• Linda Ulleseit, author

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Behavior Management

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Managing the classroom behavior is something every teacher struggles with. Some classes are harder to deal with than others, but they all require some system of reward and consequence to keep the peace and allow lessons to occur without disruption. In the twenty years I’ve taught, behavior management has included some combination of earning Behavior Bucks for a monthly auction, changing seat assignments, being benched for recess or referred to the principal, and emails sent home to parents. I’ve never had a serious problem with behavior until this year.

Without going into the specifics of the behaviors (that would be too long a post!), I wanted to share my solution. At the CUE conference in Palm Springs this year, I learned about CLASSCRAFT.COM and could hardly wait to get home to try it.

Classcraft is a free web-based behavior management video game designed for sixth grade through high school. The interface is colorful and fanciful–it truly looks like a video game. Students log on and choose an avatar. They are put in teams where they classcraft_bg1choose the team name and logo. They also must designate team members as warrior, mage, or healer.  Students earn XP (experience points) for behaving well in class. They lose HP (health points) for breaking a rule. AP (action points) are spent healing each other–this is important because if a teammate falls in battle the rest of the team loses 10 HP and may fall, too.

One of the coolest features is the parent piece. Parents set up an account that links with their child’s. They can see what their child receives each day for rewards or consequences. They can award their child GP (gold points) for doing chores, having a positive attitude, and finishing homework. GP doesn’t affect my part of the game because those points can only be used to buy accessories for the avatar like armor and pets.

The game comes with a set of rules, rewards, and punishments (like becoming ogrefied and having to sit alone at lunch for a day) but is completely customizable by the teacher, from rules to rewards to Random Events of the Day and punishments for those fallen in battle (who lose all their XP). Every morning I log on to the game and dole out rewards and punishments for the day before and conduct a Random Event. The entire thing takes ten to fifteen minutes.

Most importantly, it works. My class has been rather notorious around campus this year. I added a big reward for receiving a compliment from an adult on campus. Within the first week, the principal, a teacher, and a yard duty all gave them unsolicited compliments. I was very impressed. The students were very proud of themselves. They follow the game without reminders. One day a noon duty told me she asked one of my students why they were sitting alone. “I’ve been ogrefied,” the student said in a perfectly normal tone. I laughed, but the noon duty was very puzzled.

We’ve been playing the game now for two months. They are just as excited now as the day we started. Their behavior hasn’t been perfect, but what fun is the game if someone doesn’t occasionally fall in battle and become ogrefied?

 

 

Improving Public Education

pencil2You can blame large class sizes, teacher experience or salary, or parent involvement in the home, to name a few, but there is no simple answer to the problems of public education. The responsibility must be shared.

In Finland, recently touted as a model for public education, students are given no homework. The younger students have school only three hours a day. Teachers there finish teaching, finish planning, and go home before my school day is done. Kids are encouraged to play and explore. The culture of the country truly supports work/home balance instead of giving it lip service like America does. The children are happier, and they are learning. While I’m sure even in Finland they have problem behaviors or students who don’t learn well, it’s a positive environment influences the children.

In the United States, students attend school for six hours a day. They are pressured to do well so they can get into a good college. In some families, grades are the most important thing about their child’s education. Parents work long hours, and their children come home to grandparents or day care. How can parents who see their children scant hours a day influence them to play and explore? If this country instituted an educational system that gave students more time to explore, the majority of kids would play video games, attend a Saturday school in language or culture, and participate on a regionally competitive sports team.

My students participate in Genius Hour once a week. They come up with an inquiry question about something they wonder about, research it, and  build it. The problem is that they don’t wonder about anything. If they have a question, they Google it. Getting them to design inquiries has taken all year. They all want to do Powerpoint presentations for their projects–to show what they’ve researched. Genius Hour is more than that, though. They need to have hands-on exploration. In the past, students have built a life-sized unicorn, made a scale model of a condor out of recycled parts, sewed a skirt, and designed their own website using html. Today’s students

In order for them to thrive in a model like Finland’s, American students need more than a redesigned program at school and a teacher’s lead. They need affordable after school programs that encourage critical thinking, parent time that is more than meals or homework battles, and time away from the screens in their lives.

While much creative energy can be stimulated on a computer, students need to explore the world around them. I teach in an area with a lot of undeveloped land close by. Mountain lions, deer, turkeys, rabbits, foxes, and elk can be seen often. A deep creek runs under the road, and none of my students have stood on the bridge and marveled at the foliage-covered twenty-foot drop. None of them have heard the ground squirrels bark a warning as they walk past a field dotted with oak trees. Non-screen experiences like these are the sort of thing that sparks curiosity. Finnish students are being given the opportunity to be curious. American students are not.

 

Influencing Youth

 

influenceAs a teacher, I know I influence students every day. I strive to be a good role model and show them passion for learning, excitement about reading and reading, pride in their math skills. Young people are greatly shaped by their environment. If they are around positive energy, they may absorb it. I find students leave my class excited about reading and writing because that’s what I am excited about.

If they are exposed to the negative, however, they internalize that even faster.

The best students, with straight A’s and good behavior, are quiet in class. Those that constantly draw the teacher’s attention are the students who are breaking rules, slacking off, or disturbing classmates. Even if it’s negative, they are getting attention from the teacher, being held up as an example in front of others. Young people crave attention, even negative attention, so the middle kids, neither straight A’s nor problems, more often follow the negative leaders than the positive. Society has taught them that. Books, television, and celebrities all show that the naughty ones get all the attention. Therefore, a young person struts with pleasure to be called a badass and lashes out with ugly words or physical violence when called a nerd.

I can influence the young people who come into my classroom, but only if their poorly behaved classmates allow me. That is the sad truth. I can stand in front of the class every day and talk about being kind to one another, about not bullying, about being a good example. They all see themselves as victims–quick to recognize bullying in others, but not in themselves. When I tell them the most powerful tool they have in middle school is the ability to turn their back and walk away, they look at me like I have three heads.

I hope that someday my current sixth graders will realize the reward of achieving something positive, be it grades, getting into a good college, or doing something kind for another. I hope that something I’ve said this year will stick down deep and be remembered in a few years when life is harder. And I hope that at least one of them returns to tell me I made a difference, that my effort was noticed if not immediately appreciated.

 

Inspired by Family

IMG_0551Throughout my life, I have listened avidly to stories of my family. It was no different when I married my husband and heard stories of his family. I turned my own stories into a novel, UNDER THE ALMOND TREES and I’m currently working on ALOHA SPIRIT a story of my husband’s grandmother. The picture at left is his grandmother, mother, and aunts in Honolulu just before World War II. When writing these stories, I can’t be completely accurate since I don’t know all the details of the person’s life. It can’t be a biography. Dialogue has to be invented, as well as what I call the filling in between known events. For this reason, I’ve stopped saying these novels are about my family and begun saying they are inspired by family.

Family stories may be the inspiration, but they cannot carry a novel on their own. Even so, the first source of deeper information is the family. I took the older members of my family aside and urged them to tell me the details–where they went to school, what their mother made for dinner, which was their favorite relative, and who fought with who. My sons were working on a genealogy merit badge in Boy Scouts when they interviewed their great-grandfather. He was born in Honolulu in 1918 and was a civilian ship fitter at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed in 1941. His first-person view of the event was incredible, but his personal reactions were priceless. He told how he wanted to hide during the attack, but his boss made him go out with a crew to remove scaffolding from a ship. He hid behind turrets on the ship as the Japanese planes flew over. I wish I’d had my novelist’s eye that day and asked him about how he got to work, how long a day he worked, what he’d had for breakfast, and what the family said when he got home. Those are the details that make a novel.

Grandpa’s experience is a tiny part of my novel ALOHA SPIRIT. I had to research a lot about territorial Hawaii–the years between the fall of the monarchy and statehood. I didn’t care so much about the politics of the sugar plantation owners. I wanted to know about daily life. When did they get televisions, cars, radios? When were the hotels built on Waikiki? I read historical fiction set in Hawaii to get a feel for the era, and nonfiction for accuracy. There are many details I couldn’t find or that I had to change to fit my story. I can do that, since it’s a novel and not a biography.

The hardest part is showing the finished work to living members of the family. I think they understand that I intend it to be a tribute to our ancestors, but I’m sure they have a different view of the characters and events than I do. When I exaggerate a negative trait, I’m trying for greater conflict to improve the novel’s pacing, not to ruin a person’s reputation. So when you read my novels, keep in mind that they are novels. A lot of it is made up! Enjoy them as fiction. If you absolutely must know if something really happened, send me an email. My hope is that readers will be as inspired by the characters in my novels as I was by the women who inspired them.

Writing Exercise

anpencil4This week in a writing class, we have a fun assignment. Try it yourself!

*It needs to be one paragraph, exactly seven sentences. No dialogue.

*It should be the first paragraph or the last paragraph of a Young Adult novel, meaning the main character should be a teenager.

*It can be in first person, but you can’t use ‘I’ more than three times. It can be close third person, but you can’t use the character’s name more than three times.

*The paragraph must start with a long sentence and end with a short one, OR it can start with a short one and end with a long one.

Before you decide that I’m waiting for YOU to write MY assignment, here is a first draft of mine:

I love this computer, my dearest friend, closest companion, and hardworking colleague. Flipping open the lid, the screen lights up, notification icons blink. On Facebook, I stare in horror at a photoshopped picture of me, barely dressed, in the arms of some skinny nerd. Four of my closest friends have ‘liked’ it. Change to email before anyone sees me online. An English teacher didn’t get my final paper, some refugee in a third world country needs money, and no message from Thomas after last night’s wonderful date. I hate computers.

Put your paragraphs in the notes below! Feel free to offer me encouragement…

Commas and Adjectives

Most adults are famindexiliar with the basic use of commas, but some of the rules (which go on and on and on) are less well known. Take the issue of adjectives. If you use two or more adjectives to describe something, do you put commas between them? The hard and fast rule: it depends.:)

 

Mary chose to wear the red, spotted sweater.

In this example, the sentence makes sense if I reverse the adjectives and write ‘spotted, red sweater.’ Also, the sentence works if I put an and between the adjectives and write ‘red and spotted sweater.’ In this case, a comma is needed.

Mary chose to wear Susie’s red sweater.

In this example, the two adjectives (Susie’s and red) cannot be reversed and still make sense. It also makes no sense if you put and between them. No comma.

Why is it important to know this rule? Consider the following sentences.

Tiffany is a pretty tall girl.

Tiffany is a pretty, tall girl.

In the first one, Tiffany is tall. She may or may not be pretty. In the second sentence, Tiffany is pretty and tall. Make sure you write what you mean!

 

Author-go-Round: Nina Day Gerard

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00016]This week’s Author-Go-Round interview with Nina Day Gerard may answer some of the questions you’ve always wanted to ask about romance writing…but were afraid to ask! Welcome, Nina!

Q: How did you become a romance writer?

A: I gave myself the title Accidental Romance Writer. I’ve been writing stories since I was in the third grade, and I’ve been reading romance since high school when I used to trade Harlequin novels with my girlfriends. Then in 2012 I had kind of a V8 moment when I realized “Hey, I could do this—I SHOULD do this!” and that led to my first short story The Long Road Home in the 2014 Shades of Pink Romance Anthology supporting breast cancer research, and my first novel My Brother’s Keeper.

Q: What’s the most popular question you get about being a romance author?

A: The one thing I get asked all the time is whether or not I write about the real-life experiences I’ve had in terms of the relationships or the love scenes. But it’s not classy to kiss and tell, in my opinion.

Q: But aren’t the love scenes—and in some cases the sex scenes—what people most associate with contemporary romance?

A: I would agree with that. And I’m more than happy to talk about what goes into writing those scenes from a crafting standpoint.

Q: How do you decide the heat level of your material in terms of that?

A: The easiest way to answer that is to say that I became inspired to write romance by the love stories I have enjoyed reading. I never set out to write about a certain amount of sex per se. But like any healthy adult romantic relationship, there has to be the right balance of a strong romantic and emotional bond, along with great chemistry and attraction. To me, one just makes the other better, and vice-versa. In a good love story, by the time you get to the first love scene, the reader should experience the intensity of what the two people feel for each other—that just makes the sex better. Those are the kinds of relationships I like to read about, and so that’s how I try to write.

Q: Do you ever get embarrassed when you think about people reading some of those scenes?

A: Oh my gosh, yes! Not the fans per se, these are all readers who are accustomed to the genre and probably expect a certain level of heat. But my mother, for instance, begged me for months to read the manuscript of My Brother’s Keeper. I finally relented and sent it to her. She gave me great feedback, and thankfully had the sense not to mention any of the love scenes. That went undiscussed. But now I don’t feel shy about sharing my writing with her anymore.

Q: What other romance authors have inspired you?

A: At the top of my list would be Maya Banks (KGI and Slow Burn series). She is the master at writing with that balance I was talking about. I love her characters. Same with Christine Feehan (Drake Sisters, Ghost Walker and Sisters of the Heart Series). I devoured these books as soon as they were published.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Well, the Second Edition of My Brother’s Keeper is now available on Kindle, and Burlesque Bad, Book 1 of my Destiny of Dance series, is due out this summer.

For purchase links and trailer to My Brother’s Keeper, a preview of the Destiny of Dance series, her blog A Fine Romance, and to join Nina’s mailing list for a free exclusive edition of The Long Road Home with story Epilogue, please visit www.ninadaygerard.com. (She’ll never spam you, just periodic updates about her books!)

 

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