I homeschool my children and regularly teach history and science classes for other home-schooled kids. I’m an okay teacher. The students don’t fall asleep and they seem to retain stuff. But I’d like to be a better teacher. I want all the kids to have fun, to learn, to remember, and to develop a life-long interest in science. I’m usually interested in learning-theory and educational books, and jumped at the opportunity to read Effective Classroom Turnaround.
As it turns out, I’m not quite in the author’s target demographic. John Jensen aims his book at teachers in a traditional classroom setting, with 20 or more students that he has five days a week for a year at a time. I have the kids in my classes for one to two hours a week. So, some of Jensen’s ideas won’t work for me. However, reading about them and imaging them in use — and working well — isn’t too difficult. If you’re a teacher and have any difficulties with any of your students such as learning, focusing, or being nice to each other, Jensen’s book would be a good read. If you’re like me and teach less frequently, the book still has some good ideas; you just won’t get to use all of them.
Jensen gives 54 specific tips or strategies for helping students in the classroom. He has the tips organized into chapters called “Quick-Start Methods,” “Communicate and Connect,” “Teach Self-Management,” “Practice Learning,” “Focus Learning,” “Replace Grading with Scoring,” and “Demonstrate Learning.”
Yet none of these titles mentions what a lot of the focus of the book is on: emotions. In the communication chapter in particular, Jensen focuses how to recognize your emotions, how to recognize other people’s emotions, respecting each other, paying attention to each other, and getting along. I think this is an excellent strategy because we are emotional beings before anything else, and if one student is having a fit, no one in the class is going to learn anything except that Little Johnny is upset.
For me, the most useful of the “Quick-Start Methods” were “appreciation time” and “start/stop practice.” Jensen writes that he has students break into groups and chat about whatever. When he says “Class” to get their attention, he times the kids to see how long it takes them to quiet down. Then he has them start up again. In the practice sessions, the kids do well. They do a better job than before their training when it comes to an actual discussion. (They don’t do things as fast as they had in training, because stopping and starting wasn’t then at the forefront of their minds.) So-called appreciation time is another goodie, because there’s always one kid in class that’s quieter or undervalued.
The “Communicate and Connect” chapter continues with the recognize-and-control-your-emotions-so-you-can-learn-better approach. Jensen gives checklists that you can print out for your students and use to have them practice actually listening to each other and giving other people total attention. He suggests handing the students the checklists so they can keep reminding themselves. He even suggests having the kids rate themselves on how well they did.
In “Teach Self-Management,” Jensen continues with the understand-emotions-and-learn-more theme. He relates the story of one teacher who created an appreciation list for each of her students. She had all the kids write down the names of all the others in the class. Then, each student listed a couple of things he or she appreciated about each of the others. The teacher took the papers home and assembled all the appreciation notes for each student. Years later, Jensen writes, this teacher found out that all her former students still had their appreciation lists, and that several of them carried their lists in their wallets.
The “Practice Learning” chapter goes into ways to help kids grow up, and some parts of this section remind me of Escaping the Endless Adolescence by Joseph and Claudia Allen. One of Jensen’s tips is to help kids each have at least one adult who listens to them, if even for just a few minutes, most days. This person is the designated listener. Jensen relates the story of a girl and a bus driver. The girl had just a few minutes of time to talk with that bus driver each day, but she said that the bus driver’s attention made a difference.
Jensen talks about memory hooks and learning techniques in “Focus Learning.” I like his “capsule” learning method. The idea is to read for a bit and then review the information in your head. Then, a bit later, to review it again — then to keep reviewing the material, leaving longer gaps between each review. Jensen tried this with his then 15-year-old son, and, he writes, his son was pleased with the method. Years later his son indicated he still remembered the material.
What didn’t help me much was the “Replace Grading with Scoring” chapter, because I don’t grade or score. Looking back on myself as a child, though, I can see how scoring would work.
All in all, this was a fine book. In the classes I teach, I plan to use several of Jensen’s lists and ideas.
Effective Classroom Turnaround: Practice Makes Permanent
R&L Education, August, 2012
Paperback, 196 pages