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Substitute Newsletter -- Classroom Management: Avoid Criticism

 STEDI Substitute Institute

Substitute Newsletter--A Free E-Newsletter from the Substitute Teaching Institute for Substitutes-July 2006

Quote of the Month

Teachers are full of patience
Teachers never give up,
And won't let you give up either.
Teachers take students seriously.
Teachers care in their sleep
Teachers see the genius
In every drawing, poem and essay.
Teachers make you feel important.
Teachers also help others.
Teachers never grow old.
Teachers stay famous in their students? minds,
— Author Unknown  


Ahhh summer . . . a time to kick back, relax, and enjoy a good book or two. For those of you enjoying some time out of the classroom we have a few book recommendations to add to your summer reading list. For those of you in year round schools we've included a couple ideas for fill-in activities with a summer flair. But first, the conclusion of our classroom management "trap series" with a trap you can practice avoiding in the classroom or at home with family and friends. There is a little something for everyone this month, hope you enjoy!
-Cynthia Murdock


Classroom Management: Avoiding the Criticism Trap

Criticism is almost always counterproductive, it can be cruel, it can be a trap. Criticism becomes a trap when you try to "shame" someone into changing his or her behavior. In the classroom, and in everyday interactions with others, criticism often unintentionally becomes a form of reinforcement. Even though the attention received by the other person is negative, it is still a form of attention, something we all want. In addition to perpetuating inappropriate or undesirable behavior, criticism also creates a negative and unproductive atmosphere.

To criticize is easy, we often make critical comments without even thinking about it.

That's not what I told you to do.
You didn't even read the instructions.
That is the worst handwriting I've ever seen.
This class is awful.
You are such a troublemaker!

The cure for this malady is simple, yet it takes some conscience effort and practice to become second nature. To successfully avoid the criticism trap one must think before he or she speaks and convey positive messages as often as possible. In the classroom, reinforcing appropriate behavior, even if it is in other students, will be more effective in changing inappropriate behavior than criticizing a student who is acting out.

If you must redirect a student's behavior or point out an error they have made, preface the negative with something positive.

I think it's great that you like to read so much, but right now I need you to put your book away and complete your worksheet with the rest of the class.

You've been working very hard on this assignment and you've got a lot done, however I think there is a simple mistake you are making that is causing your answers to turn out wrong. Let's take a look at this problem you just finished.

You were a very good team leader during our activity this morning, but right now you are disrupting the rest of the class. Please return to your desk while we finish circle time.

Using this format of positive before negative not only keeps you out of the criticism trap, it also increases the likelihood that the student will be responsive to the change in behavior you suggest. You don't even have to wait until school starts in the fall to begin practicing this strategy. It works with spouses and children too!


Recommended Reading

So you've got a little extra free time this summer and want to curl up with a few good books. How about checking out some of the latest and greatest new titles for children and young adults?

Each year, thousands of children, young adults, teachers, and librarians around the United States select their favorite recently published books for the ?Choices? booklists. These lists are used in classrooms, libraries, and homes to help young readers find books they will enjoy. Below are just a few of the titles that received the highest votes.

Children's Choices
Grades K-2
Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure by Doreen Cronin
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen

Grades 3-4
Babe Ruth: Legends in Sports by Matt Christopher
Mallory vs. Max by Laurie B. Friedman

Grades 5-6
High Rhulain by Brian Jaques
Princess from Another Planet by Mindy Schanback

Teachers' Choices
Army Ants by Sandra Markle
If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty

Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo
Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude by Kevin O'Malley

Outbreak: Plagues That Changed History by Bryn Barnard
Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach

Young Adults' Choices
The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty
Nothing to Lose by Alex Flinn
Back Stage Pass by Gaby Triana
The Dragon's Son by Margaret Weis
So B. It by Sarah Weeks
Remember D-Day: The Plan, the Invasion, Survivor Stories by Ronald J. Drez


Summer Fill-In Activities

Spending summer days inside a classroom can be a challenge, especially if the permanent teacher's lesson plans run short. Here are a couple of ideas that can help fill some extra time.

Summer Poems
Use summer words such as fireworks, green grass, swimming, hot, beach, flowers, thunderstorm, rain, etc. to create acrostic poems.

                       Sunshine on my face
           Camping out Under starry skies
                       Milkshakes, malts and ice cream cones
                       Making memories with family and friends
Chasing fireflies each Evening
                       Relaxing days of summer


I Brought/I Forgot
Either as a whole class or in small groups students take turns saying one item they brought to a summer activity. Then the tables are turned and each student must come up with one item they forgot to bring. All items said must be different. If students do the activity in small groups, assign a recorder to write down what each person says and then have each group share with the rest of the class.

Teacher: I went to the beach (theme park, camping, ball game, etc.) one day and I brought . . .
Susan: sunscreen
Carlos: a towel
Evie: my surfboard
Spencer: a Frisbee
Tom: a hat
Jamal: my dog

Teacher: But I began to despair when I got there and discovered that I forgot . . .

Jamal: my swimsuit
Tom: a drink
Spencer: my watch
Evie: a book
Carlos: my cell phone
Susan: an umbrella

Teacher: Still it was a fun day at the beach!


The Substitute Teaching Institute publishes resources for substitute teachers including the Substitute Teacher Handbook, Classroom Management audio CDs, and the SubInstructore Training program. You can order these materials at the STI Web site ( or by calling 1-800-922-4693


Substitute Teaching Institute, 6516 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322


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