Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yes, Virginia, there are no rules in a Results Only Learning Environment

Before its release in early 2013, reviewers of, ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom, posed a variety of questions and statements about ROLE strategies. One said: "It’s almost unbelievable that there are no rules and no discipline issues."

So, I thought about this for some time, wondering how I might substantiate the assertion that in spite of having no rules and no consequences in my results-only classroom, there are very few behavior problems.

First, let me clarify what I mean by "no behavior problems." I mean "problems" in the traditional sense of word. In other words, I do not have major disruption -- students being disrespectful to me or peers, throwing objects across the room or fighting.

I get plenty of what some teachers consider discipline problems, however. My students are often out of their seats, chatting, chewing gum and even using electronic gadgets that may be banned in most classrooms. 

Behavior issues are a matter of opinion 

One thing that separates ROLE teachers from traditional teachers is how behavior is categorized. Teachers in favor of control will say that use of mobile devices or students talking and moving without permission are major discipline problems. The ROLE teacher embraces these behaviors, because the results-only classroom is a workshop setting that encourages autonomy and constant collaboration.

So, when someone is shocked to hear that I have no behavior issues, my first response is to suggest that my view of discipline is different from that of traditional teachers, who might argue that I have many problems, due to what they may perceive to be chaos.

Most disciplinary issues begin with bad teaching 

In the past, I punished students for talking to peers, because I saw this as disruptive to the constant lecturing I was doing. When students refused to complete a task, I removed them from my room. What I didn't realize then was that the problem wasn't a disrespectful or disruptive student; it was a boring worksheet or textbook assignment, which did not offer autonomy or ignite a thirst for learning.

A couple of years ago, I polled students at the end of the school year about result-only learning strategies. One question was about behavior. I asked them why they believed there were never any discipline issues in class. Eighty-four percent reported that the ROLE encouraged a desire to learn over a desire to be disruptive.

Imagine how much learning would take place, if all of what you consider to be discipline problems vanished forever.
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  1. I hear what you're saying, Mark. It takes some getting used to having a workshop setting class instead of a class where everyone is studying the same thing and doing the same projects. Somethings like labs we still do all together but all the other assignments, activities, and even topics kids have choice as to what they work on at any given time.

    My main concern regarding discipline though is when kids have choice, autonomy, the ability to attain mastery, and when kids are given labs, activities, projects instead of worksheets and lectures yet they still choose not to work. I know there are days when kids come to my class not feeling like working and I understand that. Sometimes I go to work and don't feel like working but I'm an adult and I tend to still do the best I can in those situations. But when kids choose to socialize, which for many is way more motivating than any project or activities they can do in my class, that's when I have to redirect. When a redirection that starts off as a conversation doesn't work then I escalate to a disciplinarian teacher - giving consequences, sending kids out, etc. I have kids that have done such little work that at conferences I have to admit that I don't have enough evidence if the child is struggling with the work because of lacking skills or if the child just isn't completing work, or a combination of the two. Unless I get consistent work done by students I can't determine what skills they lack or if they are improving.

    So even in a ROLE classroom I can't have students talking to peers for the majority of class unless they are collaborating. I encourage collaboration! I still don't want students wandering and hanging out instead of working. I can't justify my ROLE classroom to parents if they see me allowing their children to wander, socialize and hangout day after day. I value a growth mindset and such a mindset is dependent on hard work and effort to achieve mastery. That's what I want to instill in my students. And sometimes having great projects, labs, and activities to choose from is not enough. By sending a student out or redirecting a student I hope that I am communicating that I value working, effort, and learning Science in my class during the 50 minutes a day we are together.

    I can engage all my students some of the time, with different activities, labs, and projects, but I haven't been able to engage all my students all the time, even in workshop setting. I am expecting too much or am I just not doing it right?

  2. I don't think you're doing it wrong, but I do believe that your expectations may be a bit too high. At a workshop I was conducting at Penn University recently, we had an inspiring conversation about developmental skills (I have a blog post coming after Christmas on this).

    The idea behind this, which I think is embedded in results-only learning, is that students may not appear to be learning as we would like for them to learn, but that there is a cumulative effect. I'll clarify this concept later this week; for now, expect a little less in terms of evidence and watch for signs of growth. I'll elaborate later.

    Thanks, as always, for moving the conversation forward here.

    1. I look forward to your upcoming post, Mark, because I guess what I need is something to give me faith that my students are learning so I can ease off and let them learn without fear that they aren't making the most of their education. I want to reassure parents, as I do, that their children are getting a great Science education in my classes.

      Thanks for helping me work through this! :)


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