Archive | September 2015

Timing and Pace; the Ultimate Challenge

Timing is defined as the choice, judgement, or control of when something should be done.

Pace is defined as the speed at which something happens. 

Timing and pace set the tone of your classroom and they are solely determined by you.  If your timing and pace are not synchronized, you will find the day to day running of your classroom a challenge.

Every new teacher finds timing and pace the ultimate challenge.  Mastering this skill in the classroom is achieved by: getting to know your students, careful planning, having a well flowing schedule, being flexible, taking risks, trial and error, and experience.

Getting to know your students:

I’ve been thinking about a rule of thumb to follow and came up with a simple mathematical solution; multiply your student’s age by 2.  This will be the number of minutes you have to complete your lesson; before you begin to lose the masses.

Once you get to know your students well, and as they mature throughout the year, you may find you can adjust the formula. As you plan your lessons, keep in mind the time restraints you will have as the year progresses.

Careful Planning

Possibly every teacher’s worst nightmare is to under plan.  Under planning leaves voids of time to be filled by what? Therefore, you need to plan carefully.

Over planning is highly recommended because what you don’t get done today, can be done tomorrow.

Always have an activity in your back pocket which can serve as a review or reinforcement of previously taught material for times of under planning.

Being Flexible

The wiki definition of the idiom the best laid plans sums this up well.

A proverbial expression used to signify the futility of making detailed plans when the ability to fully or even partially execute them is uncertain.

Teachers need to develop the ability to be flexible when things aren’t going the way they had planned. There may be a multitude of forces which come into play each day that cannot be planned for or anticipated.

This is when it is critical that you have the ability to be flexible.  If you aren’t flexible with your planning, you may find yourself working against forces you cannot control or stop.

Well Flowing Schedule

The schedule you follow in your own classroom should be a work of art.  When planning out your schedule, you firstly need to consider the needs of your students.  Secondly, consider what subject areas you need to cover and the time allotment needed for each.

Consider the following when planning your daily and weekly schedule:

  • attention span of your students
  • time spent in their seats
  • time spent at group areas
  • length of lessons
  • length of seat work periods
  • natural breaks in the day
  • time spent listening
  • time spent sharing
  • time on hands on activities
  • curriculum content

Your schedule should be balanced and flow naturally so students and yourself are moving easily through the day and week from one activity to another.

Be Willing To Take Risks

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is trying something new.  It can be like a breath of fresh air for yourself and your students.

Taking yourself ‘out of your comfort zone’ can be be risky but also very rewarding when you feel and see the new growth in your teaching practice.  This risk taking will help you fine tune the timing and pace you establish in your classroom.

Trial and Error

Trial and error requires confidence and trust in yourself as an educator, colleague and role model. Consulting with others who have ‘stepped out of the box’ can help with the planning of new adventures in the classroom or bring new perspectives into your classroom to try.

Have faith in yourself and keep trying to fine tune your practice until you have your classroom running in a manner which works best for your students and yourself.

Experience

Experience speaks volumes but does not always have to be measured in years.  It can be measured in short snippets of time. The key to experience is learning, growing, and reflecting on what you have done and taking this forward with you into the future.

Final Thoughts

Placing yourself in front of a classroom of students day after day is a leap of faith in one’s ability to educate.  Have faith in yourself and your students; to enable you both to create a smoothrunnin’ classroom together.

The Power of Calm

Calm can prevail!  The power of calm can be felt the minute one enters your classroom.  The tone is set by you, and you alone. This calm should be felt even through the most chaotic of lessons, moments, interactions, routines and structures of the day and week.

Physical Arrangement

Your classroom should have smooth lines of traffic.  Creating this ease of movement throughout the classroom will help to maintain this sense of calm.  The old saying of ‘less is more’ should be your mantra.

Student Desks

Minimize what is kept in student desks.  If materials are stored there, ensure they are organized. Folders for different subjects are great organizational tools.  Weekly desk cleans of contents done by students to: discard, hand in, reorganize and wipe clean will be another tool to help maintain calm.

Desks and Chairs

Student desks and chairs need to be a proper height. Take the time to do a quick visual assessment on each student’s desk and chair.  How frustrating it must be if: your legs don’t fit under your desk, your feet don’t even touch the floor, your arms are up by your shoulders when working at your desk. Students who are physically comfortable in your classroom, will be more relaxed and content learners.

Your Desk Area

Keeping yourself organized and your work area organized is a huge accomplishment and is essential in maintaining your sense of calm.  Clutter is the enemy; so beware.  Take the time at the end of the day or during a break to reorganize your area if chaos or clutter prevails.

Your Demeanor

The cadence of your voice should exude calm.  The faster your rate of speech, the higher the pitch, the more intonation; the less calm will prevail in your classroom. You need to consciously monitor yourself throughout the day; even through some of the darkest or most joyous of times.

Classroom 

Daily reorganization and clean ups done by the students and yourself are essential to maintaining that sense of calm in the classroom.  Quick cleanups before lunch, recess or breaks will assist in recreating that sense of calm every time the room is entered by yourself and your students.

Take a Break

If is imperative that you take a moment or two or three to decompress yourself periodically throughout the day.  You may feel you are wasting precious time, but the moments taken will help you to keep yourself calm and focused.

Final Thoughts

Keeping in tune with how you feel on the inside and how you appear on the exterior, will help you maintain and preserve the calm, so essential to a smoothrunnin’ classroom.

The Troubleshooting Mechanic

Every teacher needs to think of their classroom as a well oiled machine that must run efficiently and tirelessly for an entire school year.  Your machine will likely hit a few bumps along the way, sputter, stall and need to go back to the shop for maintenance.

Your job as the driver of the classroom, is to constantly maintain your machine and troubleshoot any problems along the way.  You cannot ignore any warning signs of trouble.  You need to address them and determine a way to fix the problem.

Teachers are the ultimate mechanic and the best of the best, are the ones who have the greatest maintenance track record.

If you find yourself day after day dealing with the same issues, with the same students, then you need to figure out a way to fix it. You need to troubleshoot until you find a way to fix the problem.  It may take a while, but the pay off is huge if it is fixed.

Examples:

  • pencil sharpener constantly being used

SOLUTION Collect all miscellaneous used pencils from students, with students keeping one at their desk. Place a bag over the sharpener with a closed sign and have the box of the used pencils sharpened and ready to go. When students need a sharp pencil, they can place their dull, broken pencils in the To Be Sharpened box and take a sharp pencil. Wipe off the pencils at the end of the day with a disinfecting wipe and sharpen them ready to go for the next day. Reopen the sharpener when it is an appropriate time.

  • taking too long in washroom

SOLUTION: Use an egg timer to time those who spend too long in the washroom.  Set the timer for an appropriate amount of time and if student has not returned, have another student or adult go check on the student.

  • very frequent washroom users

SOLUTION: Create a boys and girls class list on a grid with last names removed (for student confidentiality) and have multiple copies of a girls list and boys list put on two separate mini clip boards. When a student is leaving to use the washroom, have them put a check mark in a free box beside their name and when they return, put a line through the check mark.  You will quickly see a pattern of washroom use and who is using it excessively.

  • students interrupting small group instruction for washroom break

SOLUTION: Have students approach you quietly to make eye contact with you and have them use the universal sign language symbol for washroom. 

  • student speaking out of turn

SOLUTION:  Provide the student with 3 tokens for the day.  Every time the student speaks out of turn, take a token.  Once all three are gone, the student will be removed from the group to another spot in the classroom, and no longer be able to participate in the lesson.  When a new lesson begins, provide him with 2 tokens using the same process and then 1 token.  Very soon this student will have more success regulating his speaking out.  

  • student who accomplishes very little

SOLUTION: When the student is given work to complete, record the time on his sheet and check in periodically with him to see how much he has accomplished.  Record the time beside what he has completed.  It will soon become evident how much or how little he is accomplishing in a work period.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the many little problems highlighted that occur regularly in any classroom. When these problems are met with viable solutions, a smoother running classroom will result.  Time spent to find solutions to daily classroom problems, is time well spent in long run for everyone.

Who’s in Charge?

Every seasoned teacher knows one of the key elements of running a classroom successfully and surviving the year, is firmly establishing that ‘you are in charge’. If students do not know this, deeply believe this and respect this, a teacher will be trying to navigate a sinking ship.

There always will be those students who have learned by this point in their lives; that adults in positions of authority are in charge.  However, as time goes on and and the family unit and society as a whole continue to change, there seems to be more and more students who really do not have a concept of this.

It is critical that any teacher of any age group firmly establish that they are in charge.  If this is not established, a teacher will find classroom control and management a challenge.

Some key ways to do this are as follows:

Still Talking!
1. Do not speak over students who are still talking. If you have asked the class to stop and listen, be forefront in the classroom and wait, looking at those who are still talking, without saying a word.

Do not begin until you have their attention. Use your body language to help you.  You may need to move closer to the students, change the expression on your face, and use body language cues.

Once they have complied, soften your expression and your body language and begin your lesson or instructions.

The Arguers and the Defiant

2. If a student attempts to challenge your authority by non compliance, arguing etc., ask them who is in charge and wait for their answer.  When they have established that you are in charge, then ask them again to comply.

If they refuse to comply, ask them if you need to let your authority figure know that they do not want to comply. Again, wait for their decision.  If they still will not comply, contact your superior.

Stop everything until this is finished!  It may take a while, but the next time it happens, your wait time will be less.

No Idea!

3. There also may be students who, for no fault of their own, have not learned their teacher is in charge and they need to do what they are asked while at school.

Taking a student like this aside, and explaining to them how this concept works and how they need to follow this concept while at school is a starting point.  They will probably require prompts from yourself along the way to help them learn this.

They may also need to understand that there may be consequences for them when they do not do what they are asked. These children will most likely slowly begin to change their ways when they realize there are consequences they don’t particularly like which prevent them from having fun, unlike their peers who are having fun.

The Fence Sitters

4. In every classroom, there will be those who ‘sit on the fence’.  They can go either way with compliance depending on who their friends are.

These students need to be quickly and surely readjusted in a firm, but gentle way. Using consequences for these students is usually a quick remedy.

You can these use body language and eye contact as prompts for these students and they will usually quickly comply.

You may need to determine if a standing position during a discussion is more appropriate as this is a more authoritative stance.

The Sweet Ones

5. There are then those poor soles who are forced to wait, and wait and wait for their fellow classmates to comply to enable the teacher to continue on with the day. These students need to be recognized for their good citizenship and respect for others.

Final Thoughts

If a teacher clearly and surely establishes that they are in charge, good classroom management will follow with firmly established routines and expectations.

The Joys of Creating Independence

The sooner you instill independence in your students, the sooner you will be able to teach and the more teaching time you will have!

Morning Routine

Your morning routine should be firmly established from the first steps your students take into the school each morning.

This independence will give you the freedom to do what you need to do each day upon entry: greeting students, attendance, assisting students who need help etc.

The routine you establish is comforting to students because they know what to expect each morning upon entry and children thrive on routine and structure.  This is not to say that some days, things may change.  But as the saying goes;change is good but it is not always easy.

Transitions

Transitions in the classroom from one activity to another should be done quickly and smoothly to create a calmness even during organized chaos. The only way to achieve this is through routine.

A few examples of transition times which can be taught are: moving from seats to group area, putting away materials, lining up to leave the classroom, walking down the hall as a class.  My previous post highlights how to teach a new routine.

These routines should be taught throughout the year and reviewed periodically or when deemed necessary.

Classroom Supplies

Where supplies are kept, how they are handled, cared for and returned is a routine which will help the day move efficiently along with little direction from the teacher.

Careful planning and consideration of supply area locations and their organization, will allow for a easy flow of the distribution and return of supplies.

Classroom Books

Most classrooms will hopefully have a good supply of books for independent reading.  Students need to be taught how the books are organized (genre, fiction and non-fiction, levels etc.); how to handle them; how to correctly return a book.

You will want to keep your book collection organized and your students can do this for you by implementing a routine.

Classroom Expectations

Every classroom requires a simple set of expectations which can be generated by the teacher and students. These expectations should be reviewed regularly and reinforced naturally throughout the year to help keep everyone on track.

Keep it simple and when a rule is broken, the student can be gently or firmly redirected using the classroom expectations as a starting point.

An example would be: respect the learning of others.  If a student is getting a group of students off task, remind him that he is not respecting the learning of others.

Children need and want clearly defined boundaries and will usually respond positively when they realize they have crossed a line of acceptable behavior. Clearly defined expectations will help children take more responsibility for their actions and ultimately help guide them more independently through the day.

School/Home Communication Folder

Teaching children to be responsible for this folder is key to ensuring seamless communication between school and home occurs.

Students should be taught to unpack these folders each morning at school, repack at the end of the day and unpack at home and repack for school.

This routine, which involves home, can be communicated to parents/guardians in a variety of ways depending on the teacher preference.

End of Day

How the day ends, can be almost as important as how the day starts. You want happy children heading home to share their day with their families.

Have students organized well before the dismissal bell to ensure a stress free end of the day for the students and yourself. Establish a routine to ensure students have everything they need to bring home.

Final Thoughts

Taking the time to establish these routines in your classroom will have a huge payoff for you and your students.  It will take time, patience, reinforcement and dedication but the end result of creating this independence for your students will be joyous for all!