Monday 13 February 2017

The Four Tendencies in More Depth: Rebels

This is my fifth blog post in this series. If you're new here, you may want to start with the first post.

I'm sure a lot of you have been eagerly awaiting this post! How do you deal with students who always do the exact opposite of what they're supposed to? A Rebel resists all expectations, outer and inner. This means that they hate to do what they're told to do, but they also struggle to do what they want to do themselves.

How to tell if you're a Rebel

You have been using the learning and decorum points system in your lessons regularly since your colleague introduced you to it. You like it. Then senior management announce that it is now school policy to use this system in every lesson. You feel annoyed that you are being told how to do your job, so you stop using this system.

You mark your books regularly and to a high standard, except when there's a work scrutiny coming up. Then you stop marking until after the scrutiny is over. When your line manager asks why, you find that you honestly can't explain. You feel annoyed at yourself.

You eat quite healthily most of the time. One day you decide that you would like to lose weight, and you put yourself on a diet. By the end of the day you have eaten more junk food than you've ever eaten before in a day, and you feel terrible.

How to tell if your student is a Rebel

They are often late to school, with no explanation as to why.

They resist wearing the school uniform, and alter it as much as they can.

The more they want to succeed in a subject, the worse their assessment results become.

How to support Rebel students

Make sure they're really Rebels

I think that many teachers would put badly-behaved and underachieving students in the Rebel category automatically, but please think carefully before diagnosing them like this. If the student's behaviour improves whilst on report, or whilst having careful monitoring, they are an Obliger, not a Rebel. If they are able to follow their own rules but not the school's, they are Questioners. Rebels are actually pretty rare, and the students with the worst behaviour are not necessarily Rebels.

Change your expectations

Rebels resist expectations, so use a bit of reverse psychology. Tell them that they'll never amount to anything and that they'll end up in prison and they'll never pass a single GCSE. They then might start to "prove you wrong". This is an extremely dangerous strategy and I don't actually recommend it unless you happen to be starring in a film about disadvantaged kids, and you have a co-star (possibly the late Robin Williams) to help build the child's self-esteem back up in the end.

Go even stricter 

Although Rebels naturally act against expectations, they will still follow the rules if there is literally no escaping them. For some Rebel students, this is the only way they can succeed in life. This might be why, according to Gretchen Rubin, there is a surprisingly high incidence of Rebels in the army. They hate following rules, but deep down they really want to be able to get things done and learn and achieve good grades. Having water-tight rules may be the only way this can happen. They will hate it. They will complain. They will swear at you. They may even throw furniture around. But they will be so, so, grateful a few years later.

Do you have any good tips for supporting Rebel students? I'm not sure I've ever really taught a Rebel (so far) so I'm not sure my advice is that good in practice.

If you're a rebel yourself, do you identify with anything I've said? What are your own tips for managing yourself? Please don't leave me a comment below.

Emma x x x

PS Just wanted to give a shout out to the two most annoying students on the planet who begged me to write a blog post about them. To protect their identity, I will simply refer to them as Myub and Aughal. I will not be writing an entire post dedicated to them, as the only thing I would be able to say is that they spend far too much of their maths lessons thinking of irrelevant questions they can ask me.

Sunday 12 February 2017

The Four Tendencies in More Depth: Upholder

This is my fourth post in my mini series about Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies. If you're new here, you may want to start with my first post on the topic.

Upholders are people who seek to fulfill both internal and external expectations. They do what they're told to do, even if they're not necessarily going to be checked up on (unlike Obligers) and they do what they want to do too. Hermione Grainger is your classic Upholder, as is Lisa Simpson. Both girls take rules very seriously and follow them strictly, but they also hold themselves to high internal standards: Lisa is a vegetarian and big on animal rights and environmental issues, and Hermione campaigns against House Elf exploitation. In other words, they follow the rules, but they don't just follow the rules, they also do what they think is right, whether or not someone is looking.

How do you know if you're an Upholder?

You wait until the green man before crossing the road, even if there are no cars coming.

You have had no trouble sticking to your twice-weekly yoga routine, even though you're getting bored of it.

When senior management say that this week, instead of the usual meeting, teachers should use the hour to fill in their progress reports, you actually do use that specific hour for filling in your progress reports, while all of your colleagues spend the time planning tomorrow's lessons or writing their blog.

How do you know if your student is an Upholder?

When a lazy/disorganised teacher says the homework for that lesson is to "just revise what you learnt today", she actually does go home and revise, even though she knows the teacher will not be checking they have done it.

He's on the football team, in the debate club, and taking part in Duke of Edinburgh. His parents say, "I think he should give something up, he's always so busy".

If she is off school one day, she will make sure she catches up on the classwork and homework before the next lesson, even if you're not the kind of teacher who would expect your students to do this.

How to support an Upholder student

Do nothing?

Upholders generally make model students. They follow the rules without much external pressure to do so. They do what they think is right, but unlike Questioners, the reason "because it's a the rule" is perfectly acceptable to them. Upholders tend to make a lot of progress in school, and be successful in life.

Help them take it easy

The only downside to being an Upholder is the immense pressure they put themselves under. If you have an Upholder student who is aiming for high grades, and is also taking part in lots of extra-curriculars, as well as taking care of their family, at some point that Upholder might start to crumble under the weight of their own expectations. You may need to help them realise that they don't need to do everything. If you need to, make it a rule. You could tell them that it is against the rules to be in more than two after-school clubs. You could make it a rule that no studying can be done after 9pm. You could make it a rule that they read for pleasure or watch TV or play a video game for half an hour every day. Of course, as a teacher, you won't be able to enforce these rules. But as an Upholder, they'll stick to the rules whether you would know or not.

Don't put them on a pedestal

It's tempting to say to the class, "why can't you be more like ---, he always does his homework and his work is always so neat and he always studies hard for each assessment". You want to encourage the rest of the class to be more like your favourite Upholder. This is bad for two reasons. One: the Questioners, Obligers and Rebels in the class cannot simply turn themselves into Upholders, even if they wanted to. You need to support them to be better within their own tendencies. Two: Upholders really don't need this extra pressure. Using the word "always" is particularly dangerous: it raises the stakes and means that the Upholder may become scared of making a single mistake in future.

This reminds me of one of my students who I taught for four years. He was the model student (and definitely an Upholder). One day, in the fourth year that I taught him, he told me he had not done his homework. It was obvious to him that he was annoyed with himself for breaking his three and a half year streak of perfection. The class was shocked (but took perverse pleasure in seeing his downfall). However, I then pointed out that he still had the three chances that I had given the class back in their first year, and hence was off the hook. I even encouraged him to make use of the remaining two chances before he left school the following year. I didn't just let him off "because he's usually so good", I let him off because that was the rule that had been established (albeit seveal years ago). This way, the class didn't think he was getting special treatment, and he didn't have to feel guilty: the rules were being followed.

Are you an Upholder? Does what I've said ring true for you? Please let me know in the comments section.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, in which I will talk about how to deal with Rebel students. I have definitely saved the most difficult for last!

Emma x x x

Wednesday 8 February 2017

The Four Tendencies in More Depth: Questioner

This week I have been writing about Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies, which she writes about in the wonderful book Better Than Before. If you're new here, I suggest you check out my first post in this series before reading this one. 

Yesterday I talked about how we can get the best out of our Obliger students. Today I'm going to talk about the Questioners.

How do you know if you're a Questioner?

Your line manager tells you to follow the school marking policy of marking books every two weeks and writing an "even better if" target in each student's book. You think that marking often is important, but you think the targets are pointless. So you mark their books every two weeks, but you don't write the targets.

You forget to fill in your register at least twice a week for several years. You get emails every time, reminding you that you must take the register every lesson, and your line manager is copied into the email, but you still put the register at the bottom of your priorities list during the lesson. However, one day your child protection officer explains how not having accurate registers at school could facilitate child sexual exploitation, and since then you have done your register every single day.

You are asked by senior management to analyse the progress matrices of your students and write a brief report. This task will take you approximately thirty minutes to complete. Instead of spending those thirty minutes on the task, you spend the time explaining to your colleagues why progress matrices are meaningless and that any conclusions drawn from them will be totally invalid. You then go home and secretly complete your own (statistically valid and mathematically sound) data analysis of your students. This takes you three hours. You make sure to save this document to your home drive rather than the public drive.

How do you know if your student is a Questioner?

You ask him why he has only done half of his homework. He replies, "question 2 was pointless because I already know how to do it".

You have to tell her every single day not to wear her coat inside the school building. She asks you every time, "why can't I wear my coat inside?" You reply, "because it's a school rule". She continues to break this rule.

In sixth form, during his free periods, he generally works hard and makes good use of the time. However, if he thinks he can get away with it, he will sneak home and work there instead, because he can get more done on his own. For similar reasons, he will sometimes tell his parents he is too ill to go to school, so he can stay at home and get work done by himself instead of attending lessons.

How do you support a Questioner student?

Answer their questions!

When a Questioner asks you why they should do something, give them a good reason. Don't simply say "it's the rules" or "because I said so". You may think that students need to learn not to question authority and to respect their elders, but I would argue that if nobody in the world questioned authority we would be in a very dangerous situation. Don't try to convert Questioners into Obligers or Upholders, accept them for what they are. Explain that they can't wear their coat in the corridor because it covers their uniform, meaning that they are not easily identifiable as a student. If we allowed all students to wear coats in corridors, dangerous strangers would be able to roam the corridors as they please, posing a threat to the students. If you find that you don't have an answer for them, you should probably reconsider having the rule in the first place. If it's a school rule that you have been told you must enforce, take the Questioner student to a member of senior management and have them explain the reasons behind the rule to them.

Give them choices

I have mentored sixth form students in the past who have told me that they have chosen not to do the work set by their teacher because they didn't see the point in it. This has got them into trouble, and has damaged the teacher-student relationship. As a Questioner myself, I often sympathise with these students. However, as a teacher, I know that teachers do know best when it comes to student learning and progress. I think the easiest way to resolve this kind of situation is for the teacher to offer the students choices about what work they do. For example, telling the students that if they find section one easy, they can skip straight to section two. If the teacher wants the class to make a mind map, offer an alternative for the Questioner students who think that mind maps are stupid. When making a new seating plan, ask your Questioner whether she feels she would work better next to this person or that person. Ask a Questioner to stay behind after school for fifteen minutes to help you plan next week's lessons. Ask them which activities they find most useful, and get them to decide what the homework assignment should be.

Make them see the importance

Questioners act according to their own internal belief system. If they think something is valuable, they will do it. If they don't think it's important, they won't do it. Let's assume that this character trait is completely set in stone and unchangeable. So what do you do when you have a Questioner student who doesn't believe that learning is important? The only thing you can do is change this belief. You need to convince them that learning should be important to them. This will probably be very difficult, but if you manage it then everything else afterwards will be a million times easier. A Questioner who believes in the importance of learning is always a pleasure to teach.

As I have said many times, I am a Questioner. I was successful at school because I believed that  achieving high grades was important. I am a successful teacher because I believe that teaching students to love learning and love maths is important. I have become successful despite (or maybe because of?) my Questioner nature, so don't feel like this is something that needs to be fixed. Allow students to be Questioners, but make sure you support them along the way with making good choices.

If you would like to ask me more about being a Questioner, so that you can understand your Questioner students better, feel free to ask in the comments.

Emma x x x

Tuesday 7 February 2017

The Four Tendencies In More Depth: Obliger

I logged onto Blogger today to write a very maths-oriented post when I couldn't help but notice my previous blog post had 40 times more views than my posts usually get. I saw that most of the traffic had come from facebook, and with a bit of detective work I found out that Gretchen Rubin herself had shared my blog on her facebook page! She said: "I was fascinated to read this teacher’s account of how the Four Tendencies play out in the classroom—and how teachers can do a better job of reaching their students".

The comments on her share were very positive, and it made me realise that a follow-up post would be appreciated - or perhaps a whole series of follow-up posts, going into each of the four tendencies in a bit more detail, again focusing on teaching.

I decided to start with the Obliger tendency, as it is probably the most common of the four. I have a feeling that this tendency is also more prevalent in teenagers than in adults: perhaps some of us "grow out of" this tendency with age?

How do you know if you're an obliger?

You really enjoy exercising, but you cannot seem to make yourself go out for a run twice a week, no matter how much you love it. However, if your friend asked you to go for a cardio session with her, you would make sure you did, even if you didn't feel like it.

Your leave the faculty office perfectly tidy and you never leave any dirty mugs lying around. However, the inside of your own designated cupboard is a complete disaster and you can't open it without worksheets falling out.

You would love to start carrying out some amateur action research with your students in order to improve your teaching, but you just never get around to it. However, the data analysis report you have been asked to do by senior management was done on time and to a good standard, even though you don't think it will have a positive impact on your students' achievement.

In other words, you have no problem meeting outward expectations, but you really struggle to meet internal expectations. You can only really make yourself do something if someone is checking up on you and holding you to account. I have a friend and colleague who is always telling me she needs to drink more water but struggles to make herself do it. As a questioner, I find this completely bizarre. If I needed to drink more water, I would simply drink more water. And if I couldn't make myself drink more water, that's obviously because I don't actually need more water. But her solution was to tell her students to ask her every day whether she had had a drink yet. When they ask, she is more likely to have a drink afterwards. I still think it's bizarre, but it's working for her.

How do you know if your student is an Obliger?

She does her homework every single day - as long as she has a teacher who will check homework every single day. So she does her science homework, because her science teacher goes around the classroom carefully checking every student's book, but she never does her Maths homework, because her Maths teacher trusts her students to do what they know is right, and hence does not check anyone's homework.

They prefer to have their work peer-assessed or teacher assessed, and does not like to self-assess. When asked to self-assess, they may not even tick or cross their work, and will probably not write any comments. They do an excellent job of peer-assessing their fellow students' work, though.

In sixth form, during "independent study periods", he spends the entire hour playing cards, or idly browsing the internet on his phone. However, in lessons he appears to be highly motivated and hard-working.

How do you support an Obliger student?

Accept them for what they are

Obligers need accountability. They need someone to check up on them. You might say that this is a character flaw, and that they should learn to cope without an external accountability system, but the reality is that if this is that student's personality, they should embrace it and learn how to be successful regardless. Do not confuse being an Obliger with not being an independent learner. The independence we are trying to foster in our students is slightly different. An Obliger can recognise in themselves the need for external accountability and arrange a system for themselves so that they can have this. There are many, many, successful Obligers out there in the world. There is no shame in being an Obliger. I think that Questioners (like me) in particular have a hard time understanding Obligers, and I admit that I sometimes feel a certain smugness, as if being a Questioner was somehow superior to being an Obliger. But as a teacher I have to put that aside and try to get the best out of all of my students.

Let them know you're checking up on them

During the lesson, tell your Obliger students you're keeping an eye on them. Check their homework every lesson. Check their classwork at the end of each lesson. Keep a record of their effort levels in lessons and let them know that you are recording this. Report cards (the kind that a teacher has to sign at the end of every lesson for the particularly badly-behaved students) work really well for Obliger students. In fact, I've even had some students ask to be put on report, because they thrive on external monitoring, and they like the idea of having someone's expectations to live up to every lesson.

Help them find creative ways to gain external accountability

The external accountability does not always have to come from you, the teacher. Two Obliger students could become "accountability buddies" and vow to help each other by nagging and checking and tracking. They both won't want to let the other down, so this should be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

In one of Gretchen Rubin's latest podcasts, a listener wrote in with the suggestion of making your future self a vehicle for external accountability. For example, you could motivate yourself to tidy up your kitchen before bed by thinking of yourself the next morning as a separate being, and think that that external being will be holding you accountable tomorrow morning for your actions tonight. You could work with a student to try to get them to use this technique the week before a test. They could think of how their future self would feel when they receive their grade, and think about that future self holding their current self accountable.

As I have said many times, I'm not an Obliger, and until recently it didn't occur to me that I was disadvantaging a large percentage of my students by refusing to understand the Obliger point of view. Now that I am more aware, I feel like I can support my students much better. If you're an Obliger, and you have more tips for me to be able to understand you guys better, please let me know in the comments. And if you're not an Obliger, let me know if this post has been useful in getting you to understand them better.

Emma x x x