Behavior Management: The iPad isn’t a magic lamp for transforming an unruly class, but it does provide some intriguing new behavior management tools for creative teachers.
New tools for the age-old battle
Obviously it’s a teacher’s wits, technique and experience that make the difference between a classroom and a zoo, not the gadgets they possess, but educators have often turned to props to make the job easier—from talking sticks to chore wheels, sticker-stars to time out zones. iPad is just an unusually versatile addition to that arsenal.
What’s interesting though is that while that versatility is due to iPad’s technological attributes, the thinking underpinning the behavior management apps that we’ll look at in this chapter is decidedly traditional: informing students about what’s coming up, managing exuberance, overseeing classroom chore systems, and creating incentives and penalties to catch anything that falls through the cracks.
All familiar enough. It’s just that the process has never been quite this much fun before.
It’s hard for even the best of students to be compliant if they don’t know what’s expected, which is why a lot of classrooms start proceedings with an overview of the day or period ahead—something that’s very much easier if every student can actually see that breakdown for themselves.
What iPad brings to this sort of daily orientation is immediacy and convenience. Whether you’re in your classroom, eating breakfast, or stuck in traffic, you can throw such a runsheet together very quickly using Keynote, and then start the teaching day by loading it up on your iPad, and then airplaying it to your smartboard so the whole class can see it (see the entry in Presenting for more information on how to do this).
Once you’ve created that very first daily tour, subsequent tours are just a matter of typing the new content over the old—it really shouldn’t take any longer than jotting down a shopping list. But it always looks as if you’ve spent most of the previous evening putting it together.
If you want the resource to be available for students, but not something you talk about just yet, you can quietly set it to autorun on your smartboard, so it cycles through a series of reminders, much as you might see in some government buildings and waiting rooms. Leave it running in the background, and your daily notes will be seen time and time again—very hard for students to overlook information that’s been seared into their brain all day. (Ask any advertiser)
Seeding behavior expectations
With each part of the upcoming day having its very own slide in the rotation, these daily runsheets can show much more than just when and what. They can also include any special requirements each session might have about noise levels (see below), or setting up, or what students need to bring with them—all things that you’d normally have to introduce at the time, but that students have instead been gently familiarizing themselves with all day. By the time the session hits, the students will have seen the details often enough that they could almost give your introductory talk themselves.
Personalized daily tours for special needs
Some students need the reassurance and clarity of graphic confirmation of exactly what will be happening throughout the day—for such students there is a specialized app called Visual Schedule Planner that allows you to put together clear and icon-driven breakdowns of the day ahead, without needing to know how to draw.
It’s not a particularly space-efficient format, and requires scrolling to see an entire day at once, so this is not so well suited for big screen set-it-and-forget-it display, but works particularly well if you’re able to enter the information directly into the relevant student’s iPad with them. The resultant highly visual daily tour then sits on their desk as a reminder they can access at any time.
Just how loud is too loud?
Teacher-as-noise-police is an unavoidable reality in most classrooms, but there’s an app that deftly inverts responsibility, making students accountable for their own noise levels, while also removing all subjectivity from the question of just what too loud is.
Decibel 10th is an app that monitors noise levels in the classroom, and allows students to see for themselves when they’re over any limit you might have imposed—a straightforward and elegant way to end uncertainty about the acceptability of background discussion levels .
So you might set a ceiling of 45 dB for individual work, 65 for sessions where students are working as pairs, or 75 for students working in larger groups. Whatever the cap happens to be, it’s now very easy for students to tell for themselves when things are getting out of hand.
Create a reward for staying under the cap—or for whichever table can register the lowest maximum reading (the app keeps track of this), appoint someone at each table to keep an eye on Decibel 10th’s readouts, and you’ve got students not only taking direct responsibility for their own noise output, but equipped with an objective measure of what Too Loud means.
There’s a similar app for younger students—Too Noisy dispenses entirely with decibel readouts and just has a smiley face that starts to look worried as the noise levels go up, and then sticks its fingers in its ears when things are too loud. Maintain that excessive volume for more than 3 seconds and an audible alarm will go off. (This can be disabled if you’d prefer).
Use reflector to beam this to a big screen, and you’ve got constant—and often self-regulating—noise monitoring that everyone can see.
Again, to accommodate different types of lessons, the teacher can set the sensitivity of the app, thereby pushing up or down the noise threshold required before the smiley face starts to get upset.
Gamification of behavior
It’s a big idea that’s starting to run hot in both education and business: how can the addictive and motivating feedback systems from computer games be applied to real life?
Teachers have been creating their own systems for years, but apps such as the subscription-based Class Dojo make it easy to define, issue and keep track of whatever your rewards and penalties happen to be, all inside a computer-game like wrapping.
The key advantage to a system like this is real-time rewarding of students, so that teachers are regularly able to catch them doing the right thing, while the rewards themselves are in an achievement-point system that students will be very familiar with from their own computer games.
You can also use the system to moderate inappropriate behavior. A student who’s talking instead of silently reading might see a 5 point penalty turn up on their iPad while they’re still actually in mid-sentence—with an accompanying note, so they’re in no doubt as to why they were pinged—while the student opposite (who is reading quietly) was awarded 5 points. It doesn’t take long for students to self-moderate when the feedback is instant, persistent and linked to a system that everyone is part of.
A simpler and free alternative…
…is ClassBadges.com, which eschews points in favor of earnable badges—again, students used to computer game achievement systems will feel right at home.
As the teacher, you get to set what badge awards are available, and define the criteria for earning them. You can then either design and upload your own badges, or select from the surprisingly deep collection supplied by the graphic designers.
While it’s easier to do the issuing and design of badges using your Mac or PC, students will be able to see their rewards instantly on their iPads—again, this means a rewards system that is not just highly structured, but immediate. Whenever you catch students being good, you can give them a badge there and then; their badge page then makes for a great show-and-tell item for family.
Managing class chores
A recurring theme throughout this book is that many of the most useful classroom apps weren’t necessarily conceived with education in mind. One good example of this is Chore Pad HD, which is targeted very much at families, but could easily be repurposed to define and track classroom chores instead.
Students earn stars for completing chores, and then are able to exchange those stars for predefined rewards—just what those chores and rewards are, and how many stars is required to earn them is entirely up to you.
There’s nothing new about the underlying rewards structure; what is new is the immediacy and accessibility. Instead of students having to go to the class choreboard, the choreboard has come to them…like so much else of the rest of their school day, it’s right there, on their iPad.
Turning students into celebrities
With so much of what happens in your classroom either already being in digital format, or readily filmable, iPads make it very easy to capture and then publish evidence of the very best that goes on in your classroom.
One option is to assemble a weekly best-of bulletin in Pages, featuring standout examples of student work, together with recounts of commendable or enterprising behavior from individual students—if a student handed in their assignment two days early, went out of their way to help another student, or won the class Spelling Bee, this is where everyone will read about it.
Dialing this up yet further would be to create a regular news-style video bulletin, featuring recounts of the highlights of the month that was, together with interviews with the students who deserve the attention—easily done using the inbuilt video camera on your iPad, and then edited in iMovie, and perfect for uploading to your class blog or website…all things we’ll look at later in the book in the chapter on publishing.
Whatever your chosen media, turning students into celebrities like this not only puts a spotlight on deserving students, but on the behavior itself—a great way to ensure that behavior like that becomes embedded in the culture of the class.
When iPad causes the problems
Are your students being distracted by iPads? See the chapter on device management.
iPad as a carrot and a stick?
Students love using iPads almost as much as they hate being told they’re not allowed to…which potentially opens a range of consequences and rewards surrounding access to iPad that would be particularly acutely felt by students, and therefore unusually difficult to ignore as deterrents or incentives.
Should, for example, additional iPad privileges await those students in your class who demonstrate exemplary behavior? (Extra time with their device? The right to install games? The right to take the device home, or get their own special cover?)
Conversely, should restrictions await those who ignore your rules? (Forced to timeshare an iPad, for example?
Or—gack—go iPadless for the rest of the day/week?)
All straightforward enough if the behavior itself was iPad related—it’s a classic logical consequence. However, should a student who is disruptive, or late find themselves with the possibility of an iPad-access penalty?
It comes down in part to whether iPad usage is regarded as a right or a privilege; if it’s the latter, then having iPad-centered punishments and rewards added to your general pool of incentives and deterrents may give some students a powerful new reason to moderate their behavior.
I have no idea whether this is appropriate for your classroom; it would be remiss of me not to highlight it though as an option. Not every benefit iPad brings to teaching requires an app 🙂