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More About Maintaining a “Good” Class

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This is the third in a series of posts on various positive classroom management strategies and tactics. You can see the rest of the series by clicking here. Though this series is a little different from the rest of my “The Best…” series, they have enough in common for me to include these classroom management posts withing that category.

These are just a few more ways I try to keep my classroom as a close to being a “community of learners” as possible. As I’ve stated in the other two posts on this same topic, I really don’t have to devote much effort to classroom management in my high school ESL classes. However, my mainstream ninth grade English classes are a different story.

Teaching ninth-grade mainstream students in an inner-city high school provides different kinds of challenges than teaching English Language Learners — no better, no worse, just different. And class management can be one of them.

Of course, even with my list of over twenty-five different tools I use, sometimes none of them work. I might just not be using them effectively enough, or maybe there are issues beyond my control that are contributing to the problem (for example, my gender). In my five years of teaching, I’ve had to move two students out to another class because nothing seemed to work. I’ve also had more than two moved into my classroom because of behavior issues elsewhere, and those have worked out fine.

Here are a few more ideas from my classroom management “toolkit”:

HAVING STUDENTS PUT POST-IT NOTES ON THEIR DESKS: For students who have particular challenges, like difficulty focusing or not having much self-control when it comes to speaking without thinking first, I offer the suggestion (which they are free to reject) of their putting a reminder post-it on their desk at the beginning of each class. I have multi-colored post-its that they can choose each day, and they can spend the first two minutes of class (which is usually a time for silent reading) writing and decorating it. Depending on their issue, they might write “FOCUS!” or “THINK!”.

Other times, after a discussion, they might decide on another optional use of post-its. One strategy I’ve used at times is having students write a hash mark on a post-it for every ten or fifteen minutes they feel they’ve been “on-task” and carrying their weight in class. On occasion, I’ve felt like I’ve had to offer a reward of some kind as an incentive, but the vast majority of time this has worked because the student has just wanted to develop more self-control.

SAYING I”M SORRY: It’s not unusual for me to show impatience, make a mistake, accuse a student of doing something when he/she did not, or just have a bad day. My sense is that many of my students have not experienced many adults apologizing to them. Not only does my apology depolarize tension, but I think it’s good modeling behavior as well.

TRYING TO INVOLVE STUDENTS IN DECISIONS TO CHANGE SEATS: I’m often tempted to arbitrarily change a student’s seat because of behavior issues. Sometimes I succumb to that temptation. However, what I try to do instead is engage the student in a conversation about how he or she is doing in class, where he/she wants to be at the end of the school year, and wonder if changing seats might be a tool to help them reach their goal. Generally, after that conversation, they agree, and then I ask them for their suggestions about what they think would be a good place for them to be and why. Usually it works out pretty well.

RECOGNIZING STUDENTS: I don’t know if this activity can be correctly defined as part of a class management strategy, but it does help maintain a positive classroom atmosphere. I can’t remember where I first read about this idea, but every Friday I have a “What I See In You” time. I pick a student, ask him/her to stand, and spend a few minutes sharing what I see in them, examples of their actions, etc. Every student is recognized during the course of the school year, and they seem to like it a lot.

DEVELOPING STUDENT CONTRACTS: Sometimes, particularly when a student’s behavior is worsening, I’ll sit down with him/her to discuss what would make the class work better for him/her and, in turn, what he/she could do to make it work better for me. We’ll then write out a contract which we both sign.

I hope you’ve found these ideas useful. Feel free to contribute classroom management suggestions based on your experience, too.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

6 Comments

  1. Larry,
    First, I want to reiterate my oft-repeated appreciation for you and your efforts with this blog. I have shared information (always with the recommendation to subscribe to your blog) with multiple colleagues; have celebrated you with other learners I work with; “thank you” seems so insufficient sometimes…
    Re: involving students in changing seats, and post-its: I remember assigning students in an urban middle school [in a classroom rife with 'out-of-control' issues and requests in the classroom comment box to change seats] home with the assignment to re-arrange the classroom seating in a way that they thought might be best for improving classroom management. The assignment was graded, and I remember developing a rubric of some kind with it. I gave each student a chart with seat row boxes and post-its, and a list of first names.
    I saved those charts and found them quite useful to review periodically, to note who might be a calming influence, might indicate good group cohorts, etc. It occurs to me now that it would have been interesting to repeat that exercise a couple of months later! Thoughts?

  2. What a great idea! I’ve had students in my ESL classes decide where they want to sit, but I could see doing this type of exercise, with a rubric, would be an excellent exercise that would provoke a lot of higher-order thinking in both ESL and mainstream classes..

    Larry

  3. Larry,
    Regarding your comments about saying I’m sorry, I agree with you. When I say I’m sorry for something I said, did, misunderstood whatever, I’m saying that I’m human too. I think this helps build positive relationships with students that lead to positive teaching and learning environments.

  4. I love the suggestion of “recognizing students” because I don’t think we do enough of that in school. This would even bring the shy quiet students up to the forefront. I have also used red/green square foam pieces glued together. They turn the green up on the desk when they’re working so I know they don’t need help. If they need help, they turn the red over. This is great because they don’t have to keep their hands raised while I’m helping someone else. I just go around the room and help the students with the reds on their desk. After I’m done helping them, I turn it back to green. I’m amazed the difference it made in my class.

  5. Sometimes we may find it difficult to make students understand that they don’t share the same ‘status’ as teachers when developing a lesson.
    However, the best policy to keep teacher authority is usually of a paradoxical nature, since it increases as far as teachers show a humble attitude. So, apologizing -when necessary- and recognizing students individually -always- are two of the most effective strategies to get a relaxed ready-to-learn class atmosphere.
    I think students appresciate this attitude much more than the mastery of our teaching area.

  6. I’m not very creative. I cannot imagine making a rubric for the room arrangement assignment. Could you please share?

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