I tried something new this year. I wanted to get students talking to each other right away and so when trolling the internet. I found this blog post by Sandy Merz called Teaching Secrets: Getting to Know Students Through Seating Challenges. I was hooked!
The moment students walked into my class on the first day they saw these directions: Sit in your birthday order…. I didn’t say a word, just smiled and pointed. Just as Sandy suggested, student “true colors” presented themselves immediately. Some classes got in order really quickly but others took “for ever.” I then had them take on roles in their table groups. Lots of chatter and fun.
On the second day, I repeated the process with a new seating task: Line up in alphabetical order by the name you like to be called. Some students rolled their eyes but got involved. The strategies used to line up were unique to each class. Some classes were really efficient and others continued to use inefficient strategies….so we talked about how to work together more efficiently.
On the third day (which was Friday), there was a slight twist….I met them at the door with the directions including no talking while completing the task. Their task was to line up in order by height.
What was so great was that on Friday’s exit ticket which asked students to share a High and Low for the first week, almost every student wrote that they REALLY enjoyed the getting to know you activities and that they were glad that they had met so many classmates during the first week. This is a winning strategy in my book!
What did you do the first week that a promoted positive, collaborative classroom environment?
This post is my contribution to this week’s #MTBoS Sunday Funday challenge: Classroom Management. I wouldn’t call it a “challenge” but rather an “invitation to blog” every week on a pre-selected topic. You then submit your blog post using this Google Form. On Sunday, Julie @jreulbach will post the week’s list of amazing blogs to go read! I can’t wait to read all of the goodness my peers have to offer!!
This week’s challenge is “Classroom Mangagement.” This stymied me because I have awesome kiddos every year, and the “typical” management issues just aren’t in my room. Not bragging except about how amazing my students are….they are in my room to learn, to experience new things and to have fun!
As I reflect, thought, I do believe these three things are critical for a smooth running classroom: be organized, be positive and authentic, keep students cognitively engaged. I find if my students understand expectations, feel safe, and have engaging experiences, the management issues usually don’t arise. So I’ll share some of my “management” strategies with you.
Know where you are going – so your kids will follow
I use an Excel spreadsheet to map out the year for each course. I used to use paper copies of this, but now I’ve gone electronic; easier to copy from year to year, easy to edit and easy to share with course colleagues. I can also color code….just love the colors! I love to plan out my year in detail (with the mental permission to change at will – you know, when a great idea shows up on a blog or Twitter or Pinterest or wherever) so I know I’ve got time for critical content and engagement activities. I used to hate when teachers took their time early in the year but then crammed so much in the last 3 weeks of a semester “because we got behind.” I purposely budget a couple of blank days later in each semester as “buffers” for unanticipated time needs.
Know what you want your kids to know, so they can show you.
I have learning targets for my course posted on my daily agendas (more info below) but after reading about #SBG and various blogs by @druinok, @mathequalslove, @samshah, @lisa_tilmon, among others, I decided to create ones I can share at the beginning of the year with students:
Share daily agendas
I learned this early in my career. If I I had a daily plan but didn’t share it with my students, we more often than not got derailed. Let students in on your plans for the day. We use a Learning Management System (LMS) at our school called Schoology, so I post the week’s agendas by Monday. One of the nice things is shared agendas actually build buy in; we all know what the learning and experiences for the day and work towards completing it. However, I also make adjustment right in front of the class if the agenda was too ambitious or an unexpected event (sing happy birthday, important school-wide announcement, xerox machine crashed, etc.) caused a loss of time. And the agendas are based on student feedback (see below for exit slips information). Attached to the agenda for the day are the required materials in electronic form; student simply download to Notability or Evernote. A great spin-off is that as students become accustomed to the procedure, when they are absent, they still check the daily agendas for what happened in class; they know it is the most up-to-date account of the class experience.
Be Positive and Authentic
Know how you want the classroom to run, so kids can embrace your vision
This is so, so important! Spend time thinking and envisioning what you truly want your classroom environment to look like, to sound like, and to be. It is important that you have a clear and solid vision so you can communicate to your charges through your words, actions, learning experiences and expectations. Remember, some of your students may never have experienced what you believe are characteristics of a perfect classroom environment. So dream away, read a lot and write it down. Be willing to try things, give yourself permission to make mistakes, listen to your students. Be careful, thought! Your classroom MUST FIT YOUR PERSONALITY not your classroom neighbor, your mentor teacher, your favorite blog author or whomever. Then, condense your vision into succinct words/phrases that embody your vision. Finally, think about how to foster those ideals in your classroom.
Know how your kids are doing, so let them tell you
Students need a way to voice how they are doing in class. Be aware, if you do this well, as students feel safe in your classroom, they will give you unsolicited feedback. This is really good (and a bit scary) so you need to be flexible and willing to listen and respond in an authentic way while also honoring what is important to you. Tricky stuff.
I use daily exit slips to take the pulse of my students’ academic, emotional and physical well-being. There are many places to collect great question and unique ways to elicit authentic feedback. Research supports that giving students time and space to reflect and self-assess their progress is a critical part of the learning. Eventually, you will be able to read your classes and create prompts that really work for them.
This year I plan to use the learning targets more purposefully. In the table folders (more next week), students will track for me where they believe they are in attaining the learning targets for the unit: NY = Not Yet, P = Proficient, M = Mastered. Each student will self-assess/communicate daily progress on the various critical learning targets for the unit.I will see these every day and this will also help me make timely adjustment to instruction and experiences.
Keep Students Cognitively Engaged
Openers/Bell Ringers/Starters…or whatever you call them!
There are so many ways to begin class, but my students know that they are to work on a task as soon as they walk in the door. The class procedure is to open your iPad, pull up the agenda and begin the Opener. To help students initially embrace this procedure, I use blatant bribery to reward those who get right to it. I covertly lay a piece of penny candy next students who immediately follow these three steps. Students in the group who don’t get the candy start asking immediately why they didn’t get one. I simply say, “you can figure it out,” and they usually do (or their peers fill them in). If, in good conscience, you can’t give students candy, find some other low stakes reward: raisins, pack of carrots, stickers.
My openers do one of three main things for the day:
- Recall yesterday’s learnings to gauge level of understanding
- Review foundational skills/concepts for today’s experiences,
- Set up today’s lesson with an exploration or data collection opportunity
Use Table Groups
My students are in table groups of 4 for most days (except assessment times) and this strategy is one of the most efficient yet effective management strategy I employ. I use group roles (team captain, facilitator, reporter, resource manager) and found the roles help with behavior management and student accountability too. I couldn’t imagine my class without the table group benefits of student talk, shared supplies, and peer support. There is so much information and support ideas on the web about using table groups! Just begin exploring.
By having students in groups it is very easy to use active engagement experiences because students are already used to working together. I use things like Desmos or Geogebra explorations, 15 minute posters and gallery walks, Musical chairs practice, Review Stations, etc. to use the power of group collaboration and problem-solving.
I didn’t expect this post to go on so long! And I have so much more to say!!! But maybe for a post later this year.
What are some management strategies you use that you couldn’t live without in your classroom? Would love to hear from you!
Well, here we are! Today’s the day for my kiddos to shine. Although few students popped in this morning for last minute help (that’s a good thing, right?) they seemed a little nervous at the start of the period, so I offered them a smile and a pat on the back at any time during the exam….some took me up on it at the end of the test…so made me smile!!
I wish I was more organized outside of school so that I would bake some pi sugar cookies (I think I have a pi-cookie cutter somewhere). What do you do to help your students relax prior to and during an assessment?