10 May 2010

Talking in Formation? Never!

In class, why do students think they can get away with off-task behavior-- particularly talking-- simply because others are doing it?

My 9th-grade students do it all the time. The main rule in my classroom is to not talk during any type of presentation. Usually, it means that students should shut their pieholes while I am delivering instruction. I don't spend more than six or seven minutes at a time talking, but I have rarely made it without multiple interruptions.

Reminds me of the Army Formation-- that dreaded organism that is neither dead nor vibrant, a weird limbo-like collection of Soldiers who await the judgment of some higher authority.

While waiting for inspiration, revelation, or resucitation, Soldiers usually violate their oath of silence. At Basic, in fact, most of our troubles were the result of bad formation manners.
As I put it in Nine Weeks:
"Privates trickled out from the stairwell and laundry room and found their spots in formation. Once assembled, we waited like statues for DS Jackson to march us off somewhere. But before long, we were in a full-blown family argument. It would start with one soldier making a comment, inducing someone else to tell that private to shut up. Of course the first man would have to defend or explain himself, at which point several others would jump in trying to quite the first two or take sides. The reaction was thus unleashed, everyone trying to solve a problem that they didn’t realize they were a part of. The noise would reach a crescendo just as the drill sergeant appeared.

Open ranks, MARCH!”
I wish I could put my students in the front-leaning rest.

Whatever causes erect privates (get your mind out of the gutter!) to chatter and quarrel in formation is the same impulse that compels high school students to talk, and bicker about it, while in the classroom "formation." 

In that way, my math students are a lot like the Soldiers in an Army platoon formation.

Frequently, students will claim innocence in the face of a charge that they were talking. Often, Student A will use the fact that Student B was talking as an excuse. Periodically, the lone student will start a chain reaction of misbehavior.

That when, sad as it is to say, the drill sergeant comes out. What can we do to instill discipline without resorting to yelling and group punishment?

Let me know if you have any ideas, because I hate scolding the group for the sake of a few. And it seems to be counterproductive anyway; the few miscreants seek safety in the group. I suppose I continue to punish everybody in hopes of building a group culture, one that does not tolerate substandard behavior.

That's certainly the idea behind collective punishments in the Army. Teamwork, we are told, is the goal.

It must take more than nine months to develop.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of those questions where the only right answer is in the eyes of the beholder.

    Collective punishment sometimes yields positive results – the disruptive student, as a result of his need for peer approval will change his ways to accommodate others. He’ll quickly learn that being hated by his peers for misbehaving is not always the best choice. However, there are those narcissistic human beings who really don’t care what their peers think. So to collectively punish in hopes that it would instill the necessary peer pressure may in fact have an adverse effect on the group.

    Understanding your group – whether it’s in the army or in your classroom - may be the key to dispersing the best punishment for immediate, but positive change in behavior for that bad apple.