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Monday, December 25, 2017

Classroom Management Series: How to be a Classroom Leader Instead of a Boss

Are you looking for some time-tested, evidence-based ways to enhance your classroom management?  Would you like to be a leader, rather than a boss in your classroom?  Then my post on how to be a classroom leader is for you!

This is the third post in my Classroom Management Series.  If you missed it, be sure to check out the previous posts:
Teaching Expectations After the Year has Started

Classroom Management Series: How to be a Classroom Leader Instead of a Boss

Consistency is Key
Be consistent with rules across the board.  If there's one thing a middle-schooler can spot, it is inequity in how rules are applied.  Students like to see consistency and fairness.  Students like structure. Enforcing rules doesn't make you mean. Two things that I want students know: I care about them and I mean business.

Some things I'm consistent about:

  • Don't start any directions or activities until every student is quiet and has eyes on you. 
  • Before letting them touch any materials, review expectations or directions.  This even applies to tests. 
  • Don't be afraid to completely stop everything if you feel like it is spiraling out of control. Sometimes a few minutes of silent reflection as a class is all that's needed for everyone to return to the task at hand with fresh eyes.

Even Though Consistency is Key, It is OKAY (even wise) to start over with your expectations if things aren't going well. 
The advice I gave in my post about Teaching Expectations After the Year has Started was to start over after the new quarter begins.You may want to start by writing down procedural expectations for things like turning in papers, using supplies, etc. If you've already written these expectations down, review them and make sure they are still working for you and the class.    

Review Expectations Often
Quickly reviewing your classroom expectations before your class is expected to work independently on something will help students who are auditory learners.  Also, reviewing expectations often, especially after holiday breaks, is a key to success.

Try Some Professional Development
Leaning and reflecting will make you a better teacher almost instantly.  Ask your administration if you can get coverage for your classroom so you can go into some well-run classrooms to observe and take notes.  I love learning from teachers who just seem to flawlessly execute classroom management! 

It's important to remember:  The fact that you are asking for help shows great courage and desire to be a good teacher.

Build Relationships With Students
  • Write down their birthdays
  • Talk to students and remember details about their life.  Ask them about it the next day! 
  • Smile at them and chat with them whenever possible (in the hallway, in the lunch room, etc.). 
They are a thousand more times likely to want to learn from a teacher that cares about them and their lives!

Target Problem Students... in a Good Way

Try the 2x10 activity- Pick out a student with whom you are struggling. Find 2 minutes to chat with them in the day about nothing class-related. Do this for 10 days in a row. It be awkward at first, but by the 3rd or 4th day, they will look for you and look forward to it. After 10 days, choose another student.

I believe this is the single, most important thing you must do to be an effective teacher. It doesn't take much...anything to show you care. Make sure you try hardest with the most difficult students. They are the ones that need it the most! Be sincere and be interested in them.

Relax a Little

I am a Type A person and have to rein it in. Decide which behavioral expectations must stay and which do not matter. The fewer things you hold fast to, the easier it may be for students to live up to your expectations and not feel like they are being micromanaged.

Let them know you’re approachable and down to earth. Show them a sense of humor by being able to laugh with them.

Have Something for Students to be Doing From the Moment They Walk in the Door
It establishes the tone and expectation for the class, as well as getting students to think about the curriculum.  Every day in my classroom, there is a numbered list on the screen the second the students walk into the room. As students trickle in, they immediately begin to complete the list, which almost always starts with filling out their agenda.  As I take attendance and check homework, they are engaged in completing the list.

Alternatives to the itemized list (all posted on the board for the students as they arrive):

  • A bellringer 
  • Daily review question
  • Entrance ticket 

Join me next time, when I'll be continuing my Classroom Management Series with a complicated issue:  Restroom Usage Policy.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Classroom Management Series: Strategies for a Chatty Class

Are you looking for some time-tested, evidence-based ways to enhance your classroom management?  Would you like to calm a chatty class without having to resort to threats or punishment?  Then my post on how to calm a chatty class is for you!

This is the second post in my Classroom Management Series.  If you missed it, be sure to check out the first post:
Teaching Expectations After the Year has Started

Classroom Management Series: Strategies for a Chatty Class

The To-Do List

Teach Students the Difference Between Class Discussions and Group Discussions
There's a time to talk, and there's a time to listen.  Students need to be explicitly taught what your expectations are for those times.  Just because a student "should know" the difference doesn't mean that they do.  My rule is that when I'm teaching the whole class, there is no talking until I tell them to turn and share with their group/partner.  When I'm talking, their only job is to listen.

Use the "Stand-in-the-Front-Quietly-Until-Everyone-Quiets-Down" Technique 
This can work wonders, especially if you've tried to ignore the talking in the past with poor results.  Positive peer pressure will often kick in when a few students realize you're waiting and begin to shush their counterparts.

Try a Visual Cue:  When Arms Go Up, Voices Go Down 
Teach students that when you raise your hand, you need them to be quiet. When they see you with your arm raised, they should also raise theirs, get quiet, and be ready to listen.

Try an Audible Cue:  Count Down
Start counting down from 5-4-3-2-1.  Once again, positive peer pressure should kick in once students realize you are counting.

Select a Period of Time During Which There is No Talking
It could be the first or last five minutes of class or while you are teaching the whole group.  This helps establish boundaries for when it is appropriate to talk and when students need to be listening.  As an added incentive to be quiet during this time, I play instrumental music if it's independent work time.  It helps set the tone as a "serious study time".

Once Students are Quiet, Thank Them for Being Respectful. 
Let them know you will always give them your whole attention, as they are worthy of respect.  This is part of relationship-building, and showing students respect goes a long way towards improving classroom behavior.

Start Whispering
I have found that if I lower my voice and speak in a quiet voice, students notice the difference much more quickly than if I raise my voice to try to talk over top of them.  When I was an elementary teacher, I used the "If you can hear my voice, clap once" strategy.  Now that I'm a secondary teacher, I say "If you can hear my voice, you should be encouraging those around you to SLANT".  As part of my beginning of the year practices, I teach students to:
Sit up
Lean in/Look interested
Ask question
Track the speaker

The Don't-Do List

Raise your voice to quiet students. 
You will get louder and they will get louder in response.  This is the opposite of what we're going for.

Allow Talking Across the Room Unless It's Class Discussion Time
I make sure to stop talking/teaching every time it happens because it quickly turns into a free-for-all.  Students need to raise their hand in my class and be called on before talking, so I simply stop the students who are talking across the room by reminding them that they need to stop and raise their hand before speaking. I also don't try to talk over top of them.  I just stop and look at them until I have their attention.

Closing Thoughts
Not all of these techniques will work for every class, so don't lose heart if you have to try a few of them out before you find one that works.

You might have to review these expectations often, especially after holiday breaks.

What works for you when it comes to quieting a chatty class?  I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Classroom Management Series: Teaching Expectations After the Year has Started

Are you looking for some time-tested, evidence-based ways to enhance your classroom management?  Would you like to reinforce your existing classroom management techniques or start over from scratch?  Then my post on enforcing expectations after the year has started is for you!

Classroom Management Series: Teaching Expectations After the Year has Started

This is the first post in my Classroom Management Series, so I wanted to tackle something that I hear about a lot from ALL teachers, whether they are seasoned or brand new:

  • How do I reinforce my classroom expectations midway through the year?
  • Can I wipe the slate clean and start over if things aren't going well?

Let me share my strategies/answers to these questions with you!

Strategy #1: Start the New Quarter Like it's a New Year
I’ve had veteran teachers tell me they start off new grading periods and returns from breaks as “first days of school.”  There are several reasons why this is ideal:
  • Even the most well-behaved classes need a refresher course on behavior expectations after holiday breaks or report cards.
  • This is the perfect time to throw out any procedures that aren't working for you or your class.
  • Seasoned teachers know that they can change, reset, and modify expectations ANY time.  
New Quarter Actionable Tip 1: Give Reflection Surveys
Give an end of quarter reflection/survey so you can gather some information from them and then implement changes based upon the results.

Reflection survey questions should be specific to what happened in the past quarter:
How do you feel about your performance and what can you improve?
What is one thing you would like to see different in the new quarter?

New Quarter Actionable Tip 2:  Create a New Classroom Constitution
Liken the need to revamp expectations to amending the Constitution. Not everything works how you'd thought!

Create a new class constitution based on what worked/didn't work.The responses to your reflection survey can guide this process.   You might ask students to write what success looks like in class, how the teacher should communicate success, and what rewards and consequences they would prefer. Together, you can then write out an agreement that is signed by the students, parents, and teacher.

New Quarter Actionable Tip #3: Choose the Top Three Problems and Explicitly Teach/Reteach Your Procedures for Dealing With These Problems
One of the most important classroom procedures that I rely on constantly is SLANT. When I say “SLANT”, students know to close their devices, put their pencils down, stop talking, and look at me. 

Below is an example  SLANT poster from Whooo’s Ready to Teach? blog.

Strategy #2: Be Honest About What Went Wrong
If you started off too nice, just be honest with them. The conversation might go something like this:
"I am concerned that the original management plan isn't working. Students aren't in the right position to be the best learners they could be and we need to change some things to help you be more successful." Then, implement the new rules.

Strategy #3: Talk to Your Colleagues 
It might be time to involve your grade-level counterparts to come up with expectations, consequences, and incentives for the entire grade level.  The new quarter is a great time to introduce these.

Strategy #4:  Keep Building Relationships With Students 
Nothing helps to manage a classroom more than talking to kids one on one privately, encouraging them to step up and be a leader and extricate themselves from the talkers and disrupters, in conjunction with a classroom plan. It helps them know you care too.

Strategy #5: New Seating Chart 
You know the allies and axis now.  Reward the Middle, replace the distractions

Seating Chart Actionable Tip 1: Seat Students in a Boy-Girl Pattern
While this might seem counter intuitive, especially in middle or high school, it really does cut down on the talking. 

Seating Chart Actionable Tip 2: Change the Desk Arrangement 
If the problem is too much taking, try rows or a horseshoe setup.  If you need to encourage talking, try pods of 3-4. 

Strategy #6: Reach Out to Parents
Start by identifying three students in each class who are the most disruptive, call their parents and tell them what's going on, and ask how you can work with them to improve their child’s' behavior and attitude. If need be, focus on three more kids whose parents need to be contacted.

Join me next time, when I continue my behavior management series with "How to be a Leader, Not a Boss".

Monday, December 4, 2017

Grading Smarter Not Harder Series: Technology

Are you looking for an easier way to grade that accurately reflects the student’s knowledge?  Would you like to streamline the process with technology?  Then this post is for you!

This is the fifth, and final, post of the series based on the book Grading Smarter Not Harder by Myron Dueck.  If you missed them, make sure you read:
Grading Smarter Not Harder: Overview
Grading Smarter Not Harder: Homework
Grading Smarter Not Harder Series: Retesting and a FREEBIE
Grading Smarter Not Harder Series: Grading Creative Projects

Grading Smarter Not Harder Series: Technology

In this post, I am focusing on using technology to engage and assess students.

Reasons to use technology in the classroom:

Reason #1: It speaks students' language.
They are already using their phones to take and share pictures. Why not make that an educational experience?

Reason #2: Students think more critically when they are in their own environment.
They are going to be more willing to learn when they have prior knowledge.  Asking them to go out into their community or home to gather information increases their comfort level. 

What are some ways to use technology for learning and assessments?

Digital Photos

Have students collect photos that demonstrate a certain concept you are teaching and send them to you. 
For example, if we are discussing photosynthesis, students might take pictures of leaves in different stages of photosynthesis in the Fall (green, yellow, brown) and share them via Google Slides with captions. 

Use PowerPoint or Google Slides to Create Thought Bubbles. 
I like to find a picture of a scene we are talking about that day and add blank thought bubbles and have the students fill in what they think is going on in their minds in the picture. It adds some humor to the lesson!

Grading Smarter Not Harder Series: Technology


Reasons EdPuzzle is a great tech resource: 

  • You can use any YouTube video and build a quiz into it. 
  • You can use the cut tool to snip any unwanted parts from the video. 
  • You can use multiple choice and free-response type questions.  
  • You can connect it to Google Classroom for easy/automatic assessment.
  • Multiple choice questions are graded automatically. 
  • Depending on your county's internet security measures, putting a YouTube video in EdPuzzle will sometimes circumvent the problem of blocked YouTube videos. 
  • If students fail the assessment, they can reset and watch it again.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Students can not edit their responses.
  • Students need to watch the video until the end or it will not show up as complete.  
  • If you have multiple “correct answers” students must select all to get it “correct”.  A way to fix this is to give any opinion questions a short-answer format.
  • Short-Answer questions are not automatically graded.  The teacher must read through those.


Grading Smarter Not Harder Series: Technology

Since these videos are uploaded by educators, they have already been scrutinized for things like educational content and video quality.  You can search through the thousands of videos by subject, grade level, and age.


Recommended by Dueck, this website allows students to capture photos and videos and then use slow motion, arrows, lines, and commentary to analyze them, much like a sports caster or meteorologist would.  They can email or share these commentaries with the teacher for immediate feedback or give classroom presentations. 

Another website recommended by Dueck, this one allows “users to capture good examples against which students can compare their own work (e.g., speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. for a unit on public speaking).”  This can also be sent electronically for feedback/grading. 

Grade these photos, videos, and online assignments based on a rubric, which you would hand out before the assignment and/or post online. The rubric assigns point values for finding and representing specific concepts, such as key vocabulary, and can include additional questions to be answered or textbook pages to reference for help. 

Online Document Management Systems
There are several reasons to use these:

They give immediate feedback/grades, which can be used to plan future instruction. No more waiting for days after giving an assessment to grade it and then figure out if you need to reteach information. 

These systems quickly and accurately measure and compare the results. 

Students often have their own devices on which they can take these assessments. 

Teachers create formative assessments with multiple formats (multiple-choice, essay, true/false, etc.) and students access the assessments when the teacher shares the web link with them. 

This website allows teachers to create online multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank assessments and grades the test as soon as students finish it. 

Which of these technologies are you currently using or plan to use in your classroom?  I'd love to hear all about it!