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April 10, 2009

Criss Cross Applesauce

If you teach preschool, you have most likely heard this before: "My Mom told me, if somebody hits you, hit them back."
As a teacher, my first response is, "We are at school and we have to follow school rules." This will work most of the time, but this has not helped the student who did the hitting learn not to hit. So we conference and usually work it out, at least for that day.

Then, I ask myself, "Who are these rules serving?" They arn't serving the parent. What if the student is repeatedly hit and the teacher doesn't address the issue with the the hitter? Is the rule then serving the child who hits instead of the one who gets hit? We hope our class rules are serving the students, but what if they are really serving the teacher?

This example won't fit into that framework, but let's try another example.

When I start teaching on the carpet I use the "Criss Cross" song to get the class focused on learning and in their personal space. "Criss Cross, Applesauce, Hands in your lap!" Then within the first 30 seconds after I start, a kid or two will flop out on the floor, but they are still attending. Then a student who is not listening flops down on the floor. What do I do? Well the norm in this situation is reinforced by the question, "How do we sit on our shapes?" The class answers, "Criss Cross Applesauce. Hands in your laps!" Order is reestablished by the repetition of the "classroom norm." The class readjusts, the learning continues (for a while). However, it is actually okay to lay out on the floor as long as you are learning in my class. What isn't okay is distracting others or not attending yourself. So who is the "Criss Cross" rule really serving? I think it is serving me. Does that make it wrong to have this as one of the stated norms of my classroom? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe the rule should be, "Criss Cross or not, Look like you're learning a lot!" So how and why, as educators, do we establish our classroom norms? When are they for us and when are they for the kids?

I posted a blog a week ago about classroom discipline. So far, we have had 21 respondents. As of today, 57% have stated they use Time Out in their school or home, and 43% don't. Definitely not a statistically representative sample, but a great start. I am not trying to make this any easier though. I am convinced that there is more than one right answer to any question about a classroom practice especially when it comes to discipline. I haven't found my answer yet. Often, how right an answer is can be influenced by outside factors, like a student or teacher's home culture. What might be the most important question we should ask ourselves is, "Whom is a classroom rule or consequence serving?" Should the teacher's norms be the most important norms in the classroom or should the culture of students guide classroom norms? And what makes a consequence effective? Is it the managing or extinguishing of undesirable behaviors? All behavior is communication. If a student wants attention and expresses that in an inappropriate way, is redirection the best way to extinguish that attention getting behavior? Needless to say, please let us know how you feel and leave us a comment and participate in our poll.


Geez, John/Jonah - Do you really want me to comment on EVERYTHING I COULD about this topic?? : ) Ben, with autism, fully included in the 4th Grade regular ed class fulltime (no pull-out), with appropriate supports that not only benefit him, but the rest of the class (his aide facilitates small group learning, supports the classroom teacher in SO many ways, creates study guides - using Kidspiration 3 - for Ben that can be used by the whole class, etc.)... the way Ben has become a learning experience to his class, teachers, and school, is your case in point for not only accepting, but celebrating and exploring the needs and learning potential in all students. Criss Cross Applesauce should be just ONE of the menu choices in a classroom of hungry learners. : )


Great question: who do our rules serve? I really try to make sure my rules makes sense to students and to the situation. Rules should really be there to ensure the safety of all students and justice in the classroom. Sometimes rules are there to save time, and are more procedures than rules. But maybe we should be taking more time with kids to determine the value of the procedure. I teach middle school, and students can be as good at creating or improving procedures as they are at rebelling against them! I think the challenge is finding the right balance between giving students a voice in creating classroom culture and policy, and having enough structure and firm limits so that students feel safe and cared for.

At our school we let the victim of hitting tell the hitter whether or not it was liked, partly as a way to teach the victim to take some power and partly as a way for the hitter to see how it affected the other person. Sometimes, it turns out that it's part of some game, and it's ok. Then we step back. If it's not a game we work with the hitter to see some of the consequences (such as, no one wants to play with him, or he didn't get what he wanted after all because an adult intervened). We give him or her words to use to get what's wanted in a more appropriate manner. If necessary we sit with that person awhile until they think they are ready to play without hitting. The rule, essentially, is "no hurting," not "no hitting." Hurting doesn't have to be physical, either.

And at our school I don't think I've ever heard anyone but subs use "criss cross applesauce" for the reasons you state. If someone's paying attention let them be in whatever body shape helps them. If they aren't paying attention but not being disruptive, is it that important? Some part of that little brain is attending, believe me. We do make it clear that disruption is not permitted, but I always let kids who don't want to join circle play quietly or have a squishy ball or book to hold while the rest of us are a group. Even if they aren't with us they're hearing what's going on. Usually those kids who are across the room during circle are the ones who can tell you exactly what stories and fingerplays we did or what we talked about.

Patti, Thanks for your comment. I teach a 4-5 year old Head Start class in the inner city. I have 19 children with myself and my assistant. I think your point about students who are away from the "action" can sometimes learn more than those in the thick of it is part of my question? Who does it serve for us have rules and consequences?

Ariel, Thanks for your comment, especially this one " I think the challenge is finding the right balance between giving students a voice in creating classroom culture and policy, and having enough structure and firm limits so that students feel safe and cared for."

That feeling safe and cared for is a huge issue for me about why I am struggling with issues like consequences in my classroom. I can see that for 3 year old to feel safe they need to feel like they can walk across the room and find something else to do but, i also think many of my at-risk students want to know that I won't let them get away with misbehavior. The caring is in saying no instead of not saying anything.

Kim, Great to hear from you. I totally see your point about supporting all learners. I remember Ben and his ways well. He was always able to appreciate and participate in whatever we did while we were cheering on your triathlon moms. I think we can and should use "appropriate supports that not only benefit him, but the rest of the class."

To me this a struggle between the normative functions of school (teaching participation in our society) and the nurturing functions of school (allowing everyone to be who they are in their own way.) But, there is a caveat to the second part, that is "as long as they are learning." If supports for students actually detract from their learning should we continue to use them?

Your post reminds me very much of Alfie Kohn's philosophy in Unconditional Parenting. It's much harder to ask ourselves these questions, but in the end, so worth it.

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