Sunday, February 27, 2011

Classroom Management: Engagement, Procedures, and Respect (#14inFeb)

Handshakephoto © 2008 Jeff McNeill | more info (via: Wylio)
While I was at NTCamp in Burlington, MA yesterday, I led a conversation about classroom management. In a blog post yesterday, I mentioned that “I framed the initial part of the discussion with the following three words: engagement, procedures, and respect.“ These are certainly not my own, original ideas. Nor were these ideas profoundly new for the group. 

There is so much written on classroom management that I will say only a little here. I am a devotee of the Wongs’ The First day of School. While it presents as applicable to elementary school, I know that many of the ideas work in any grade. My two favorite ideas from the book are about seat work and procedures.

Seat work, bell work, DO NOW, Primetime…whatever you choose to call it, it helps. The simple idea is that there is an assignment written on the board that the students are to begin as soon as they walk into the room. It needs to be something simple that can be done with no explanation. I used Primetime either to recall the previous day’s main idea or to prime the pumps for the new activity. I often had students write a few sentences in the style of short answer/open response test questions (in Massachusetts, the Open Response questions on the state test are universally the lowest scoring questions). Sometimes, I counted the Primetime for a quiz grade, but usually it was written directly into the Student Notebook (actually the ISN, Interactive Student Notebook from History Alive! but more on that in the future).

The Wongs also taught me to be explicit about procedures. I took to this like a duck to water. I love to create systems and plan things out. So, I  set about making a list of every student procedure that I would teach over the course of the school year. Most, I taught in the first few days and weeks of the school year. Some I waited to teach until needed. Almost all of the procedures required period re-teaching. When I work with a teacher who is struggling with classroom management, I almost always notice that the teacher does not have a consistent, easy way to quiet the room. So simple to fix. The quieting signal can be almost anything. The trick is to be explicit with the students about what the signal is for and exactly what they should do when they see or hear it (I recommend the signal be multi-modal). Then, use that signal and nothing else - ever.

Finally, I also want to mention a classroom management practice that I learned at a History Alive training: shake each student’s hand on the way into class. Recently I read somewhere about a teacher who looks each student in the eye on their way in. Either way, or some other, the personal check-in with each student can often head off a difficult class. Totally worth the time it takes. Also, principals love that teachers are then in the hall during passing time.

There is much more to good classroom management, but these are the ideas that I start with when I work with a teacher who needs help.

Please offer your own favorite classroom management tips in the comments.