Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Reading Recommendation: Sammy & His Behavior Problems

Now that I have an entire summer stretching before me with nothing to do I finally found time to read Sammy and His Behavior Problems. Responsive Classroom sent this book to me months ago, and although I've carried it around for months I've never managed to sit down and give it the reading it deserved.

Finally, armed with sun block and hours by the pool, I was able to indulge.

**You may not know, but I am a bit obsessed with Responsive Classroom. After going through the week long introductory training 6 years ago I tried it in my own classroom, realized how amazing it truly is, bought all of the books, took two more of their week-long training classes (RC 2 and RC Literacy), and became an RC cult follower. I'm pretty sure I can quote some of their books by heart. Recently a student teacher was in our school library lamenting over how nervous she was to start her first year of teaching. Our librarian, also an RC convert, and I began throwing books at her.
"You wont survive without The First Six Weeks"
"Wait, and The Morning Meeting book"
"I absolutely do not start the year without this book on setting up the classroom!"
"Oh, and once the year has started you'll need to read the book on Academic Choice."
"The Power of Our Words! Now that's one that changed my teaching forever!"
"Here's an amazing one on getting parents involved..."
The poor girl's face became even more panicky than it was before, and she left the library with a large stack of books. I'd feel bad, except that I wish someone had given me that huge stack of books before I started teaching.**

Sammy and His Behavior Problems
is a new type of book for RC. While most of their books focus on a particular topic, Sammy is a narrative of a teacher's year with one child with difficult behaviors. Through her narrative Caltha Crowe is able to do what all mentor teachers are trained to do when working with student teachers: explain her thinking. She paints the picture of what is occurring in the classroom, and then steps back and reflects on what she sees through the Responsive Classroom lens. Then she decides how to act, and narrates the next episode with Sammy, all the while explaining to the reader the thoughtfulness she put into each of her actions.

As a RC junkie I could recognize the RC language throughout the book, and could cross-reference each RC book/theory- "Oh, she's using Academic Choice!", or, "I remember talking about that in RC 2 training."

Crowe manages to weave RC theory into practice, creating a clear picture of how it looks when used in a classroom. And not just any classroom- when it is used in a classroom that includes children learning to manage their own behavior (which, actually, is any classroom, because we all have children like Sammy.)

What I love about the book is that anyone who takes an RC class, or hears about RC theory and asks skeptically, "Yeah, but that wont work with my kids because ________," could read Crowe's book and gain an understanding of the how RC theory works even in the most difficult circumstances. The book paints a picture of what Responsive Classroom looks like and sounds like when put into place throughout the year. If you leave RC thinking, "That all sounds great, but I just don't see how it is suppose to flow together", Crowe erases that question through her year-long narrative.

In the book Crowe shows us that teaching is a fine balance of studying your students and deciding how to teach based on your observations, setting clear expectations, and then letting students make your classroom their own within the limits and structure you've created for them. Throughout the book Crowe shares the concerns we all have- do we tell a student how something must be because it makes us feel better, or do we give the student the resources to figure it out themselves? Crowe does a beautiful job explaining how she set up a structure that gave Sammy the information he needed to become an independent learner. She allows him to determine his own organization strategies, develop his own reminder signals in the classroom, and brainstorm his own solutions to problem behavior. She's not simply controlling his behavior so that he and the other students can learn, she is teaching him how to control his behavior, a skill he will use the rest of his life.

Crowe writes, "My goal is that he behave appropriately for himself, not for me." reminding us that there is a growth step between good behavior, and self-regulated good behavior.

What many of us love about Lucy Calkins is that her books give us specific examples of phrases and wording she uses when she teaches. She allows us to see a conversation she has with a student where every word is meaningful. Crowe's book shares this exact strategy. From reading her conversations with Sammy I have powerful yet simple language in my head I will be able to use with my students. I have examples to fall back on when I am frustrated with a student and am either speechless or am fighting the urge to lecture. Instead, I can picture Crowe's simple, clear reminders, questions, and conferences to make my own student interactions that much more powerful.

To be honest, my only disappointment in the book is that it is written in present-tense, which made it initially difficult to jump into. Once I became accustomed to the writing style the book flew by, and I found myself reading quickly wanting to know what Sammy would do next and how Crowe would turn it into a teachable moment.

I've asked my mother, a second grade teacher, to read the book and tell me what she thinks. Although she reads the Responsive Classroom newsletter she has not had any RC training. I'm curious to know what someone without an RC background thinks of the book. Will it give her enough information to dive into RC based-teaching? Or without an RC background does the book leave the reader confused? I'm excited to know what she thinks, and I'll get back to you with her thoughts! Ohhh... maybe a guest post if I can talk her into it ;)

Happy Reading!

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