Taunton middle schools reinforce good behavior with tickets

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TAUNTON, MASS. (AP) >> In between a poetry lesson on Paul Revere's ride in Nora Sweeney's Grade 5 class, the vocabulary and grammar lessons in Lori Nixon's Grade 6 class and learning about Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and the Civil Rights movement in Christine Dever's Grade 7 English Language Arts class, red paper tickets are left on students' desks in each classroom.

Not just left, but placed, purposefully, as part of a new program at each of the city's three middle schools.

The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is a new initiative this school year at John F. Parker, Benjamin A. Friedman and Joseph H. Martin middle schools. It is used across the country in school districts to promote student achievement by improving the school's behavioral climate, according to the nonprofit May Institute, an education consulting firm.

"The program is a way to recognize the positive as opposed to the negative," said Parker Middle School Assistant Principal Jaimie Pereira.

It's a subtle reinforcement of good behavior that students can model and inculcate.

Grade 7 English teacher Christine Dever's school is a coach for other Parker teachers in implementing PBIS. As such, it's a peer-to-peer coaching and not a top-down administrative directive.

Teaching middle school students may be more of a challenge than some teachers choose to bear. For Dever, it remains the right, and best, fit for her. She's been teaching at Parker for 12 years. For some teachers, middle school students' can push too many personal or professional buttons and be a greater classroom challenge. Not so for Dever.

She thought she wanted to teach English in high school. Yet when an opportunity opened up teaching older students after she taught middle schoolers, she knew she wanted to stay at Parker.

"I love the transient space the kids are in," Dever said. "They are very honest creatures and they're really bad liars."

In visits to three different classrooms at Parker, students save the red tickets in their book bags, pencil cases or pockets. The tickets are a visible reminder of a behavior or gesture for which they're being recognized. For coming into class quietly, sitting down, opening up notebooks and being ready to work, a student receives a red ticket. Several other red tickets are handed out to different students across the room, as in Dever's, Nixon's and Sweeney's classroom.

"It says a lot about how the staff has bought in and made it real," Pereira said of the initiative. "You have to really live it in your building for it to be effective."

Bolstering the PBIS program at Parker are the expectations set before students, and by extension, staff.

At the entrance to the school where 450 students attend classes, a poster reminds all who enter to be: Safe. Responsible. Respectful.

In every classroom, there's a copy of this poster.

"Your rewards come from aligning with those expectations," Dever said.

It's not a scripted program, as website pbis.org notes. Each community or school district makes the decision to make it their own.

The red tickets look like tickets sold for informal auctions at fundraisers. All the tickets are stamped, identifying the school with its own icon.

Placing the tickets on a student's desk or handing a ticket to a student being rewarded or recognized does not break the pace of classroom instruction. That's one visible quality of the program.

A second is that in these three classrooms, no student gloated over another's reward, nor did the recipient boast as well.

The focus remained on classroom instruction. With a third of the school year completed, students and teachers continue to work their way through the curriculum.

"Kids love to be recognized for the wonderful things that they do, Dever said.

Rewarding positive behavior works better than pinpointing negative actions.

The goal, at Parker, is to create a safe and comfortable place for the students, "where they can take risks and be willing to let their guard down and learn," Pereira said.

Inside Dever's room, the students break into small groups to review their observations of the MLK Jr. documentary. Annika Lewis, T'Naveha Gern, and Ashiyana Brown discuss among themselves King's life. Each girl is 13.

"He took a stand," Gern said.

"He grew up in that same world but for some reason, he didn't discriminate," said Brown.

In Nixon's ELA class, Nixon is sitting at the front of the class, writing on an overhead projector's surface. Her students follow her presentation of verb tenses, as teacher Malwan "Doc" Hammond walks around the room, guiding students. Teaching assistant Gail Oakley works with other students. This Grade 6 classroom is one of inclusivity. It is impossible to tell what students need the extra help as the three adults help guide the day's lesson.

Red tickets are handed out to some students, as the class learns about the "schwa" sound of words displayed on the overhead screen.

In Sweeney's classroom, the fifth graders work their way through making sense of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's, "Paul Revere's Ride."

Students pair up, per Sweeney's instruction, so that one person can read aloud and the other translate into modern language what a poem's stanza means.

Angelina Rebelo, 10, and Ellivia Andrew, also 10, work together, studying the book's illustrations alongside the poem.

Red tickets are handed out in this classroom as well. Students work as Sweeney directs the classroom.

The skills of the teachers, the attentiveness of the students, the red tickets; all combine to demonstrate how PBIS is working at Parker.

"It's the ownership of what it looks like," Pereira said, "we work better with direction."

For the split second that the red ticket is handed out, students tuck them away. Students can use the tickets at the school store, where a certain number of tickets bring purchasing power. At least one student wrote her name on the ticket, further claiming it as her own.

And in that moment of writing, it's a reinforcement of what the student did to earn the ticket.

"To be reflective, that's how you change your own behavior," Dever said.

Information from: Taunton Daily Gazette, http://www.tauntongazette.com


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