Dear Kid Whisperer,
My students are always coming in from recess angry at each other. Really, there are two boys in particular that cause 90% of the issues. There’s always an argument over a game or some such thing. I do read-alouds with my third graders at that time and lose tons of time most days because I’m always trying to figure out what happened and generally get to the bottom of it. We barely ever get to read at all anymore. What do I do? –Mark, Lansing, Michigan
That sounds exhausting. As a teacher, my daily read-aloud was often my favorite time of the day, and I bet it is for you, too. I bet we can also agree that playing detective with nine-year-olds is less fun.
For your students, however, watching you “get to the bottom of it” is wildly exciting, and a continuation of the drama and intrigue of recess. You are making your drama kings famous by performing a one-act mystery every day after recess. Of course, your actions are reinforcing the drama and making it worse. Here’s how I would protect my sacred read-aloud time. You can try it, too:
Kid #1: I AM JUST SAYING THAT I WATCHED TERMS OF ENDEARMENT WITH MY MOM AND WE BOTH AGREED THAT IT WAS CLEARLY THE BEST PICTURE OF 1983!!! YOU ARE BEING RIDICULOUS!
Kid #2: BUT THE BIG CHILL WAS THE FILM OF AN ENTIRE GENERATION!
Kid #1: SHIRLEY MACLAINE AND JACK NICHOLSON HAD ONCE IN A LIFETIME CHEMISTRY!
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. (Kid Whisperer beckons Kid #1 and Kid #2 over with one finger. Not that finger. With a sort of crazed, confused look, he continues.)
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. I may have to attend to this at some point. Looks like you guys need some time to calm down. Kid #1, there is a spot for you in Mrs. Johnson’s room. Kid #2, there is a spot for you in the back of our room. Both of you please come back as soon as you can be safe and calm and nice. We would love for you to come back soon.
If they come back and are 100% pleasant to each other, to you, and to every human in the room, they can stay. Success!!
If they stay gone for the rest of the day: also success!!
If they come back and are unpleasant, even for a millisecond, to anyone in the world, repeat the above process and get them gone. Don’t forget to remind them to come back when ready.
Just hit the “repeat” key if this keeps happening. In this case, these kids will learn that they can be with other pleasant humans for as many seconds as they can be pleasant themselves. Success!!
If at some point, when done instructing, you’d like to do some detective work and find out what’s happening all the way to “the bottom of it,” knock yourself out.
Dealing with your situation this way is not punitive, does not involve frustration, and calmly maintains your learning environment instead of continuing and reinforcing the drama that often happens at recess.