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									 Simple Strategies for
21st Century Classroom
                                              by Catherine Paglin

A    first-grader throws a tantrum during group time. A
     high school sophomore lobs a racist slogan at his
English class. A fifth-grader climbs a desk and shreds his
                                                              management will take ever more finely tuned strategies
                                                              in the classroom, and supportive policies and structures
                                                              at the school level.
state writing assessment. A young girl hits her teacher on
the arm. Students with cell phones send text messages to      Nuts and Bolts
each other during social studies.                               Unless you’re teaching online or by videoconference,
  These real-life examples from Oregon classrooms             the physical layout of the classroom is an element
may be extreme, but many experts and teachers believe         of your classroom management. “You have to have
classroom management is becoming more challenging.            a set place for handing in homework, a set place for
One reason is growing class size. Statewide averages          materials, a set place for reading quietly,” says Paul
for class size at the middle and high school levels are       Bradley, who teaches a fourth-fifth-grade blend at
unavailable, but OEA members regularly report student         Lincoln Elementary in Corvallis.
numbers in the 30s and 40s. Oregon’s elementary grade           No one layout is ideal. Instead, the classroom
classes rank second largest in the country, averaging         arrangement should match instructional activities and
almost 24 students, according to Education Week’s 2005        student needs. For instance, the four rows of desks
Quality Counts report. “That’s a major change for teachers    in Megan Young’s eighth-grade classes at Portland’s
and it significantly impacts the difficulty of classroom      Kellogg Middle School, sit far forward in the room. This
management,” says Dr. Vern Jones, Professor of Education      placement allows students with poor vision a better
at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, and author of several   view of the board or overhead projection, and leaves
books on classroom management.                                an open area at the back for students to meet for group
  Not only class size, but today’s class composition          discussions. As well, two corridors through the rows
tests the management skills of teachers and classroom         give Young easy access to her students as they work
assistants. Educators and experts cite a higher               on reading, writing, and U.S. history. The class moves
percentage of special needs children in mainstream            the desks for extended group activities, but otherwise
classes, a growing number of students whose first             Young finds her students—an impulsive bunch—too
language is not English, weakening social norms,              tempted to talk during independent work.
children born to substance-abusing parents, poverty,            Diane DeMerritt, who likes her mixed-age primary
attention deficit disorder, and increased mobility as         students to work and talk together, seats them at tables
contributing factors.                                         in her classroom at Walker Elementary in Ashland.
  “Implementing good practice with 20 youngsters who          But a small futon in the corner of the room serves as
are pretty well-prepared, psychologically comfortable,        an escape hatch and quiet reading area for any student
and ready to learn is dramatically different than doing       who can’t cope with so much togetherness, especially
so with 40 kids under a lot of stress in their lives,” says   during whole-group activities.
Jones.                                                          Jerri Henery, who emphasizes direct instruction,
  There’s no silver bullet, no quick fix, no cure-all, no     prefers forward-facing desks for her third-graders at
easy answer for classroom management issues. The              Clear Lake Elementary in Lane County’s Bethel School
fact is, today’s classrooms have more students needing        District. “I don’t like a situation where their backs are
more individual attention from educators with less time       to me and they have to turn around and wrench their
to give it. Tackling the job of 21st century classroom        necks,” she says. Believing that her students need some

                                                                                                   Today’s OEA April 2005   7
    personal space, she’d prefer “rows like back in the old          Time and Again
    days,” an impossibility in a room that is undersized for           Classroom routines, procedures, and schedules are
    her class of 28.                                                 the backbone of effective classroom management.
                                                                     When it comes to instilling rules and routines, spend
    Putting Yourself in the Picture                                  more time early in the year even if you have to sacrifice
       No particular configuration of furniture works well           a little curriculum, say veteran teachers. “It’s going to
    when a class has 30 desks for 36 students, as does Susan         pay off,” says Bradley. After you’ve discussed specific
    Huffman’s college-level persuasive writing course at             expectations, always refer to them, he says, at the
    North Marion High School. Huffman tries as best she              beginning of the relevant activity, whether that’s a
    can to reach each student by working the crowded                 journal writing session or a walk through the halls:
    room, walking up and down the rows.                              “Here’s what we’re expecting, here’s what we talked
       Aspects of the teacher’s physical presence—such               about, here’s what it should look like.”
    as her body language, movement, and location in the                Reminding students of rules, routines, and
    classroom—are important classroom management tools.              expectations in this way is not the same as nagging,
    “I rarely stand in front of the class. I have a better element   a classroom management strategy one expert cites
    of control with I’m moving around, and doing so helps            as both the most commonly used and least effective.
    include all the kids. Otherwise there is kind of an exclusion    DeMerritt reproaches herself when she falls into that
    factor for students in the back,” says Huffman.                  trap. “I make a vow with myself: Tomorrow I’m going to
       Circulating, as Huffman does, also allows alert               be conscious of how many times I say that child’s name
    teachers to spot covert activities, such as a student            in a negative way. I will catch that child in the morning
    listening to music, or text messaging behind a book.             and say, ‘Yesterday I found I was saying your name
    “I float around the classroom and try to see if there            a lot. Today I’m going to be saying things once, and I
    are any wires coming out of places they shouldn’t be,”           need you to listen.’ Then I will look for opportunities to
    says 25-year-old Marisa Real, who teaches English                say the child’s name in a positive way.”
    and drama at Neah-Kah-Nie High School in Tillamook                 Planning transitions from one activity to the
    County. “I used to hide my headphones, so I know what            next maximizes learning and minimizes classroom
    to look for.”                                                    management difficulties. When her third-graders come
       Body language communicates in subtle ways whether a           in from recess or reading, Henery always has an activity
    teacher has confidence in her command of the classroom.          ready and waiting, something students go to work on
    “I do see some teachers whose body language is too               without talking, and without any instruction from her.
    soft,” says Jayne Sowers, senior program advisor at the          “After recess they know the problem of the day is going
    Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory’s Center for           to be on the overhead, and they sit down and do that
    School and District Improvement. If a teacher tells the          immediately,” she says.
    class to be quiet but doesn’t lean forward, doesn’t make           Good classroom managers also plan ahead to
    strong eye contact, and uses a tentative tone of voice,          avoid disruptions in scheduled activities. On a recent
    students are unlikely to comply, she says.                       afternoon in Young’s social studies class, a student

8   April 2005 Today’s OEA
notified her that he expected a call from the office,           office, DeMerritt starts the next day by taking the child
alerting him it was time to leave for an appointment.           aside for reassurance. “I tell children that I truly believe
Before beginning her lesson, Young asked the student            every day’s a new day. Whatever happened before has
to take his backpack and sit next to the phone at the           happened, but today you can do the behavior that’s
back of the class. When the call came he was able to            right for our class,” she says.
answer it and make an unobtrusive departure, while                 Sometimes humor is in order when correcting student
the other students remained on task.                            mistakes. At the beginning of the year when ringing
                                                                cellphones disrupted Real’s classroom at Neah-kah-
Corrections and Connections                                     nie High School, she answered the calls in her best
  Students inevitably make behavior mistakes, says              automated voice, “Hello, this is Miss Real’s English
Jones. When that happens, the manner of the teacher’s           class and my student cannot talk now because he or
response is critical. “Is it calm, is it polite, is it fairly   she is learning. Please try again after school. If this is
unobtrusive, does it treat the kids with dignity? Or is it      an emergency, please call the main office and have your
embarrassing and loud and disruptive, and often more            student paged. Thank you.” Her students laughed, but
disruptive than the initial disruption itself?” he asks.        quickly got the message.
  Rudeness and backtalk in particular strain teachers’             One caveat for today’s classrooms: don’t mistake
self-control, whether they’re confronting a stubborn            limited command of English, or unfamiliar cultural
second-grader who says, “You’re not my mom. I don’t             practices, for disrespect or other behavior problems,
have to do that if I don’t want to,” or a high school           says Sowers of the Northwest Laboratory. Don’t be
student who blurts out, “I hate this f---ing class.”            taken aback, for instance, if an English language
  The wrong way to handle backtalk is to participate in         learner says, “Teacher, get me the book.” The student
a “Yes you do,” and “No I don’t” power struggle, while          is probably just unacquainted with phrases for making
the rest of the students watch intently, says DeMerritt.        formal requests. As well, during class discussion an
She responds to rude remarks from her primary-age               ELL student might unintentionally offend others
students with quiet answers like, “That isn’t how we talk       with a statement such as, “No, that’s wrong!” To
in Room 10. It sounds as if you don’t want to do what           avoid classroom friction, teach students the linguistic
we’re doing right now, but what’s a more respectful way         structures (“In my opinion,” or “I think that”) necessary
you can say that?” Or she might tell the child gently, “I       for a respectful exchange of views, suggests Sowers,
need you to go sit down for a few minutes and we’ll talk        author of Creating a Community of Learners: Solving
about it later.”                                                the Puzzle of Classroom Management.
  Always distinguish between the student and the                   Finally, model the behavior you want from your students.
behavior. “If I have to get on someone’s case about a           “I’ve seen teachers who yell for quiet,” says Dr. Blaine
behavior issue, then I make sure I say at least three           Ackley, Associate Professor of Education at University of
positive things to them later in the day, so it’s not a         Portland. “How incongruous is that? What I try to instill
personal issue,” says Young. If a student’s behavior has        in my student teachers is you can lower your voice, rather
been extreme enough to warrant a trip to the principal’s        than raise it, to gain student attention.”
                                                                                                    Continued on page 12

                                                                                                      Today’s OEA April 2005   9
     Continued from page 9                                           Classroom meetings, even for teachers with multiple
                                                                   classes, are an effective technique for building a sense
     A Meeting of Minds                                            of community, says Ackley. Young, for instance, begins
        Educators and experts alike say building caring,
                                                                   every Monday in her classes with “community circles,”
     respectful relationships with students pays off in
                                                                   in which students discuss both current events and what
     cooperation in the classroom. “If they don’t feel like they
                                                                   they did over the weekend. “If you set aside 10 minutes
     know you or owe you something, then it’s not worth their
                                                                   for just one day a week, you can have amazing results,
     time to listen to you,” says Young of her eighth-graders.
                                                                   and it stems from students knowing you are listening to
     “The more I can talk to them about things they’re doing
                                                                   them,” says Ackley.
     outside of school, the more it shows I’m recognizing
                                                                     Full-fledged meetings aren’t the only option for
     them as a person, rather than just an English student,
                                                                   making connections with the class. “I’ve had teachers
     which really helps out,” she says.
                                                                   note improved student attitude and performance just
        Certain school structures support students and
                                                                   from giving a survey to their class, collecting the results,
     teachers in forming these caring relationships. A recent
                                                                   and telling the class later what the survey showed,” says
     innovation at Ashland’s Walker Elementary—where
     the staff was seeing bigger behavioral issues at younger
     ages—is “continuous communities.” After kindergarten,         Beyond the Classroom
     students in this school of 320 stay with the same             Classroom management shouldn’t occur in a vacuum.
     teacher in a mixed-age classroom from grades one              “When you’re completely isolated, and you’re one of the
     through three. Then they move on to the fourth-fifth          only people doing it right, it’s difficult to continue to do
     grade class of a partner teacher with whom they are           effective management,” says Jones.
     already familiar from doing joint class activities. “Our         Thoughtful, age-appropriate, schoolwide policies and
     teachers are noticing that the depth of relationships         practices support and “set the tone” for the classroom.
     helps a good deal in reducing classroom management            “It helps if children hear the same language from
     issues,” says Principal Michelle Zundel.                      everybody. It makes it a lot easier for them to understand
        Increasing the time teachers spend with the same           the expectations,” says Bradley.
     students during the day, the year, or the students’              At Walker Elementary those expectations are
     high school career is a common theme of most high             particularly easy for children to understand because
     school restructuring initiatives, such as academies,          they were developed by the student council, with
     small learning communities, block scheduling, and             input from teachers and classes. Written in child-
     advisory periods. More time together gives teachers           friendly language, the school’s half-dozen “community
     and students a chance to know and respect each other,         agreements” range from “Don’t use bad language” to
     thereby decreasing the “adversarial response” that            “Be a good sport.”
     Jones terms “the most demanding part of classroom                As well, Walker staff members continually discuss
     management.”                                                  what practices and environments work best for children.
        “When kids get connected to adults in important            For instance, when the staff noticed increasing conflict
     ways, they’re much more likely to behave responsibly          between students at recess, the school used grants and
     and make good choices, and to ask adults for assistance       Title I money for a recess-time art center and additional
     when they’re getting frustrated, as opposed to acting         library hours, thus providing two alternatives for
     out,” says Jones.                                             children who have difficulty getting along with others
        Building relationships is difficult, but still possible,   on the playground. “Our approach has been to look
     even when teachers work in large schools, or have large       at what conditions need to be present in the school in
     classes, or many students throughout the day. When            order for classroom management issues to be reduced,
     Young had six classes and 180 students she got to know        or for children to be more successful,” says Zundel.
     each of them through “communication calendars” on                New teachers, for whom classroom management
     which each student jotted a quick daily entry during the      is often an issue of concern, especially appreciate
     first few minutes of class. Those entries ranged from “I      the support of schoolwide policies. When Real began
     didn’t understand last night’s homework. Can you help         teaching at Neah-Kah-Nie High School last year,
     me?” to “I broke up with my boyfriend last night.”            students looked at her blankly when she asked them
        Each night Young spent 10 minutes per class—an             to use their school-supplied planners. This year, using
     hour total—writing back to each student. “To me, it’s         the planners is a schoolwide requirement. “They know
     worth it because of the huge amount of time I save            what they’re supposed to do because every single
     doing classroom management. I don’t have to fill out          teacher expects them to have it. Consistency in the
     10 referrals after class because I spent my 10 minutes        classrooms is very helpful,” she says. ■
     communicating with my kids,” she says.                        Catherine Paglin is a Portland-based education writer.

12   April 2005 Today’s OEA

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