Thursday, March 5, 2009

Chicken of the Day

One reason that in the grade school we teachers change subjects from time to time during the morning and afternoon is to help relieve tension and stress in the children.  But high school does essentially the same thing when they have different 'periods'   be it a fifty minutes period or an hour and fifteen minutes block of time to teach.  But there is enough old research that suggests that people run out of steam anywheres from an hour to two hours of studying on a subject.  So we change subjects or start something new.

One of the great motivators of people is anticipation.  We anticipate climbing Mt. Baker,  or we anticipate bowling a three hundred game.  We can also anticipate  just being happy with ourselves.  One task for a teacher is to help their students learn to anticipate those ideas and values that will help them get along in life.  It is the affective domain again that I speak of.  In the grade school classroom this sometimes happens in strange ways.

At one time I had a book entitled, "Free Stuff for the Teachers."  A teacher could write to different companies and they would send stuff to your classroom.  Much of it was advertising pure and simple and not worth much but some of the stuff was well worth the letter sent.  For example, the Disney Company would send an half hour film to my classroom titled, " Hemo, the Magnificent," a very well done film about the blood and what it does in your body.  And no advertising.  I ordered that for several years.  No charge except for mailing.  Another freebee was from the Washington State Dairy Council who would send four live baby laboratory rats to your classroom so that two would get a poor diet without milk and two would get a good diet with milk and after a number of weeks the rats were reversed in their feeding.  This little freebee is worth a whole blog by itself.  But my point being there was tons of material a teacher could request for the classroom.

I remember ordering a "breakfast kit" from Kellogg that was suppose to help intermediate grade children understand the power of a good breakfast.  Sounded good so I sent for it.  Some weeks later it arrived and I spread the material out on a table.  Some posters, individual sheets of paper for the kids to keep track of what they ate that morning, some charts for the wall in which we could record how each student was doing....and some buttons and ribbons I suspect for those that completed the good breakfast routine.  The buttons were rather nice--not too big and had the head of a rooster on it.  But the rest of the material was unfortunately heavy on advertising, especially box cereal of course made by Kellogg.  With lots of sugar...  And it was rigged so that even if a person had eggs and bacon, toast and orange juice, they would not get as many points as the cereal eaters.  So I junked much of the stuff.  The posters were good--we could turn them over and use them for material on the walls.  I also kept the buttons and ribbons--what I was going to do with them hadn't yet crossed my mind. 

Some weeks later I was on playground duty--that time when some teacher had to walk around the playground making sure that fights broke up quickly and if someone got hurt to send them to the office.  It was also a good time to talk to children about things in general.  I'd watch the tether ball kids and sometimes the Four Square games but much of the time is was just a wander about watching the kids.  I also believe it gave a sense of continuity--perhaps a sense of comfortability to the kids.  There was the teacher watching out for them, now they could go ahead a play.

On one of my rounds I watch a child in my class do something nice--I can't remember what.  Maybe send a ball back into a game or help another kid get up from being knocked down.  Whatever it was it registered in my mind.  "Nice going there."  However either I was too far away or I didn't want to interfere but for some reason I just observed.

That afternoon after story time, I told the class I wanted to make a presentation to one of "us" and would David please come up to the front of the room.  David, not sure what was going on sorta slowly came up to the blackboards where I was.  I then made up something about how I saw David do something nice for someone else and I was hereby honoring him as Chicken of the Day.  And then we all applauded.  

[A digression:  Did you know that you have to teach kids how to applaud?  I actually had sessions with my fourth graders before we went to an assembly on how to properly applaud.  And we practiced applauding.  And then my kids at the assembly would tell other kids, "that's not how to applaud."  They were funny.  But you have to teach them.]

Anyway, David got his Chicken of the Day award and I explained that it was in humor but recognition never-the-less.  David went back to his seat pleased.  Of course from that moment on the kids in my class would do something for someone else nearby and then ask for a button. I said they had to do it without thinking and not for getting a button.  Grumble, grumble.  But they understood.

So about every two weeks or so I would see something that I wanted to award and would call up a kid in class and make them Chicken of the Day.  I think with that award they also got to go to the head of all lines...I forget.  I was sure they understood that being a "Chicken" in this case was something just for our class and that it had subtle humor--a chicken is a strange thing to be.   This award was promoting good behavior but also making the class more together.

How important this was to the class became apparent a little later on.  The teacher on playground duty came to me and said my kids had been fighting.  What! my kids fighting--no way.  But I promised to investigate.  So when I got to my classroom I asked, "what was going on?  Was anyone fighting?"  Nods of yes.  "Okay, raise your hand if you were involved in the fighting."  About half the class raised their hands.  I could not believe it--I had the best class in the school.....and they had been fighting?  

Well, it turns out some older fifth grader had seen the button and had asked what it was for and my kids responded that that person was "Chicken of the Day."  So the older student made fun of the button and that was all it took.  My kids leaped into the fray.  There were surely not going to let someone else make fun of "our Chickens."  So the class and I had a talk about how we might handle this the next time.  Maybe next time instead of fighting you could all just "cluck" back.  Now this hadn't cross their minds but now it seemed like a great opportunity.  I think for the next few days those that had won Chicken buttons walked around the playground looking for a confrontation so they could squawk back.  

I hadn't realized how much solidarity my class had and how much they appreciated the Chicken Buttons (some with ribbons).  A few parents told me their child was very pleased with the recognition.  By the end of the year, I made sure all students in the class "earned" a button.  

Remember the Seattle assistant superintendent that told me a  disadvantaged child is one that learns something at school that is not reinforced at home and learns something at home that is not reinforced at school.  Well, I was just reinforcing what my kids were learning at home in good behaviors. 

Maybe you could give one of your teachers a "Chicken of the Day" award.  Be sure to thank them for what they did for you. 

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