Thursday, August 4, 2011

Classroom Management Stuff for New Teachers

Warning: If you've taught more than 3 months, you should probably stop reading. This is going to be very boring. 

I participated in a twitter chat for David Coffey's  Facilitating Learning Environments (#FLE11) class about the first day of school. While it's in my head, I figure I can leave some advice for new teachers.

Remember, context is everything. So my advice is based on 6 years of teaching 7th and 8th grade science in a school located in an urban area. I'm going to focus on classroom management stuff because that's the only reason my school doesn't renew a new teacher. I attribute that more to admin focus than any particular deficiency in our new teachers but that's a conversation for another day.

For most of you this will be entirely obvious. For me it wasn't. I (am still) not a "natural."

Most of this stuff I use because it allows me to be even lazier. Of these, I'd say #3, #5 and #6 save me the most time during the day.

Oh, and best advice? Get comfortable shoes. Actually get a few and rotate.Trust me.
    Classroom Management Stuff:
    1. In the first few days, reading the rules and expounding your philosophy have a (small) place, but really what you need to do is get the kids doing something so you can walk around and learn their names. I get their names when they come in. I get them going with something and then I walk around the class and keep practicing out loud. Guess and let them know it's ok to correct you because how else will you learn. Use a mnemonic or some other memory technique. For the hard ones I ask them a question and picture them doing it. "What's your favorite sport/movie/book/etc?" Then it's, "Jesus who likes the Raiders" and I picture him dressed like fans in the Black Hole. My school starts on Wednesday. I can learn 150 kids by Friday, although I usually forget a few on Monday. Trust me here. Nothing will pay bigger dividends for a tween than you knowing their name.
    2. Don't make gloop and air rockets on the first day of school and then it's worksheets and notes the rest of the year. The first few days should be a snapshot of the whole year. They need to understand what you're about. If you're about worksheets and taking notes, then do that. Well, do that and then talk to me. We have some soul searching to do. My first days are here.
    3. Make sure you establish signals. Everyone talks about procedures but it's signals that will make them work. You'll definitely need a "stop, shut it, look at me" signal. Teach it like a routine. I raise my hand. They raise their hand. Get others attention. Turn your body. Quiet. After they're quiet, you need to keep the silence for an extra beat or two. That's the big one. You'll need to stop kids in the middle of busy and noisy labs. Sometimes it'll be for safety reasons. No matter how open you want your classroom to be, you'll need something like that. The hand raise is (theoretically) my school's universal sign for quiet. If you can get the rest of your teachers on board for a universal quiet signal, your life will be sooooooooo much better. I've tried a few other signals for this (counting down, squeaky toy) but the hand raise is good because it requires them to physically respond and doesn't require you to shout over anyone. I'm not a fan of clapping or chimes but some people really like them. I play a song for clean up (So Fresh, So Clean). Before giving instructions I start with "When I say go..." because whenever I would say "Everyone is going to need a ruler" half the class would stand up and walk over to get it before I was done.
    4. Find your sweet spot for procedures and routines. I know admin go crazy for them but in my first year I probably spent more time teaching procedures than I did actually using them. Stupid Harry Wong. Turns out I don't really care how a kid gets water or goes to the bathroom. Go with a few high yield, frequently used procedures and do them really well. Opening the class, cleaning up labs, and turning in work are good starts. I also teach my kids how to move the desks to get in and out of groups.
    5. I give my students numbers. 3 digits. The first digit corresponds to period number and the next two are unique. So first period goes 101-130, second period 201-230. Kids get them assigned alphabetically. That goes on everything. During random in-between times (like a group finished cleaning up early), give a stack to a kid and have her put them in order and paperclip. Have her put a post-it on the front of the stack with any missing numbers. Especially for the first few papers turned in, try to get this done immediately so you can track down the kids who don't turn in anything right away. They need to know you noticed these things. When you're putting stuff into your gradebook, your papers are already in order so you can just go right down the line.
    6. I do ROYGBIV color coding for each period. Actually OYGBP because red is too inflammatory and I have no idea what the difference between indigo and violet is. Each kid in first period has an orange portfolio and for calling on kids I use colored index cards. I like them better than popsicle sticks because you can put little notes on them.
    7. Teach students how to work in groups. Walk around and comment on how people are working together. Sam's post on participation quizzes is interesting although far too organized for me to ever pull off. Read Sue's post on Complex Instruction and work on assigning competence. I was too structured my first year. I took the reins off too much my second. I'm finding a good middle ground between Kagan and chaos.
    8. I've gone back and forth on group roles but I've decided overall they're a positive. My first year I used Facilitator, Materials Manager, Recorder, Presenter. I wasn't happy with the Recorder or Presenter roles because they were things I wanted everyone to be doing. I liked the Facilitator a lot. It came through especially when I'd need to give mid-course instructions. I could just call over the Facilitators. The Materials Manager is good for a science class. Those middle school kids love to pile around the supply table. I've changed the other two roles a few times and also gone without roles. I've wanted to try these Thinking Roles but I just never get around to it. Riley posted his here.
              Update: The ones I use this year are here.

    Non-classroom Stuff:
    1. Get to know your school secretaries, your custodians, the tech person, and whoever works in HR in your district as soon as possible. Everyone gives you this advice because it's true.
    2. Every principal has a "thing." Figure out what that is. I've had a principal who was big on bulletin boards and classroom look, another who was big on EL instruction, and another who cared mainly about classroom management. I'm not saying compromise your values, but it won't kill you to spruce up the room (my principal would laugh if she read this. My room is always a mess).
    3. Find allies. You've probably heard "avoid the lunchroom" talk. I used to do it. But truthfully teaching is lonely. Between yard duty and working with kids at lunch and after school, I can go days without talking to another teacher. Don't do that.
    4. Committees are a huge sucker of both time and soul. Sports, while more fun, will take at least double the amount of time you predict. Unless you were specifically hired to coach a sport, it's totally OK to turn down all committees and sports. I know a lot of new teachers feel they have to impress the admins, but I have never seen a teacher denied tenure because she didn't volunteer for PTA or coach the soccer team. I was elected (by the other teachers) school site committee president my first year. It was like hazing the new guy. Some contracts say you need to agree to X amount of committees or extra duties a year. First, find out if that's enforced. My unscientific sample of twitter teachers says that it's usually not. If it is, volunteer for things with set time limits and no chance of spilling into extra work. Extra yard duty, scorekeeping, dance and other event chaperoning are all good choices because they have a set start and end. Committees, coaching and anything that involves "organizing" will take up much more time than you expect.

    If you've got any other good classroom management advice let me know. I'll be happy to steal it. 

    More info:
    Zach Shiner has a really cool thing going on here. It's got tons of practical stuff.

    The MS Math Wiki has got a few things as well.


    1. I've got more years in the classroom under my belt than you do, but I still found this to be brilliant. You've taken some really critical things and managed to explain how and why very clearly.

      As an elementary school teacher I don't have some of the same challenges as you (lucky me!). I do everything in my classroom alphabetized by first name. The first graders don't really notice it but it makes it easy for me to realize when a paper is missing or kid is not there. Plus, it helps me learn their names quickly. Of course, I only have about 20 to learn!

      Your non-classroom tips are perfect. Well said.

    2. I'm not a teacher yet (I'm in college), but I plan to be one, and I really appreciate the advice in this post. I'll definitely be coming back to it before I enter the classroom. I enjoyed the post you linked to about what you do during the first days of school as well. I'd be interested to see another post this year about any changes you make and how they go.

    3. I sit my kids (HS Math) alphabetically by first name and we keep track/plot how many I get correct each day. When I know every name they get to sit where they want--within reason and always subject to change.

    4. Don't kid yourself, Jason. This is important stuff for veterans and newbies alike. It's good to know what others are doing for affirmation as well as the occasional "man, I never even thought of doing it that way."

      I have a couple of questions:

      1. Do your students use their numbers instead of names on assignments/quizzes/tests or do they write both?

      2. Does your school have established universal signals for things like getting a class' attention?

      3. What other signals do you use?

      4. What is the purpose of the colored index cards? I use cards as well but I can't see why I'd care if they were colored.

      5. Have you posted on your portfolio use beyond the linked post?

      That should do...for now.

    5. @Anonymous - I do random assortment (they get a card when they come in, match the card to a chair). I don't usually use alphabetical because other teachers do so the same kids are often next to each other. On the other hand, a seating chart of some kind definitely makes it easier to learn kids names for some people. It's a bit harder for me though because I start to associate position with name. So a kid moves chairs and I have a little bit harder time remembering them. That's a good idea to track/plot. Thanks.

      @David -
      1. They do both. We have a standard heading at our school and they put the number in the top right corner. It's important that kids know you'll never refer to them by their number, it's only there to make your life easier.

      2. In theory, the hand raise is supposed to be the universal signal but I'd say it's about 50/50. Additionally the "how to respond to the hand raise" varies by teacher. It'd be worth it to figure that out as well.

      3. I'll get back to you on this when school starts and I remember what my classroom actually looks like. Quiet, clean up, and Go signals are definitely my most used. We had this inservice once where we were taught hand signs for things like going to the bathroom, getting up, sharpening pencils, "I have a questions vs I have an answer." I know some teachers with a lot of success with that but it's too much for me.

      The only other signals I can think of I use are for questioning routines I use. I think that'll require a full blog post.

      4. No reason other than it makes it easier for me to visually identify the period. I'm disorganized.

      5. Not that I remember. Anything you want to know?

    6. Jason,

      Great post! I do the numbers too for students (math class number) and I love it. I have them put their name and number on each paper, test, GDoc survey. It saves me a tremendous amount of time. It is great for GDoc spreadsheet work because I tell everyone to work on the row that corresponds to their math class number and then no one's work gets overwritten. That is very important on a GDoc spreadsheet with middle school students.

      I love your colored index card idea! I used to use them, but not colored. They will be very clear to differentiate. I do as much in color coordinating as I can for easier identification. I went to popsicle sticks last year and they were fun, but in reading your post I realized that index cards are better. As a beginning of the year time-saver I have my students write their own names on the index card / popsicle stick on the first day.

      I did not realize until I read this that I need a signal. I use my voice, but that is annoying (to me). I'm going to try the hand! Middle school can be noisy. I'm with David - I would love to see more signals too, please post about it soon!

      Thank you!

    7. @ispeakmath Nice with the GDocs! Quickly grouping by number is a good one too. "All evens go here" "If your number is between..."

    8. I agree that this post has something for everyone, even veteran teachers! It is always nice to see how others are doing things since we always have room to improve. Thanks for all the ideas.

    9. Love the ideas. These are little tricks that (at least for me) went unmentioned during pre-service teaching but as I've picked them up have become super valuable.

      My favorite for random grouping is to have students stand up and "put themselves in order" by some random characteristic. I usually like to pick slightly odd characteristics just to make it interesting (like by the 3rd letter of their last name, or by the amount of blue they're wearing, etc.).

    10. Thanks, this is the best 'starter' advice I've read. Found it just in time, as our school year in South Africa starts next week. and I'm starting at a new school. Too many conflicting bits of fancy first days advice were swirling in my head.