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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Turn Around a Negative Lesson

Sometimes lessons get off on the wrong foot. One (or more) student is dysregulated and gets into a power struggle with you. They just came from PE and the half of the class that lost the dodgeball game is mad about losing, and the other half is mad that the other half is mad. Whatever the reason, it can be hard to save a lesson once it has gone south, but I have found there are ways to "reset" a lesson to get things back on track that have worked well for me on many occasions. 

The goal when things take a bad turn is always to reset, to get everyone to feel positive and motivated to try again. I remember when I was a new teacher, I would try so hard to encourage a class that had started off on the wrong foot to turn things around by verbally telling them they could do it, and most of the time that did NOT work when things were truly bad! When you and/or your students are stuck in a mindset that "today is a bad day", it's almost impossible to pull yourself out just by telling yourself to. These tricks help get everyone out of that rut and get the class moving in a positive direction so you can build momentum.

1. Simple Compliance Tasks

This is particularly helpful when there has been a power struggle, or the whole class is in a funk and does not want to do anything you are asking them to do. Pick a very basic simple task that everyone can do: for me, I use my established hand signals to get the whole class to stand up, sit down, and sit up (yet another reason you should really do these hand signals with your classes if you aren't already!). If there is one student who is in a particular funk and can't even manage to stand up with everyone when you give the signal, ask them to sit out and take some space to gather their thoughts. Then get everyone standing up and sitting together on cue, pointing out the people who do it the fastest and the quietest. Suddenly everyone is doing a thing together, and focused on it! I reinforce once everyone is doing it together, then quickly move to some other simple musical task, like echoing my 4-beat body percussion rhythms or moving with the steady beat of some music I turn on, and give them a letter in our whole class behavior management system to reinforce it some more. I gush over how awesome that was and remind myself to smile and be truly excited about getting everyone on board, and that's usually all the push we need to get us back on track. The trick is we all need to prove to ourselves that we can do something positive and productive, and then we can do more!

2. Magic Count

This is really more for younger grades but I've used modified versions with older students too: I tell them they are being weird and this isn't going to work so we need to start over, then I tell them I'm doing a magic count to make them go back to normal, turn away from the class, cover my eyes, and count down from 5. For K-2 this usually does the trick and it's an easy way to let them know it's OK, they can start over.

3. Write it Down

If there are specific students who are clearly upset, either at another student, about a situation, or some unknown reason, I ask them to write down what they are upset about on a sticky note to give to me. This gives them a way to address the situation without taking time away from the lesson or sucking the energy out of the room, gives them an opportunity to process what they are feeling as well. The key with this is my follow-through: students are only willing to continue to use this as a communication and problem-solving tool if they believe I will act on what they tell me. You can read more about this strategy in this post.

4. Focus on the Positives

You may not be able to get everyone back on track right away but there are almost always a few who are eager to get on board immediately- focus on them and teach to them! I make sure to give dojo points, our schoolwide positive reinforcement platform, to individual students who jump on board when I am trying to turn the tide of the class and make a big deal about it to everyone. I even go and stand closer to those students and look just at them to keep me focused on their energy. Students get the message pretty quickly and, most importantly, it helps ME focus on the positive energy and feed off of that instead of focusing on the negative. 

What do you do to turn the ship around when a lesson starts poorly or takes a negative turn? I'm not saying these strategies are a magic cure that works 100% of the time, but they have been very effective for me in many situations and in most cases, work well to turn things around. 

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