As a beginning teacher mentor, I have the privilege of helping our future educators wrap their brains around the many components of teaching. This requires me to get my own brain back into what it felt like to start out – the details I would miss, what I struggled the most with, and the mistakes I would make.
You know, the things we take for granted after teaching for over a decade.
The underlying frustration that all of these teachers have is getting their class to stay focused and on task. And while I too struggled with classroom management, it’s no longer an issue. So I’ve had to be really analytical to remember exactly what I did then and what I do now in order to achieve this educational zen.
In my last post, curriculum specialist and veteran teacher Laura Kebart outlined how teachers can conquer this problem, and it’s not necessarily how you would expect. She explained why purposefully planning with classroom management in mind will naturally lead to engaged and focused students.
In Part 2 of this series, Laura delves into the actual lesson-planning process she uses, both in her classroom and with the lessons she creates at her site, languageartsteachers.com. There she provides weekly and monthly lesson plans (aligned to both Texas TEKS and to the Common Core State Standards) that you can download and use in your classroom all throughout the school year.
In addition to Laura’s process, I’ve added a few of my own that I use since my school is on a block schedule, so I need additional intermediary steps. These are indicated with an asterisk*.
Classroom Management at the Beginning of Class
- Each day needs a focus lesson (bell ringer, warm up, do-now, whatever you want to call it). This is a routine that must happen every single day and is the norm for your class.
The warm-up could be a writing response question, a short activity based on notes or talking points from the day before, a thoughtful question or quote that will serve as a segue into the lesson today or later that week.
- It must be something that students can do on their own and should take anywhere from 3 – 10 minutes depending on your class time.
- It should be a period of time during which no one asks you questions because YOU need time to take attendance, grab a sip of water, quickly organize the papers or other materials from the last class, etc. This means that it’s quiet time for you AND your students.
- Personally, I like to have the bell ringer/warm up/do-now on a Powerpoint presentation that the whole class sees at the front of the room. Even with iPads or Chromebooks or Google Classroom, I like to have all eyes focused on one area at the beginning of class with traditional paper or writing journals and pens or pencils moving.
It’s tactile, it’s hands-on, and it’s effective because, without those materials ready to go, learning takes longer to achieve in a classroom that likely already is short on time.
- The other advantage to having a bell ringer/warm-up/do-now set up this way is that it’s easy for the teacher to just slide into the mini-lesson of the day when it’s on a Powerpoint, a Prezi, or some other piece of software.
Why your students need this
- From the students’ perspective, realize that they’ve probably just come from another class with a whole different set of expectations or norms, an entirely different content area, all the thinking points and learning objectives they’ve been working with, etc.
They need a moment to set their intention and focus on your subject. So the quiet time at the beginning of class is super important not just for you, but for your students as well.
Classroom Management During the Mini-Lesson
The mini-lesson is the concept you’ll teach that day based on the objective or goal for the day. It’s “mini” because one of the biggest realities of classroom management is the lack of focus students will maintain after so many minutes.
For instance, rather than lecture or talk for 40 minutes, break up the concept into manageable chunks. I know Powerpoints get a bad rap, but seriously, it’s how people USE them that gives PPT’s a negative reputation.
Here’s how I’ve set up my mini-lessons:
1) 15-20 slides with very, very FEW words on each slide. The purpose of each slide is to “anchor” the talking point you have for your students. It’s just a reminder of what you need to convey to them.
2) Embed relevant video clips to introduce, review, or solidify the teaching point (YouTube, Pixar videos, Shmooop, etc.) This helps break up the already shortened mini-lesson even more, and best of all, it refocuses students’ attention and provides really good talking points for the class!
3) Guided notes are a good idea just to help keep students on track during the mini-lesson. The guided notes that I have in my lesson plan resources consist of open-ended questions based on the talking points in the mini-lesson.
Students have to listen, think, talk to each other, and then write down their learning in their own words. You can also have students listen, think, write, then talk about the concept from the mini-lesson. That way, from a management perspective, there isn’t any talking until the “quick write” has been done.
4) Embed opportunities for “turn and talk” during the mini-lesson. There’s a way to do this that really helps keep the lesson on track, the students on task, and your classroom management running smoothly.
Original version: “Ok guys, turn to your partner and talk about the author’s purpose in paragraph two.”
See the problem? There’s no way to tell if all the students are actually on task. There’s no “product” that they have to create to hold them accountable. Plus, if they really don’t know the answer yet or haven’t thought about it, then they don’t even have anything to talk about.
Improved version: “Ok, guys, I’ll give you two minutes to read paragraph 2 and write down your thoughts about this question.” (Now set a timer for two minutes). “Now, you have 90 seconds to share your written responses and to talk about it.”
See how this is different? The students have a set amount of time to jot down their thoughts or their answers. Then they have a set amount of time to discuss the question and response with a partner. It’s so strategic, and there’s no time for “down time”!
This whole mini-lesson— including the turn-and-talks and jotting down of responses— shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.
And think about it— it’s not 20 minutes of YOU just standing there talking while they’re pretending to pay attention. It’s 20 minutes of you presenting thoughts, concepts, and questions broken up by turn-and-talks, writing, and discussing. It goes fast!
Classroom Management During Group Work or Independent Practice
- At the conclusion of the mini-lesson, students will then move to the next logical step of the lesson plan, which is to take what they’ve just learned and do something with it. This is the small group or partner work (or independent practice).
- If you’re looking to implement centers or stations into your classroom, this is a logical place to do it. Likewise, it’s the perfect spot to allow for differentiation as needed.
- At this point in the class, if you have 25 minutes left, set a timer for 20 minutes (save the last few minutes to “close” the lesson, circling back to the goal or objective of the day, assigning an Exit Ticket, or just cleaning up and packing up).
- During this work time, regardless of whether it’s independent work or group work or not, sit down with or among your students.
Get in the practice of NOT sitting at your desk (because your desk is probably over in a corner or off to the side, right? That’s not good for classroom management!). So sit at a student desk or at another little table that’s right in the thick of things.
- Call 2 – 4 students at time to your “teacher table” just to check in. When you call them up, they’ll bring their assignment and writing utensil (or Chromebook or iPad or whatever they’re using for the assignment).
Talk with them. Ask them about what they’re doing right now. Ask them where they got the answer to #1. If they’re stuck on #2, ask them to read the question to you and to think about where in the text they could probably look for the text evidence to help with the answer.
If they haven’t even started, talk to them about why. Then, tell them to come see you in five minutes and send them back to their desks or tables.
- See how differentiation could work perfectly here? This is a fabulous time to pull several students over to your table to provide a differentiated activity. Maybe they’re only going to work on #1 and #2, then they’ll check in with you again.
Perhaps you have a few sentence starters for them to use as they compose their written responses. This is where you provide that differentiation and then send them off to begin working.
- Call up 2 – 4 more students. Repeat the process. This is your way of checking in with students, holding them accountable during work time, answering questions, extending the learning for the ones who are quickly “getting it”, etc.
- If students are working in cooperative learning groups, you can call the whole group at once to check in with them and to guide them as needed.
- Or, better yet, call one student from each group and have them bring their work to show you This is amazing for classroom management because if you call an entire group up, all the other groups are “off the hook” for the time being.
If you call random students from random groups, that sends the message that A) even though students are in groups, each student is still responsible for his or her own work; and B) it keeps students on their toes because there’s no pattern to what the teacher is doing or who the teacher is calling up to the teacher table.
*Alternatively, you can walk around the class and conference with groups and students individually. The use of proximity will also help keep misbehaviors at bay. Plus it allows you to go directly to students with questions.
*Checking for Understanding
- This is done before students finish their work, and is ideally at a pre-planned stopping point. Students may or may not have reached this point, but it’s still important to pause.
- Use a random selection method to call on students and have them read their work or answer to the class. Do not call on people based on raising their hands since the usual suspects do and don’t volunteer.
- Use this time to clear up misconceptions, especially if you’ve seen a common pattern throughout the class. This would be a good time for a quick review of your mini-lesson or insert another mini-lesson through a different medium, such as a Kahoot or Quizlet.
- After you’ve reviewed, allow students to continue to finish their work.
Classroom Management at the End of Class
- Now. About those last five minutes of class… Allow for some cleanup time, organization time, gathering of papers or putting away of materials. This is a good time for you as the teacher to get things re-set for your next class, too.
- Make those last five minutes similar to the first 5-10 minutes of class in that it’s quiet time, it’s organization time, it’s time for you to organize yourself just as your students are organizing themselves to get ready to transition to the next course.
- *I also use this time for exit tickets, either on paper or through technology.
- *If you have any announcements about homework or reminders about upcoming quizzes or assignments, this would also be a good time to have them write it down.
The goal is to set up your daily lesson plans and activities so that classroom management is an integral part of them, embedded as one, rather than mutually exclusive of each other. This is how teaching will be realistic, sustainable, and actually enjoyable for you as you move through your teaching career!
I hope you’ve enjoyed Laura’s lesson planning mini-series – it’s obvious she’s a master, which explains why she has raving fans at languageartsteachers.com!