Archive for the ‘Classroom Management’ Category

Classroom Management: The Hunt for a Toolbox

Monday, September 10th, 2012

When I first started teaching, how each day went depended a lot on how benevolent my students were feeling. It is embarrassing to admit that. It’s not as though I didn’t know a lot about classroom management; I just didn’t know how to make it work yet. The weeks went on and I learned every day, but I still had a few students who just had a lot of energy. You know, the ones who hate sitting down at all, who you check in with before class starts so when they need them, they will have that pencil and paper ready, rather than lurking at the bottom of their backpacks under missed assignments that are slowly being turned into pulp with the help of an old banana.

Often these kids had really great attitudes, and most days I was able to keep everyone on task using my limited mental toolbox of classroom management strategies. But there were days, usually days when something different was happening, like rain or a modified bell schedule, when my class was straining at the seams, led by these special, energetic students. I could feel the moment when things started to go downhill, when productive energy got that wild note and I knew it was going to be a long day.

Then one day, a student came into my classroom asking if I had the red toolbox.

“What?” I asked in utter confusion.

“The red toolbox. Mr. V said you might have it,” the kid answered helpfully.

I knew I didn’t have any red toolbox, but since the kid was already there, I looked through any closet or drawer where a toolbox could be hiding. Had there been after-hours repairs on my classroom? Finally, I had to turn him away.

“That’s okay, he said it might be Mrs. L who has it. He couldn’t remember.”

Hmmm.

At lunch, I got the scoop. The red toolbox is the trick that drains that little bit of extra energy while you get the rest of your class back on track. You simply write a hall pass for a student, before anything negative happens but after you see what direction things are heading, and your very energetic student rushes off to do you an important favor. Teachers in the know will look for the box, then suddenly remember that a certain teacher on the other side of the school might have borrowed it. This has to be done carefully, or students can spend forty-five minutes wandering around looking for the red toolbox. It is important to find out where students have already looked, and if you think they’ve been out of class for more than a few minutes, it might be time to say, “Sorry. I just can’t remember who has it. You’d better get back to class.”

In this age of bell-to-bell teaching, I imagine this isn’t a popular strategy for everyone. The idea is that you keep the students exposed to content whether they’re able to participate meaningfully right then or not, right? I say, let them stretch their legs for five minutes and come back feeling good about themselves for helping and ready to learn.

The Flipped Classroom

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

I am starting to see lots of information about the “flipped classroom.”  This has grown out of the Kahn model, which was talked about at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference.  Here’s a link to learn more about TED and the Flipped Classroom.

It is the type of thing that I start to wonder about when it comes to education.  While in theory it works really well, it raises a whole host of questions.  Here are some that I have:

  • How much time does it take to prepare the videos that kids need to watch?
  • Does this span every grade level?  Or where should you start with this model?
  • What if there is no computer in the student’s home to watch?
  • How do you deal with the student who hasn’t bothered to do the homework?  (This is an age-old question, but I wonder how this works.)
  • What goes into the video?  It is just a teacher talking, is it clips that make things clearer to the kids?  How much “set design” do you have to do to make kids pay attention?

Here’s a link to a teacher, Mike Gorman, at 21st Education Technology and Learning.  He is also starting to think like this. There is some good information here.

Obviously I am in the nascent stages of learning about the flipped classroom.  But I find the whole concept fascinating.  How about you?  What do you already know that you can share?

Rainy Day Recess Activities

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

I was once in a teaching workshop with a woman who was raised in Alaska.  I remember asking her if it was hard as a kid to not be able to play outside at recess or after school for so much of the year.  I clearly remember her answer:  “Oh, we’d still play outside until it was 20 below.”  I still don’t think I’ve recovered from the shock of hearing that.

Having grown up in California and spent most of my teaching career here, I can’t fathom kids playing outside in that kind of weather.  Luckily, we have such mild temperatures for most of the year that the kids can be outside just about all the time.  That being said, we are not well equipped for the more inclement weather that winter tends to bring.  The only protection the schools have are overhangs extending from the classrooms.  The kids eat their lunches outside every day of the school year, rain, shine, or otherwise.  And there’s nowhere for students to go when it rains at recess, except back into the classroom.

When I was teaching, rainy days usually brought eye rolls and emissions of “Ugh” from the teachers.  The kids tended to be positively squirrelly with pent up energy and noise levels tended to increase exponentially throughout the day.  Perhaps that’s why I always thought it was funny that one of my students’ favorite indoor games was Silent Ball.

Silent Ball entails all the students sitting on top of their desks while a ball is tossed from one student to another in random order.  The object of the game is to stay as silent as possible and not drop the ball when it is thrown to you.  Anyone talking must sit down in their seat and is out of the game.  The last person left sitting on their desk wins. The teacher monitors to make sure that all students are getting equal amounts of chances to catch the ball, and to make sure students are staying quiet.  (I never had to monitor that much because students who were already out were happy to point out if anyone else was talking.)  Surprisingly, this game could keep them entertained for quite a while.

Another simple game the students loved was Four Corners.  One person is picked to be “it” and must close his or her eyes.  The rest of the students choose one of the four corners in the room.  Once everyone is in a corner, “it” calls out North, South, East, or West (or for littler ones: 1, 2, 3, or 4.)  The students in that corner are out and must sit down.  “It” closes his or her eyes again and play continues.  Once there are four students or fewer, they must each pick a different corner.  The last person who is left without his or her corner being called wins, and is now “it” for the next round.

Heads Up Seven Up is a game I loved as a kid, and students still love to this day.  (It seems the simplest ones are always the longtime favorites.)  Seven students are picked to stand in the front of the room while the rest put their heads down on their desks, close their eyes, and stick one of their thumbs in the air.  The seven students each then quietly tap the thumb of one of the students and then return to the front of the room.  Then they say “Heads up seven up!” and the seven students who were tapped have to try and guess who touched his or her thumb.  If he or she guesses correctly, they replace the student who tapped them.  The game begins again once all the students have had a chance to guess.

One game I learned from another teacher didn’t have a name, but is similar to I Have Who Has? in that students have to be listening to cards being read in order.  It requires a few minutes of prep time the first time, but after that the game plays itself.  It’s a great sponge activity as well.  Write out a direction on an index card; have at least as many cards per students in your class.  These can be very simple, such as When the teacher says START, stand up and say GO! The next card read would then read, When someone yells GO, stand up and open the door.  The card after that would read, When someone opens the door, stand up and shake the teacher’s hand, and so on.  Pass out all the cards and then say “START.”  The students have to be listening and observing what’s happening.  One rule I had to institute was that everyone had to wait until the person before them had sat back down in their seat, otherwise it was too confusing to try and follow multiple students doing activities at the same time.  Keep the set of cards to play over again at another time; the students don’t get bored of it!

Most of the above-mentioned games are for younger students, but I was surprised at how much my older students loved the games too.  Of course, rainy days are also a great time to play curriculum-oriented games as well.  If there is a game you’ve played in the past with your students, feel free to bring it back out, even if the subject has already been studied.  It’s great for review!  They may even forget that they’re doing “schoolwork” at recess.

Reading Aloud in Middle Grade Classrooms

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

After lunch my kids used to come barreling into the classroom.  They had wolfed down lunches and then run off to play basketball or gossip among themselves.  They came into class sweaty and chatty.  They would throw their backpacks down, grab their books, pens and papers, and sprawl in their chairs.  How would I ever get them to focus after lunch when they really wanted to continue that basketball game?

So here’s what I did.  You might want to try this, it was easy and it worked.  I read aloud to them.  I picked up a good old-fashioned book, and took the first few precious minutes of the class to read.  Some might question this.  After all it wasn’t getting them right to work, they weren’t being engaged in an assignment.  But to that I say, phooey.  They were getting to hear a story, one that I knew would captivate them.  As 7th graders they wouldn’t pick up books that they thought sounded “babyish.”  But if the teacher was reading a book to them they had to listen didn’t they?

My students hadn’t had lots of exposure to the bigger world so I tried to find things they could enjoy.  One of my favorites was Old Yeller.  Of course it was what Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, would call a “cry book.”  At the end of the book there was always a few students with their heads down on the desk, tears dripping from their eyes.  I found the best way to handle that was to not.  I just let them cry.  If they wanted to talk about it later we did so privately and individually.

Another kind of story the kids liked were those that were a bit absurd.  I remember reading James and the Giant Peach.  Any time I read a book I planned where I would stop each time.  However, with this book we all got carried away.  I almost finished it the first time I read it aloud to a class.  To be that enthralled by a book sometimes makes it okay to just read aloud for an hour.

For a group of particularly challenged learners I read the first of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  With these I had to spend a lot of time talking about vocabulary before I began reading.  While it might seem simple, most of my students were second language learners, so it took a lot to help them understand.  But they did enjoy the books and often asked me to read the next one in the series, which I happily did.

If you teach young students no doubt you read to your kids, but what about older ones?  I always felt if nothing else the kids could hear a really good book.  And it must have worked, as they always calmed down as they listened and enjoyed the story.  I had finished reading and we could progress through the rest of the class, focused on whatever the task at hand for the rest of the day.