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5 Classroom Management Tips That Seem Counterintuitive
Classroom management is one of the biggest challenges new, and even experienced, teachers face. Keeping students interested, on task, and cooperative takes a variety of skills that are often gathered from colleagues or through trial and error. Here are five management strategies I've discovered over the years that may seem counterintuitive at first but have proved to be pretty effective.
Jump Right into Class Time
When the bell rings, class starts. I begin direct instruction immediately without wasting time on housekeeping chores or waiting for stragglers. It took students a few days to get accustomed to starting class immediately, but they soon adjusted and late arrivals stopped being an issue. I take attendance while students are working, and I sometimes set a timer to go off a few minutes before the end of class if there's other business to take care of.
Starting right on time sets the tone for the class and takes advantage of prime teaching time. Let's say on average students take three minutes to settle in. If the school year is 180 days, that's 540 minutes—nine hours of teaching time!
Strike a Bargain with Students
In the past, when a student showed up without a pen or book or paper, I used to spend a few minutes chastising him or her for coming to class without the right tools before eventually lending them the pencil or book they needed. When class ended, the student was usually out the door with the borrowed item before I could remind them to return it.
Now, I make a silent trade without wasting class time needling the forgetful student. The student gets whatever he or she needs, and I get one of their shoes. I used to trade for watches or phones, but nothing works as well as a shoe to ensure that I get my pen back. Students may roll their eyes and sigh, but they prefer the trade to being reprimanded for a simple mistake.
Keep Them on Their Toes
I always made a real effort to call on as many students as possible during the class period. But I noticed that once a student answered a question, he or she often felt free to disengage from the rest of the discussion and let their mind wander. If you think I'm kidding, watch the surprised response you get from a student you call on two or three times in succession. Some students even protest; they'd already answered a question, so why was I calling on them again? This strategy keeps students on their toes to see what will happen next. Will I call on Jackie for a fourth time or shift my attention to someone else?
It's important to note that this technique is only successful if it's lighthearted and kids know you're not trying to embarrass them. This isn't to grill students for the answer; if they don't know it, move on.
Ask the Same Questions
When a question is answered satisfactorily, I often circle back to it to check for understanding and reinforce important ideas or concepts. For example, 10 minutes after an essential point is made, I might ask again, "Wait—tell me again how we know that Boo Radley cares about Scout and Jem?" or "What did we say this story's point of view is?" Students learn that answers aren't simply filed away, never to be considered again, and they continue to be part of the day's learning process.
Don't Address Problem Students during Class
Dealing with problem behavior—a student snoozing with their head on the desk, mumbling under their breath, texting, etc.—requires a delicate balance. Stopping the lesson to correct this behavior certainly gets that student's attention, but it also gets everyone else's attention as well, interrupting the class and sometimes leading to a brief altercation.
When I notice a problem behavior, I walk over to the student, bend down, and speak courteously and quietly so only the student can hear what I'm saying. "Annie," I might whisper, "please put your phone away." Or "Evan, can I talk to you for a second in the hall?" This action removes the student from center stage and makes it easier for him or her to adjust the behavior. You may not feel like being courteous when a student disregards your class rules, but it's a very useful skill to employ to keep a small infraction from escalating into a much larger issue.
Like all classroom management skills, these tips don't work with all students all the time. Acquiring new and different classroom management skills and modifying the ones we have is an ongoing process. A good teacher keeps plenty of tools in their kit because where one doesn't work, another might.