made an inappropriate remark, is off task, whatever the reason: I simply walk over to them and place a sticky note on their desk. This serves as a visual reminder to myself and to them that I've noticed their behavior, and that it needs to change. It's also a warning that I've noticed their behavior, and that I would like it to change. I usually don't even need to say anything; students are made aware of my policy at the start of the school year and quickly become familiar with it.

If the student continues to be disruptive to the class, they do one of three things. To be honest, what they do depends on a variety of factors: the student, the specific behavior going on, any IEP/504 accommodations or modifications associated with discipline, etc. Students will either: 1. Write down the phone number of their parent/guardian, 2. Write down an e-mail address of their parent/guardian, or 3. Write down the day they will stay after school with me. (Note: I have all the home contact information of parents/guardians, so if students try to mess with me by leaving fake numbers I have myself covered)

After writing that information down, students will place their sticky note on the handset of the classroom phone on my desk. That is a visual reminder to me to contact home about the student's behavior.

Student responses to this method have been varied. Some students take the opportunity to draw artwork on their sticky notes: smiley faces (trying to change my mind!), frowny faces (no doubt how they are feeling), or small bits of nature scenes. Others collect them in their folders, showcasing them as souvenirs. I've had a few ripped up and thrown on the floor, which really doesn't help me change my mind as to why I handed out a sticky note in the first place. Some students, upon seeing me just reach for their sticky notes, immediately stop their behavior and ask for a second chance. Typically I've already given them a chance to adjust their behavior, so their attempt is often in vain.

It's a simple technique, and has been pretty effective for me this year. My student teacher picked right up on my technique and now carries her own pad of sticky notes, ready to pounce on classroom disruptions. Is this perfect? No. Does it always work? I wish I could say that it does. Every day with middle school students is an adventure, and students have good days and bad days. This technique is quick, does not take away from instructional/learning time, and is easy to fit into any classroom. At the end of the day, a teacher needs to find a way of dealing with discipline that fits into their own style.

So, in conclusion:
  • If a student is disrupting the learning environment (what this entails is up to you), a sticky note is placed on their desk
  • If a student changes their behavior, no further action is taken
  • If the student does not change their behavior, students will be asked to:
    • Write down a phone number of their parents/guardians
    • Write down an e-mail address of their parent/guardian
    • Write down a date in which they will stay after school
  • The sticky note is placed on the handset of my classroom phone, as a reminder to contact home.
If after the above steps the behavior is still causing an issue, then the student will be asked to leave the room. In the past, anytime a student has written contact information on a sticky note they were assigned a detention; I have tweaked that due to crazy after school schedules on the parts of both students and myself (IEP meetings, committee meetings, high school track meets, etc).

Feel free to give using sticky notes a try. What classroom management techniques do you use in your classroom? As always, feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

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