December 29, 2013

Accountability Buddies

So I'm going to take a departure from my usual literacy rantings today and talk about something that I've tried in my 8th grade Language Arts classroom that has ultimately been extremely successful with my students.  The idea for this concept came to me as I was participating in a leadership training that I blogged about here:  Advanced Leadership Training Blog Post.  Although this training was about me finding strength within myself to do great things, part of the process was selecting a buddy who we ultimately held accountable to be on time, get our assignments done, check in with, etc. throughout the week.  At first I found the idea to be a little ridiculous; I consider myself an independent, self-sufficient person.  To make matters a bit more uncomfortable, we had to select a person we didn't identify with or have a previous connection with.  Even though I didn't go into the buddy selection process with high hopes, I left the training with a newfound appreciation for what I could do for myself and others when someone was right there with me, holding me accountable.  It's one thing to let yourself down; it's a whole different deal when you let someone else down.  My buddy who was a complete stranger going into the week is now someone who I can call, text, or e-mail at a moment's notice to hold me accountable for achieving the goals that I set for myself.  Even though she lives in Colorado and I live in Wisconsin, having someone there to push me has made a huge impact on my life.

I have brought that concept back into my personal life by deciding to stop trying to begin a work out regiment by myself.  I always seem to start strong and then fade away.  Instead, when I got back, I lined up a plan with my friend to work out five mornings a week before school.  It takes extra commitment to line up work outs with someone else, but the success that I have achieved already by enlisting a work out partner to hold me accountable has multiplied.  Now I have one of those minds that is ALWAYS churning....sometimes I'm not sure if it is a gift or a curse, but while I was on a run one day, the idea occurred to me of transferring the accountability concept into my own classroom.  Once the idea came to me, I couldn't push it away; it just made so much sense.  My 8th grade students are so concerned about what others around them think about them, I was sure that having an accountability buddy would make my students more responsible within my classroom.

How I Implemented Accountability Buddies:

1.  I sat students down in a circle of chairs so everyone could see one another and explained that we were going to try something that may make them think that I had lost my mind.  I told them they would each be selecting an accountability buddy who would become their table partner, their "turn and talk" person, someone who checks to make sure they have written each day's assignment in their assignment notebook, all their materials are out and ready for class, their behavior is where it is supposed to be throughout the class period, etc.  The other big factor in that when things don't go right for someone in that class, their accountability partner may be part of that conversation with me when it comes to formulating a plan with that student about how they could turn things around behaviorally or academically.   A million things were circulating through their minds, and I could see them beginning to make eye contact with their closest friend in class, silently signaling, "We're going to be buddies, right?"  WRONG!  That's when I threw them for their next loop.

2.  I asked everyone to stand up and look at their classmates.  It was now time for us to select our buddies.  The rules for buddy selection were simple:
1.  Girls select girls, boys select boys for buddies.
2.  The person you select must be someone who is not your close friend.
3.  Take a risk with who you select.
4.  The class will "buzz" you if we feel that your buddy selection doesn't meet the above criteria.

3.  I then strategically called out names of students in the class, alternating between boys and girls, selecting class leaders who I felt would take a huge risk in the selection of their buddies.  They did not let me down.  I couldn't have matched them together better if I tried, and we only had to "buzz" one selection.

4.  As buddy pairs were put together, I allowed each pair to pick a table within the room where they felt would be the most responsible place for them to sit.  Buddies shared a table.  Once again, I could not have configured a better seating chart if I tried.

5.  Once the buddy pairs were selected and seated, I took extra time the first couple of days to allow time at the beginning and end of class for students to check in with their buddies and talk during the "turn and talk" and "share" portions of the minilesson.  In addition, I had students fill out goal sheets in relation to their reading, writing, responsibility, and classroom behavior and had students share these goal sheets with their buddies so that their goals were clear, and they could be held accountable for these goals.  To download this goal chart, click this link: Accountability Buddy Goal Sheet

Positive Effects from Accountability Buddies:

1.  Students talking with students who are outside of their regular social group.  It seemed to unify my whole class as one and eliminate the little cliques within my class that I had noticed throughout the year.  It truly warms my heart to see students being nice to one another and encouraging someone who they never even looked at or talked to prior to this.  For some of my students with low self-esteem who didn't seem to connect with anyone in class, I have seen class participation and just overall happiness during my class improve.

2.  Behavior changed dramatically.  My largest behavior problem was paired with a model student who is also a very fun and down-to-earth student.  Through his subtle cues as the behavior began versus me having to address behavior constantly in front of the whole class; it made a dramatic difference.  Also, talking in general (which usually makes you want to pull your hair out in an 8th grade class) diminished as well.  I attribute this to students reminding each other to stop talking versus me having to constantly be asking students to stop talking, as well as the fact that their accountability buddy isn't their best friend; they're someone who they have a relationship with for a purpose in my classroom.

3.  Homework completion and in-class work completion improved.  Many things go through a middle school mind throughout the day; by allowing that time at the beginning and end of class for students to check-in with their buddy and check to make sure they're writing down homework reminders, my habitual missing work students began turning in more work.  Also, having conferences with buddy pairs when only one student is missing their work seemed to be the extra push that many students needed to get their homework done and not let their buddy, or themselves down.  The amount of students receiving a grade of a "D" or lower went from four during Quarter One to one during Quarter Two.

4.  I've alluded to this in the two previous positive effects, but the self-regulation of student behavior is probably the biggest thing that sticks out to me.  I spent so much of my time previous to this checking on missing work, giving verbal behavior reminders, etc.  I now have students doing this on their own, being self-sufficient middle school students who are taking steps in developing intrinsic motivation.

5.  It brings humor and community to the classroom.  My ideal classroom environment is one that is incredibly structured with routines and common expectations for all.  Within that, however, I want students to feel comfortable, laugh, enjoy, and have fun.  I have found that without the structure and expectations, the "fun" part that I also desire within my classroom becomes chaos and is not a desirable learning environment for anyone.  I have also found that being super, super structured without any fun feels like you're working in a prison.  Using accountability buddies has created that perfect in between for me in my classroom.

I created the poster below for my students with pictures of their buddy pairs and quotes that we discussed about accountability and leadership focused on how leaders hold each other accountable with high expectations.




23 comments :

  1. Hi Kasey!
    I'm a fifth grade language arts teacher. I just sent a copy of your post to my teammates and I'm hoping we can adapt your idea to work with our friends! I love your blog!
    Kimberley

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    1. Hi Kimberley,

      Thanks so much for reading my blog! It's awesome to hear that people love to read it! I hope that some of these ideas will help out your 5th grade team. Let me know what you end up doing and how it goes!

      Kasey

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  2. How were the partners chosen?

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    1. Hi Anonymous, I just thought I'd chime in here, they are chosen as stated here in step #2: "I asked everyone to stand up and look at their classmates. It was now time for us to select our buddies. The rules for buddy selection were simple:
      1. Girls select girls, boys select boys for buddies.
      2. The person you select must be someone who is not your close friend.
      3. Take a risk with who you select.
      4. The class will "buzz" you if we feel that your buddy selection doesn't meet the above criteria."

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    2. Thanks for answering the question! :) Partner selection is definitely one of the key parts. It's important that students are with someone who is not their best friend!

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  3. HI Kasey!
    This post makes me miss teaching middle school SOO much! I'm now a literacy coach in an elementary school, and while I'm learning a lot, I can totally see myself using this first day back if I had my own classroom. I'm going to forward it on to some of my middle school teachers and share - what a great idea!
    So glad you had a great holiday!
    Michelle
    BigTime Literacy

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    1. Hey Michelle,

      I'm sorry that I caused you to miss those darn, crazy middle schoolers! I can totally relate to you missing the days of regular classroom teaching. I love being a literacy coach, but this year has definitely been so much better having one section of my own students and still doing the literacy coach thing. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Thanks for passing on the idea to your old middle school folk! I hope they can use parts of it! I hope that you are having a fabulous vacation so far! Thanks for your comments!

      Kasey

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  4. THANK YOU!!! I've been trying to figure out how to have my students assist each other using their strengths and develop/work on their weaknesses.

    My plan is to use the first couple of weeks back at school to better themselves, set their resolutions and then make a plan to work on them.

    Once again, thank you!

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    1. You're welcome! I'm so happy that my idea will be helpful to you in your classroom. What an awesome idea to couple this with students' New Year's Resolutions! Let me know how it goes!

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  5. I love this idea, but I have a few questions. I teach 9th grade but it's been such a hard adjustment for some that I think this would be very effective. 1) how do you deal with buddies that still turn work in late or not at all, don't come to class prepared, or act out or disrupt? Are both students penalized? 2) do you have parents complain about this? I have 6 different periods so I don't really hold students after class and our school doesn't do detention. However, I do give daily participation points, so I thought I could factor this is somehow.

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    1. Hi Misty,

      I think this would be a fabulous idea for 9th grade as well, especially with the transition into high school that is difficult for many! To answer your first question, both students aren't penalized, but I would talk with both of them together to formulate a plan about late work or coming to class unprepared to see if they have ideas of how they could remind each other or keep each other on task. Also realize that there will be a student or two where their buddy is not going to be able to "fix" them, but I do think this is effective for 95% of the class if that makes sense. I have never had a parent complaint about this. In fact, many parents have expressed their support of this system, especially students who are high achieving because they have seen it increase their leadership capacity. I think that concept of sitting down with buddy pairs and having conversation when something isn't going well is so powerful, so if there's any time for you to work this into your class period or right after class if something comes up, I wouldn't hesitate to do that!

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  6. Thank you so much! Hopefully we'll get back to school soon and I can put this into action.

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  7. Thank you so much for this post! I'm currently student teaching in a second grade classroom, and my next placement is in fourth grade. I think, with the help of my mentor teacher, I might be able to adapt this to work with my second graders. :)

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    1. I'm so glad that you're able to find some tips in here that will help you adapt this idea with younger students! :) Have fun and let me know how it goes!

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  8. I think your intentions are pure, but can't agree with your method. Yes, I can understand assigning a buddy that encourages and helps solve problems, etc. but homework/behavior should be the sole responsibility of each student. If a student doesn't follow through on completing it and/or correcting a behavior, the teacher should hold that student responsible, as well as stepping up to provide guidance, not a fellow student. How stressful shared-responsibility must be for your on-the-ball students...

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    1. I don't disagree with anything that you're saying. Having written this post several months ago, I can say that reflecting back to how I started accountability buddies to how I'm doing them now is slightly different. Like any reflective teacher would do, I have adjusted based on what I saw not working and kept the things that did. Accountability buddies are ultimately teaching students to develop intrinsic motivation and be responsible for themselves. Any teaching evaluation rubric would describe a distinguished teacher as one who creates a classroom that runs itself where students take responsibility of their learning and behavior to be leaders in the classroom, not a teacher who runs around constantly putting out fires, leaving little time to actually work with students on learning. Accountability buddies have allowed me to work with students in small groups and individually on their reading and writing during independent work time. I truly think this is because accountability buddies have created a community of learners who take more ownership of their individual actions and are more aware of how their actions affect the learning of others.

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  9. Can you explain a little about how you use the goal form? Thanks!

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    1. Hi! The buddy goal sheet is all about students thinking about their current behavior and rating it and thinking about what they want their behavior to be and rating it so that they're able to set goals and discuss with their buddy where they need support in being held accountable.

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  10. Hi Michelle,

    I am wondering if you contacted the parents to let them know this would be starting? or to introduce this program at all?

    Thanks!

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    1. I did send a letter home/e-mail through Skyward with the same information. I also had conversations with parents about it at PT conferences.

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  11. Hi Kasey! Would you consider having your students sign up for an accountability community, like Habit Academy or HabitRPG?

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    1. Hi David! I'm not familiar with either of these options, but they sounds very interesting! I'd love to check into them. Thank you so much for bringing a new idea forward!

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