As a board member of NapaLearns, an amazing non-profit committee that supports Napa County schools, I have the privilege of visiting a different school each month. Yesterday our meeting took place at Donaldson Way Elementary School in American Canyon, California. Part of our meeting involved visiting classrooms and seeing first hand what students were working on. I saw the small poster in the picture below in a first grade classroom there. Something on the poster caught my eye. Do you see it?
This is a poster that shares the steps for the Procedure to follow when it is reading time. Students are reminded to –
Stay in one spot
Read the whole time
Work on stamina
Get started right away
The step that caught my eye was the one that asks students to “work on stamina.” I thought I had a grasp of what the procedural step was wanting, but just in case I asked a first grade student to explain to me what “work on stamina” meant. The student didn’t hesitate and described how it takes practice to read for longer than a few minutes, but that the class was doing better at it. The goal was to sit still and quietly read for like, a while.
I was excited about this approach for several reasons, all of the reasons in some way having to do with choice theory.
Procedures help things run smoothly. When lots of students in a classroom need to do lots of different things at lots of different times, Procedures just help everything work better. Procedures aren’t like rules where students get in trouble for not doing them. The Procedures are reviewed and practiced, and when students forget them they are asked to do the Procedure correctly. In the spirit of choice theory, this is such a humane way to create important routines in the classroom. As teachers we have expectations and we state these expectations to our students, yet there is a way to teach expectations without turning them into a power struggle.
The step that asked students to “work on stamina” acknowledged that 1st grade students don’t automatically know what stamina is, nor do they have great amounts of it when it comes to reading. The teacher anticipated that her students wouldn’t have a lot of reading stamina, but that it’s ok and they would work on it. No need to get frustrated at students or worse, to get disgusted at them for their poor habits. No need to try and control them or force them into quiet reading time. Stamina is something that can be learned. It is so choice theory to recognize the age-appropriate abilities of students, and to support them as they work to grow and improve those abilities.
When I had a chance to talk with the teacher about the “work on stamina” step, she pointed to a poster next to the window that tracked the students’ progress. It’s the picture above. I hadn’t noticed it before, but now I honed in on this simple, yet remarkable data. She explained that they were tracking how long everyone in the class, when it was time for reading, could quietly read in one place. The chart shows that the first day some students could only make it for one minute. The second day, though, all the students made it for at least two minutes. The third day they all read quietly for almost five minutes. By day six, all of them read quietly, in one place, for 22 minutes. Think about it. A full classroom of active, diverse 1st grade suburban kids and all of them reading for 22 minutes. Obviously, the teacher presented the Procedure in such a way that the students themselves bought into it. They wanted to improve; they wanted to read more; they wanted the bar on that chart to go higher. It wasn’t a behavioral issue. It was simply about working on and building stamina.
It would have been easy, common actually, to try and discipline these young readers into reading quietly. But the results would have been far different than the results in this classroom. Criticizing, blaming, nagging, threatening, and punishing would harm the relationship between the teacher and the students, and the students would most likely grow up to not enjoy reading. I like the Procedure and data chart a lot better.
Send me an example of how choice theory is showing up in your classroom. I would love to see it or hear about what you are doing!
The Glasser biography, Champion of Choice, can make a great Christmas gift. It’s easy to purchase the book through Amazon at –
For a signed copy of Champion of Choice, contact me at –
The book, plus shipping it anywhere in the U.S., comes to $26.
For international orders, going through Amazon is the cheapest way to go. I am happy, though, to sign a bookplate and send it to you so that it can be placed on the inside cover. Let me know.