This is part four of a series of posts I’ve written over the past several months on my ongoing efforts at using positive classroom management strategies at our inner-city school. The previous three have been:

When A “Good” Class Goes “Bad” (And Back To “Good” Again!) — April, 2008

Maintaining A “Good” Class — April, 2008

More About Maintaining a “Good” Class — May, 2008

This most recent post is prompted by a major struggle I’ve been having with my mainstream ninth-grade English class this year, who are with me for two full-hours each day (the rest of the time I teach Intermediate English Language Learners).  My students are very smart, and many come from challenging backgrounds.

I’ve been trying most of the classroom management strategies I’ve shared in those previous three posts but, to be truthful, few of them have been particularly effective in creating better classroom management this year.  One thing they have been successful in doing, however, has been in helping me develop strong, trusting relationships with all of my students.  This is the foundation that has allowed me to finally begin to create a more orderly classroom through using some new strategies.  Of course, the primary reason to create this kind of orderliness is to enhance student learning, not for the sake of orderliness.

Here are some of the actions I’ve taken that have finally begun to work:

“DON’T LET OTHERS CONTROL YOU”: I had been spending a lot of time “putting out lots of little fires” — students reacting to what other students would say or do to them (throw little pieces of paper, say something about their mother, etc.)  My reaction had typically been to go over to each student involved and ask them quietly to not repeat the action.  Sometimes I would send a student out of the classroom for a few minutes to “cool down.”  Punitive measures would typically just escalate the problem, so I seldom, if ever, implemented them (except in extreme cases).  I also used many of the positive actions I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, but improvement was minimal.

What I have begun to do now, instead, is when students react to provocations is to just ask them “Why are you letting __________ control you?  He/She is doing it just to get your reaction — don’t you want to be in control of you?”  I tell them that I’ll deal with the instigator firmly while the reacting student needs to work on his/her self-control.

This strategy has had a profound effect on how students act in the classroom now, and on how I respond to disruptions.  When issues arise, I continue to have short, quiet conversations with those involved.  But now, I don’t say, “Please be quiet.”  I say, “Why are you letting him/her control you?”  This stance has clearly resonated with students, particularly boys (who are a large majority in my class). I feel much better about my stance, too.  And the number of disruptions has fallen dramatically.

I assume I picked-up this idea from something I read somewhere, so I’m not claiming it as original.  I just can’t believe I haven’t used it earlier.

I’m also working students to think about how this strategy relates to the rest of their challenging lives.

This first strategy has been, by far, the most important one I’ve used to get a handle on this class this year.  Here are a couple of others that have helped, too:

“YOU MAY GET OUT OF YOUR DESK DURING CLASS — JUST ASK FOR PERMISSION FIRST: Usually, as long as I’m not talking to the class, I let students get-up to sharpen their pencils, get supplies, throw-out garbage, etc., without asking for permission.  However, with this class, that ability was often an excuse for unhelpful student-to-student interactions (intentionally bumping into each other).  I’ve begun enforcing this rule very strictly, with students having to be very clear with me what they want to do.

Framing it in a positive way –“You may get out of your desk — just ask for permission first” is something I’ve learned from Marvin Marshall, my favorite writer on positive classroom management strategies.  It sends a different message than “Don’t get up without permission.”

“YOU’LL HAVE THE SAME PARTNERS FOR SEVERAL WEEKS, AND HAVE A PERMANENT ASSIGNED LOCATION FOR YOUR PARTNER WORK”: I always have a lot of partner work going on in my classes, and, typically, I mix-them-up frequently and let students sit where they want.  This also was problematic with this class, and resulted in more classroom disruptions.

After consulting with students about their partner preferences, I assigned groups that will work together for several weeks, and have a classroom map where everyone knows where they will be when we do work in partners.  The group locations are strategically placed to minimize problems, with certain students far away from others.

I’ll keep readers posted as the year continues.

One good week does not a semester make, but at least it’s a start…