By Teachers, For Teachers
I have had the chance to be in many classrooms, and I feel like after observing a great many teachers at work, there are a few common classroom management factors that I’ve witnessed teachers utilize that set up students for success. Whether rookie or veteran, teachers will benefit their students by making sure they include these simple but powerful elements into their classroom management instructional practices. These tips are designed to be simple to understand and use. But despite their simplicity, they will help teachers maximize their classroom management to help students better process their own understanding.
Wait time is simply defined as the amount of time a teacher provides silence for thinking. Wait time is typically employed after a teacher asks a question and after a student responds. Oftentimes after asking a question, teachers call on a student as soon as possible. However, research demonstrates that pausing for 3-5 seconds after posing a question gives space for students to think about their responses. Calling on a student immediately without wait time closes the door on student thinking and decreases engagement.
Jackie Acree Walsh and Beth Dankert Sattes write in their article “A New Rhythm For Responding” in Educational Leadership that, “Investigators found that both students and teachers benefit from the intentional and consistent use of these silences. Students, of course, are the most important beneficiaries, particularly in terms of their responses to teacher questions.”
Here are some of the advantages of wait time Walsh and Sattes identify:
“Think time” is often used interchangeably with wait time, but I take it to mean something a little more. While wait time focuses on giving students 3-5 seconds to process a question, think time offers students much more sustained space to process their thinking.
Often a classroom can be a noisy place between a teacher sharing content and students interacting with one another. These aren’t bad things at all; however, sometimes within the course of a lesson students’ own thoughts are drowned out. Students should make sure they have an opportunity to think through a question, a topic, or a task and encode the information in a way that they are more likely to remember.
Think time is a way for teachers to say to students, “Now you try it,” and then giving students an appropriate length of time to actually do so. Researcher Robert Stahl refers to think time as a time when “Student task-completion work-time occurs.” This period of “Uninterrupted silence is provided for students to remain on-task. This period allows students to complete a short or lengthy academic task that demands their undivided attention. Each period of uninterrupted silence should be appropriate to the length of time students need to complete the particular task.”
Think time, like wait time, offers an opportunity for uninterrupted thinking. When we want students to wrestle with a task or a new concept, it is essential they are provided with this space.
Knowledge in general can seem abstract and distant. It is important for teachers to make learning relevant to students’ realms of familiarity. If information appears too far beyond a student’s context, then students may be unlikely to understand or appreciate the knowledge.
Every good speaker knows they need to illustrate their ideas with concrete examples their audience can relate to. If the examples don’t make sense, then the concept itself might get lost. Teachers, too, need to consistently remember who their audience is and build appropriate illustrations that meaningful connect to student familiarity.
Consider how well elements such as your math word problems, your argumentative essay prompts, and your science labs relate to students. If these tasks have little connection to student background knowledge or areas of interest, students are less likely to understand or engage with the material.
When students encounter a different situation every day, it takes time for them to learn how to react or what’s expected of them. However, a classroom that establishes clear routines is a classroom where students know what to do and what they can expect.
The National Education Association says, “Routines, carefully taught, can save large amounts of time during the year. When students know exactly what is expected of them in a variety of situations, the time saved can be spent teaching rather than organizing or disciplining.”
What are the sorts of procedures students can expect in your classroom every day? A kindergarten class might begin with discussing the weather and the day’s date, or students might have assigned “Jobs” in the room that rotate each week. A junior high classroom might begin with a brief journal prompt or a posted daily agenda.
Good teachers establish routines and expectations for a variety of situations students encounter. Doing so maximizes the efficiency of the classroom and provides a more stable, healthy learning environment. What routines are in place for putting materials away at the end of class? What about when students transition in and out of collaborative groups? What about when leaving the classroom for lunch, recess, or the end of the day?
Consider how you can provide clear guidelines at the beginning of the year, and then stick to those guidelines so students understand “This is the way we do things.”
As students progress through school, they are likely to develop a mindset about themselves and their abilities. Many students begin seeing themselves as “Smart” or “Dumb,” as “A math person” or a “Good writer.” While we all develop a sense of our strengths and weaknesses over time, the danger for students lies in the possibility that they perceive their abilities as “Fixed” and unchangeable. They either are a good student or they’re not.
Fortunately, intelligence is not fixed. It is fluid. But do your students know this? Do they know that with effort and belief they can in fact improve their skills in almost any area? Carol Dweck, one of the leading researchers in the fluidity of intelligence, defines the Growth Mindset as “The understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.”
Researcher Lisa Blackwell conducted a semester-long intervention for math students in which students were split into two groups. One group received two lessons on how the brain works and how intelligence is not innate. The result, as summarized in Newsweek by Po Bronson, was that “The students who had been taught that intelligence can be developed improved their study habits and grades. In a single semester, Blackwell reversed the students’ longtime trend of decreasing math grades.”
It doesn’t take much time to tell students about this simple and powerful truth that it is their effort and self-belief more than their innate intelligence that will determine their success. Take that time and help students take a step towards better understanding how they can continually grow.
How physically close to your students are you during the normal course of instruction? Being near students for the purpose of encouraging appropriate behaviors and supporting learning is called Proximity Control. It could potentially make a big difference for how on task your students are.
We’ve written about proximity control before and emphasize that our physical distance from students impacts multiple factors. A teacher’s presence near students reminds students of the expectations for that moment and also makes the teacher more available as an assistive resource.
When the teacher is nearby, students are less likely to engage in behavior that would require redirection. On the other hand, when the teacher is strictly up in front of the classroom, students are more distant depending on where they are sitting. The stigma of the “Back row students” is a stigma because students in the back are traditionally furthest from the teacher and therefore the most likely to lose focus, engage in distracting behaviors, or be less likely to ask or receive direct assistance. The teacher’s physical presence around the entire classroom eliminates this stigma and helps all students maximize their time in the room.
Often students just don’t have a clear idea of what they’re striving towards without concrete models to guide them. It’s one thing to describe a particular skill or task, and it’s another thing to actually show students what they’re trying to accomplish.
For example, if you’re teaching presentation skills to students, then you could merely describe what constitutes good structure, eye contact, gestures, and visual aids. But this is all in the abstract and gives students a relatively vague point of reference upon which to found their own presentation. Go one step further and give students a model presentation, showing them what you mean. This presentation can be done yourself or via video.
This concept of modeling applies to all elements of education. Wants students to make a poster? Show them a sample poster. Want students to write a story? Give them a sample story. Want students to annotate an article? Model the thinking and annotation for them first. When students see for themselves what qualifies as an appropriate result or action, then they are much more likely to target their efforts towards the quality and character of the model.
What else would you add to this list? This list is far from exhaustive, and there are many other basic components of quality teaching that deserve due attention. Often when I reflect on my teaching or prepare for an upcoming lesson, I ask myself questions that relate to the ideals I establish for myself:
The list can go on with a range of questions focusing on elements that will improve the classroom experience for students. My targeted questions get me reflecting – sometimes even during a lesson – so that I can continually focus on what works and make sure it’s happening.
Each of these above tips are simple for teachers to understand and deploy in their classrooms. Are these present in your class?
What do you think of these seven classroom management basics? What else would you add to the list? Let us know your advice in a comment below!
Jordan Catapano taught English for twelve years in a Chicago suburban high school, where he is now an Assistant Principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.