As a first year teacher, I set out to provide my students with a laundry list of procedures from their very first days in my classroom. I was of the mindset that students will rise to my expectations if only I explained what I wanted, and in many ways they did. Over the past three years, I learned that some of the procedures on my list worked like a charm while others fell flat. Here are five classroom procedures I have found tried and true – I cannot imagine teaching in a high school classroom without them!
This idea really isn’t anything new, but in the age of technology, it is so much easier than it was for teachers of the past! I remember how my teachers would have huge sections of their boards blocked off for each course they taught. They might have chosen to display the objective for the lesson that day or the assignments that were due each day. However, I was blessed with a projector, so I learned to use the idea of class announcements to a higher potential.
For one thing, I always hate the question, “Are we doing anything today?” or it’s very similar friend, “What are we doing today?” To these questions I enthusiastically respond, “Yes, we are learning something today! Take a look at the class announcements.” At the beginning of every class I project announcements specific to what we are learning / practicing that day as well as information for setting up their table of contents in their Interactive Student Notebook (aka the “ISN” – read much more on the subject here). This not only helped me avoid this question almost entirely, but when the bell rang nearly every student (not exaggerating here) would be on task preparing their notes.
Below is a sample screenshot of my class announcements. As you can see, nothing spectacular or beautiful, although they certainly could be. Let’s be honest though, I didn’t have the time! But the minute of preparation that it took me to type this up in all it’s dullness definitely helped my transitions from class to class.
When I was student-teaching and later subbing, I cringed during the times that I had to pass out materials to the students. Even if the students were in nice rows or groups, it took valuable minutes away from instruction and was a breeding ground for poor student behavior. I’m not sure if I developed this idea myself or if I saw someone online do it first… but I have to say, it was a life-saver!
The concept is quite simple: in a location that is easily accessible to students as they enter, set up a folder for each class you teach. On the left, I place materials that I would have to pass out to the class. As students walk into class, they simply pick up their own materials.
You may be wondering what happens on the right? When I refill the left side for the next day, I shift all the leftover materials to the right for absent students. The responsibility for managing resources is the sole responsibility of the students. Since I’ve gained the right to dictate how my classroom runs, the only papers I EVER pass out are 1) tests or 2) papers I forgot to put in the folders. And as for the question of “What did we do yesterday?”… well, I would respond with my own question: “Did you check the folder?” LOVE IT!!!
I always knew that I wanted to utilize groups in my high school classroom – so much work in the adult world is collaborative, how could I not want to prepare them for this?! However, it wasn’t until I read a blog post that used “group roles” that I realized the groups could also help tremendously with my classroom management and transitions as well. (Read that post here!)
Going back to the class folders idea and students picking up their own materials… when put into practice I soon ran into a small issue. Some students were late to their seats because it was taking too long for everyone to pick up their materials. Basically we had a bottleneck issue in the doorway (where my folders were located), and I realized group roles could definitely help me in this department! Each group in my classroom ideally has three members, each with a unique role: the Manager, the Organizer, and, you guessed it, the Deliverer. The deliver’s role is to collect the materials for his or her group before class begins (and sometimes puts away materials at the end), which means only about six students stop at the folder rather than 20-something.
As for the other two roles? Equally valuable. The Organizer keeps track of all the materials in a small box at their group – this can be whatever you may need – we had scissors, glue sticks, rulers, erasers, highlighters, expo-markers, and whiteboards. The Manager (usually selected purposefully when developing a seating chart) ideally helps group-work run more smoothly. I attempt to train the Managers to ask ‘guiding questions’ and help make sure everyone is keeping up and no one is racing ahead. It’s an important job – and I honestly can’t track all of that by myself during collaborative times. (Interested in reading a more detailed post about Group Roles? Read on!)
Students’ Questions During Practice
[Now, before I discuss this, let me first clarify I am not making these suggestions 1) if a student is asking a question in the midst of instruction or 2) if a student has been struggling and is seeking extra tutor-style help. The situation I am advising you on is during independent or collaborative practice after instruction.]
You ready for this? Here it is: Don’t immediately answer the question!
What? Did I say that correctly? Yes, don’t answer them. Here is my usual one-liner: “That’s a good question – did you look at your notes?” Students are so frustrated by this response to their good question, because we live in an immediate-stimulation world. They want to know the answer right away, and I am their own personal math Google. The reason I redirect students to their notes is two-fold: 1) they learn better when they struggle and require self-confidence, and 2) they need to learn to navigate their resources for the times I’m not available. If students are really put out by this redirect, I’ll usually take a moment to explain my reasoning… something along the lines of, “I can’t be everywhere at the same time, so if I’m not here to help, you need to be able to use your notes to help you.”
Well, what if the student responds with “Yes, I did look in my notes”? Then the dialogue continues, but I do not yet answer the question. I say, “Okay, show me” and we go from there. Often times I can pin-point the issue by students’ misinterpretation of the notes or find the underlying mathematical misconception; either way, I am addressing their needs in a deeper way than if I immediately tell them what to do.
I have another one-liner I loved to use when my students are working collaboratively: “Did you ask your group?” This often stops a group dead in their tracks because they are now found out – they left someone behind who had a question and didn’t even notice! The questioning student will usually say “No…” with a downcast face, and the group will say, “Well, what was your question?” It’s a beauty to behold.
One last thing: there are some questions that I do answer immediately, and most of my students phrase their questions like this by the end of the year – “I am confused about ______. I asked everyone and we looked in our notes here *shows notes and points with finger*, but we still don’t understand. Is ________?” To this I beam because they’ve done the whole dialogue for me, and I can help three or four students at once, rather than just one.
At first, implementing this may seem tedious. Sometimes it’s easier to address a students question immediately and walk away. However, the learning is so much deeper if this becomes one of your transitions. By the end of the year, these students will be trained to ask specific questions, and you’ll notice a significant change in the types of answers you have to give.
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve nearly walked you through what it is like to be in my classroom minus the lesson. And how can a class end without leaving procedures? In my classroom, I called it “clean up”. Clean up procedures are so valuable, because if your classroom is left a wreck then your next class is off to a poor start. If you don’t have clean up procedures, you should earnestly consider implementing them!
Here’s how I do it:
Usually we work right up until the end of class. I’m a little OCD about it – I don’t even hang a clock in my room because I want to be the one in charge of announcing “clean up”. About two-five minutes before the bell rings (it depends on how into the activity students are and how many announcements I want to make), I will simply announce “let’s clean up”, and things just start happening! Organizers are putting supplies away, Deliverers are returning calculators, and students are putting away all their materials. As things settle down, I’ll move to the board and make some last minute announcements, tell a joke, or ask what they thought of the lesson.
Did this start happening immediately? No. I had to train my class on how to “clean up”. At the beginning of the year, students always want to tell me when class is almost over or students will just start putting up their things whenever. I give a reprimand or two, but after that, classes that “clean up” early are held after the dismissal bell. I may have to give a reminder or two throughout the year, but classes usually don’t make the mistake again. Besides, most of the the time, students were so into our activities, they didn’t realize class is almost over!
These 5 essential classroom procedures will definitely help your classroom transition more smoothly, but don’t feel like you have to tackle them all at once! Pick and choose ones that work for you, and let me know how it goes. Do you have an awesome classroom procedure that you can’t imagine teaching without? Please sure in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!