If you have been keeping up with my blog, you know from my previous post that I have issued myself a Ron Clark Challenge this year, one that is inspired by my visit to the Ron Clark Academy last May. In my last post, I discussed creating a culture of positivity and praise. To read about methods that I used to cultivate this type of climate in my classroom, click here.
This week I want to talk about how I have tackled one of Ron Clark’s most creative ideas – the House System. At his school, his teaching team splits up the students into four houses, very similar to those in the Harry Potter series. The results are electric! All of his students have team camaraderie, and they welcome newcomers with joy and genuine excitement. The houses create team dances each week, and they earn points to get rewards that continue exceed anything the kids could dream up on their own.
He uses a huge, hand-crafted wheel, a large Panasonic TV, and a giant slide to sort his students into the houses. Although I would love to have access to all of those neat gadgets, I don’t. Should that stop any teacher? NO WAY! I have learned how to recreate the magic of the “sorting wheel” in my own “Mrs. Bowley” style.
On the first week of school, I created a buzz around my classroom that something special was going to happen in a few days. When the day finally came for my kids to be sorted into houses, there was a lot of energy in the classroom. I got an old Halloween trick-or-treat pumpkin and filled it up with laminated slips of colored paper. I played ACDC’s “Back in Black” and Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” in the back ground and pulled out my drum to add a drumroll every time one of my students drew their house color. The kids erupted in applause after each person was sorted. I then took their picture and told them to give me their “this is the best day of my life” smile. There for four colors in the pumpkin, each representing a house.
I chose the following names for my houses:
SABIO – the BLUE house, a house of wisdom
VALEROSO – the PINK house, a house of courage
CREATIVO – the YELLOW house, a house of creativity
AMABLE – the GREEN house, a house of kindness and friendliness
To set this up, I told my students that the “sorting pumpkin” was magic. I said that somehow it knows something about each and every person that no one else sees, an inner quality that defines part of who they are. I was worried that the cheesiness of this wouldn’t go over well with 8th graders, yet I was pleasantly surprised that they actually played along. A few of them even came up to me and told me how amazed they were that the pumpkin knew so much about them. They talked about how accurate the pumpkin was in describing a quality that no one else could see. Even 8th graders still believe in a little bit of magic!
As I introduced the house system, I explained that throughout the school year, this would be their new family; it would be kind of like a sorority or fraternity. They would earn green tickets for getting excellent grades, exemplifying good character, staying on task, having their work, and many other things. Whenever a student earns a ticket, they write their name on it and put it in a jar with their house color. At the end of each quarter, I count which student has earned the most tickets for their house, and they get to each snacks and a drink in my class. The great thing about handing out tickets is that I can really positively reinforce good behavior with my students who often get in trouble or have issues turning in their work. What would be “ticket-worthy” to one student might be completely different with another student. It is my way of acknowledging that I see them and I’m paying attention to when they do something well.
At the end of each semester, I hope to have some kind of major reward. I am following in Ron Clark’s footsteps by seeing if I can possibly get something donated. I would love to take all my kids to the movies or cater a nice dinner for them – something that goes beyond the standard “pizza party”. I have learned that my parents are more than willing to help out with my hair-brained ideas, and this is something that I plan to do with a lot of their help.
My students have absolutely LOVED the house system! Every time I get a new student, I say to my class, “You know what to do!” They automatically surround the new student, and one of them explains the process of being placed into a house. The class cheers and gets excited after they draw their color. It is always a fun way to welcome newcomers!
Another activity I do with my houses is to have twitter contests. I will ask students to do things like tweeting song lyrics that are dependent clauses or tweeting images of them acting out vocabulary words. They always write a hashtag (#) with their house name after their tweet. With each contest, there is a competition to see which house has the most participants.
Are you interested in trying this in your classroom? Trust me – it is VERY do-able!!! I would love to talk to any teachers more about how incorporate ideas from Ron Clark’s The End of Molasses Classes into a regular classroom setting. As a matter of fact, the Ron Clark Academy has just started a new program where they send one of their teachers, Adam Dovico, to your school to give more one-on-one training. For more information on this program, check out www.ronclarkacademy.com.
Let’s keep the conversation going! Please email me at Lindsay.firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned for my next post – how to transform your classroom with larger-than-life theme days.