Clean Up!

students from my previous school show off their artists' hands
This past May, I left behind my middle school classroom of 13 years at a large public school to be the art teacher at my son's very small private Christian school. I am closer to home, I get to teach all grade levels K4-12th grade, and I am only a few doors and one flight of steps away from my son! It is my dream job, but there have been a few surprises! I have a whole new respect for elementary classroom teachers, as well as elementary art teachers. 

Being an elementary "specials" teacher has opened my eyes to some unique challenges! I was used to seeing my students every day, but now I don't have much time with them. If there are any behavior issues, it takes much longer to iron out the creases. There is just a completely different dynamic to the elementary art classroom, especially when you are the new teacher!  

One of the biggest changes in dynamic has been the clean up routine. At my previous school, I didn't allow anyone to leave until the room was restored to order, dismissing the first ones to clean up thoroughly after I did my "inspection." The kids were highly motivated to go see their friends between classes, so they desperately wanted to be dismissed... sometimes I would hold kids after the bell if they didn't do a good job. Middle school kids also didn't want to be marked tardy to their next class so this was a pretty effective motivator. 

Elementary kids? Now that's a different story! They want to STAY in Art class as long as possible, and will pretend they don't hear the teacher at all when clean up time is announced. Getting little kids to put away art materials is a challenge, to say the least. They are enjoying art, happily gluing or drawing or coloring. They are loving it so much that it has been necessary to figure out a variety of ways to motivate them to stop! Attention getters are great ("Classity class class!" ... "If you can hear my voice, clap one time," etc.), but kids need a reason to actually put down the materials. External motivators, here we come! 

Since it is a small school, the classes are manageable. I know about whole class reward systems (star charts, clip charts, etc.), but I really wanted to focus more on individual or small group behaviors at the beginning of the year. So, I relentlessly documented behaviors for each student, carrying around a clip board and making a list of kids who were doing the right thing so their classroom teacher could award them a Dojo point for "Great Art Classroom Behavior," and talking to individual students about their behavior. I did this for every class, from day one. However, I didn't want the classroom teacher to be the one responsible for what happened in Art! I am more of a partner with the classroom teacher than I was at the middle school, but I take full responsibility for managing the class while they are in my room! The kids need to learn to respect the art teacher's authority just as much as they respect their classroom teacher's. 

A third grade group cuts up a patterned square after viewing The Perfect Square, a children's book by Michael Hall (on Youtube). The assignment was to use all the pieces to make something new, just like the square did in the video. The square of paper was patterned with the frottage technique one day, and then made into something new the next class period. I called this project, "Frottage Collage!"

One of the first strategies I tried was having the cleanest table group line up first - being first in line is a coveted privilege, right? For some groups it was effective, especially K4, K5, and 3rd grade. For everyone else, this plan bombed. They ignored me completely when I announced, "I am looking for the table group who is cleaning up the fastest!" Then, when we finally got in line to wait for their classroom teacher, the kids argued about lining up in number order, or who was supposed to be line leader, or door holder, etc. Every classroom teacher has their own method for lining up the kids; any other arrangement is met with protest! 

The second strategy I tried was using my "teacher voice" to call out individual students who were not following instructions to clean up. This strategy was pretty effective, but one second grader piped up, "We got in trouble just because we didn't clean up?!" In my mind, I was thinking, "Really?" But I leaned down and calmly told him in a low voice, "You need to do what the teacher tells you to do; not following instructions is disobeying." (Things that make you go, "Hmmmmm...")

Next, at the beginning of class everyone practiced the clean up routine a couple of times until we got it right. I dumped out a box of supplies at each table, coached them to work together as a team to put them back, and we practiced lining up calmly and quietly, sometimes repeatedly. You would think that the kids would do a better job at cleaning up after that, right? They did, but only for that day. The next time we met for class the routine spiraled down into chaos, again. I see all my elementary classes twice each week except for 5th and 6th grade who only meet once. They should have remembered what to do! Positive motivation and repetition can only go so far, sometimes a firm consequence is in order.

Finally, I printed out some tickets on colored paper. The green tickets have a picture of a bear with his paw raised up in a "High Five," and a caption that says, "I did grrreat in Art class today!" (I got this idea from Kim Brodie Metro - thank you, Kim!) The red tickets are smaller and printed with captions such as, "I need to practice following instructions at clean up time," or, "I need to practice obeying the first time," etc. (idea from Maggie Moschell - thank you, Maggie!) I told the kids (1st grade - 4th) that they would go home with either a red ticket or a green ticket that day, that the choice was theirs. Finally, they began taking things a little more seriously. 

3rd grade student's new creation after cutting up his "perfect square;" work in progress
The music teacher saw the tickets on my desk and thought they were a good idea - she asked if I handed them to the kids or to their teacher. I give the red notes directly to the teacher, who staples the note inside the child's planner. (For more severe behavior issues, I call or email parents directly. I don't want to rely on a written note that could just be covertly thrown away by the child.)

The next strategy I will pull out of my toolbox will be a whole class reward system where the group can earn points toward a Free Art Day. Finally, if there are any kids who continue to act up, I will pull out my discipline assignments. I think by the fourth week of school and four, five, or six art classes there has been plenty of opportunity for the kids to learn the ropes! 

I know it will take time for me to establish the structure I want; it's only been three weeks after all! It has been really interesting to see how well my new elementary students do at the beginning of class and during the lesson. The issues seem to always arise during clean up! As the new teacher, I know that I need to be patient - kids are testing me to see exactly where the art classroom boundaries are. Rome wasn't built in a day! It will take consistent discipline on my part, a balance of positive motivators as well as consequences for misbehavior, and developing good relationships with my students. 

Classroom management is extremely important, and worth all the extra effort it takes to provide a safe and structured learning environment. The structure just has to be built one little bit at a time. 

"Note Home:" document was printed out on green paper (idea from Kim Metro)

"Note Home:" document was printed on red paper (idea from Maggie Moschell)

Author's note: I have not yet used a whole class reward system. Instead, I look for a mystery artist during clean up, watching to see if this particular student does all the things required. If so, that kid gets a special note home along with a small prize! This is the most effective strategy yet - the kids have no idea if they are the mystery artist or not and it motivates all the kids to do a good job! 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

1 comment:

Whitney Johnson said...

Nice ideas! Thank you for sharing.