Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Fredric Jones's Positive Classroom Discipline 

The primary text for Jones's system is a Fred Jones's Tools for Teachers. Jones's philosophy can, I think be effectively summarized as "keep 'em busy." He calls his teaching approach "Say, See, Do" which quite accurately summarizes how a classroom is run. Say how to do something, show it, have the students do it. Avoid long stretches of lecture, in favor of having the students active in class. This can, I think be difficult to implement in some subject areas. What exactly is "done" in a history class, for example? But for me as a math teacher, I can see this being a very effective approach.

There are some rather startling observations in Jones's teaching. The one which catches my attention most immediately is the "hopeless hand raiser." That student who requires the teacher's attention during seatwork and effectively gets the teacher to re-teach the less on to him individually. I hadn't looked at it this way, but that is an issue. Jones's advice: "Be positive, be brief, and be gone."

Jones's approach to discouraging misbehavior:

Jones moves from this to limit-setting through body language: i.e., eye contact, physical proximity, body carriage, facial expressions.

"Say, see, do" teaching is used to keep students actively involved in the class.

Responsibility training is managed through incentive systems. The reward is generally in the form of preferred activity time (PAT) and must follow the requested behavior. For chronically misbehaving students, Jones suggests omission training in which a misbehaving student can earn PAT for the class as a whole by omitting the undesirable behavior.

There are last resort back-up systems for when the PAT incentive system doesn't work, with backups ranging from low-key whispered messages to those punishments we all remember from our school days (loss of privileges, detentions, suspensions, etc.)

The final matter, and, I think, one of Jones's most valuable contributions, is in the handling of one-on-one interactions with students. I think this an area where many teachers (myself included) fail and think that they're succeeding. He suggests the following three-point approach to working with students:

  1. (Optional) praise the student for anything positive in the work thusfar.
  2. Give a straightforward response that will enable the student to get to the next step. It's probably a good idea to have some sort of set of instructions or guidelines that students can use on the task at hand so that students can be directed to this.
  3. Move on. Jones has an optimal goal of 10 seconds at a student's side giving assistance. One could go up to a maximum of 20 seconds if necessary.
This is a really compelling model of classroom management for me (although only the second I've read so far). I'd love to get comments from non-math teachers about the sort of seatwork that happens in your classes, and what sort of assistance you give. Does the Jones system seem like it would work for you?

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