I once had a second-grade student who would get in trouble for being on his “cell phone” constantly in class. He talked to everyone he knew—sometimes nicely, sometimes yelling and disrupting the lesson.
This problem would have been easy to solve if we could just take the cell phone away. But in this case, the cell phone was not a phone at all, but my student’s little clenched fist held up to his ear, and the people on the other line were nothing more than his vivid imagination and memory of past conversations.
His constant conversations were becoming a problem. No matter how many tokens he lost, he still wanted to talk on his “phone.” He didn’t care if he had to work during choice time, because again, he had his phone with him. I didn’t know what to do about his behavior. Five minutes after I would ask him to “hang up,” he’d go and dial another number and be on the phone again. I felt like I was losing my mind!
Finally, one day, perhaps out of desperation, I hung up a sign with a picture that said “No Cell Phones Allowed in Class.” The next time he “made a call” I politely walked over to him, pointed to the sign and read it to him, and asked him to hand it over.
I think I could have picked his jaw right up off the floor. He looked at me like I had just walked straight into his world without an invitation. I didn’t budge until he “dropped” his cell phone into my hand; then I walked over and “put it in my desk.” Believe it or not, after that the calls actually died down. Over time and many lessons on responsibility, my student learned to keep his phone in his pocket until recess. It was the game of having a cell phone that motivated him, and luckily he let me play along.
I hadn’t really thought about that experience too much until this last week, when I’ve been going back and forth about what to do about another one of my students. This young man has a tendency to fall over the side of his chair frequently throughout the day, which always requires immediate attention. As you can imagine, this is difficult to manage when attending to other students’ needs. This child is able to help himself, but regardless of our reminders to do so, he had not yet been motivated to take that responsibility.
I had tried several possible solutions. Reward systems, role models, games, and discussions were not working well, so in the spirit of my past student—and again out of desperation—I tried to think of a method I felt would excite this student.
One thing he always talks about is how much he loves Harry Potter. I thought (bear with me…) that if I concocted a “lifting up” spell, he might be more responsive. Now I say “lifticus uppicus” whenever I see him begin to fall out of his chair, and he usually makes a substantial and successful effort to get himself back up.
When it comes to the day-to-day motivational needs of my students, I often feel like I’m merely experimenting. Part of me feels that, as the teacher, I should always have at least a few good answers. But I’m starting to think that maybe I wouldn’t stress out so much about solutions if I just paid more attention to the ideas and teachable moments offered me by my students.
Although I’m pretty sure my colleagues think I’m crazy, I figure that if something works (as ridiculous as it may seem from the outside), perhaps it can be a stepping stone for more appropriate and traditional solutions.
This experience now has me digging back through those “All About Me” papers I handed out in the beginning of the school year. Maybe with adequate studying, I can generate a few good answers to have ready for the next time a motivational need arises.