Last May, I hated my job. I was overwhelmed with all of my responsibilities for a number of reasons, including personal circumstances. However, I'd also created a monster at school through my lack of solid plans, including classroom management.
When discussing what the most important aspect of teaching was during my teacher prep program, I decided on classroom management since it forms the structure of everything else we do and provides us an environment conducive to learning. I did not realize how true that was - and that the classroom management plan cannot be a half-baked idea with the expectation that students will fill in the blanks like young adults might in order to make class time useful. Last May I absolutely realized that and vowed that I would not let my classroom deteriorate like that again. I do not want to hate my job in May. It's such a wonderful, rewarding, miraculous job - and I want to want to keep coming back!
So, this last summer I overhauled my classroom discipline and management plans. This led to a number of small but significant changes in my classroom, all adding up to a class that I'm absolutely loving now that we're 2 weeks into the school year. My classroom feels more like a place of learning than it ever did before. My solid plans are what kept my sanity through two straight weeks of non-working technology, students being added/dropped/switched daily (even just yesterday!), starting XC practices on the second day of school with a first-year team, and still managing things in my personal life (including a trip during the entire weekend with no time to prep for week 2!). Students are still learning the procedures and expectations, but they're working like a charm and it's only going to get better from here!
The book I've been using to overhaul my classroom is "Discipline in the Secondary Classroom." By working through the chapters step by step, I developed a vision of what I want my classroom to look like, clear expectations to communicate to my students, procedures that will help my classroom run smoothly, and more physical management artifacts such as my Course Expectations and even the arrangement of my room. Here are some examples of things that have worked wonders these first two weeks:
Behavior Log/Rules and Guidelines for Success
I used to groan at things like behavior logs and grading behavior/participation at first. Now, I will never teach without one. The first week made me a fan - the second week made me frenzied fanatic over this thing. The basic concept is that I keep a clipboard with all students names on it and a column for each day of the week Friday-Thursday. I have codes for specific behaviors I want to encourage and discourage. Students start the week with 15/20 points, and their behaviors are tallied and then totaled Thursday nights. My items are directly linked to the rules (LISTEN: Look me in the eye or where I direct your attention, Involve yourself, Show me when you get it and when you don't, Tune back in, Español only, No talking over), which are 6ft high on my wall right next to the door. We began with a discussion of the rules as well as the Guidelines of Success (Susan Gross's "Responsibility, Respect, Results"), also posted on a large poster next to the rules. In addition to these individual points The results of this practice has been miraculous:
- Since students are starting with a "C", I'm constantly looking for behaviors to reward. This constant effort ensures (and keeps track of) how many positive/negative interactions I'm having with regard to behavior and ensures that I keep it at that ideal 5:1 ratio of positive and negative comments. In fact, my ratio is MUCH higher than that. For students that are having regular behavior problems (and point reductions), I make an extra effort to notice things that they're improving on, such as rewarding these students for things as simple as raising their hand BEFORE they speak, making a comment that is on-topic and adds to the class, or simply being on task. One particular student started this year right where we left off last year, but I was able to correct the behaviors that continued all last year within one week this year!
- I am effectively encouraging students to do the things that are typically harder to get them to do. Rather than being something embarrassing that only pays off in long-term learning, by stopping me when they don't understand, raising their hand to ask a question, or taking a risk by answering a question (particularly discussion questions),students are immediately rewarded with recognition for something they did awesome and a point toward their grade.
- All students participate. Because they need their points, they involve themselves more often and no one can just sit back and be a fly on the wall to earn the grade they want to. This really gets to my smart kids whose input I want, but they're sometimes so used to just sitting back and understanding the material without getting involved that they don't participate the way that I'd like them to. It also ensures that I'm interacting with everyone - No more doubt about who has answered all the questions and who hasn't said a thing. I have the proof in my hands at all times! Especially toward the end of the week, I'll check to see who hasn't earned any points and remind them, as well as put a priority on calling on them if/when they raise their hand. Likewise, I have justification to tell an over-eager student that they have all of their points for the week, and I'd like to give another student an opportunity to earn a point before I call on them. Thus, they're rewarded, but I make sure all students get the attention they deserve.
- Students get immediate feedback. Both during the class time and then when the grades are posted on Friday (hence the Fri-Mon schedule). Students know that their performance is (or isn't) up to par with my expectations. I feel justified assigning this as a grade, too, since our "classwork" is mainly made up of interactions and communication, and this system measures the efforts they're putting in to do so. Even in two weeks, students are adjusting their behavior and involvement in class based on the number of points they've received (or didn't receive!).
- I'm constantly re-teaching and reminding about my rules as I inform students they've received a point and why. Even the students who came late have caught on the to the rules and expectations without direct teaching and are participating/behaving the way I want them to.
- I know every single one of my students names. I had all but a handful down by the end of the first week. I never realized how huge this is for both me and them. It became a very quick and rewarding game for everyone as I had to address them by name in order to give them their points throughout class. Students visually "approved" of me (or were exceptionally pleased) when I called them by name, especially if it was a name that took me an extra day or two to get. When new students showed up on my roster (or in my class), I immediately knew who they were and was able to welcome them to class and make sure they stayed caught up. Attendance was a breeze (especially since it was obvious when a student was missing indicated by their lack of a point for that day and the constant reminder to take attendance with their names in front of me). By the middle of the second week, I even knew where everyone sat (and where the empty seats were for new students). I feel a sense of community that's already affecting the class in a positive way, which is amazing in only the second week. Granted, I only have about 130 kids and about a third of them are students I had last year as well, but I'm better with their names than I ever was last year. I'm pretty darn proud of myself. This in itself made the behavior log worth it.
Similar to the individual points, class points are earned when the whole class is being awesome. These are awarded as marbles in that period's jar. There's not a hard-and-fast rule to this, but I do try to give some points every class period. Oftentimes, I'll give multiple points at once (usually 2-3 marbles, 5 marbles for something that I really want to recognize, though I did give 10 marbles to one class yesterday for a very lively rendition of the "Taco Song" that out-did all the other classes). When the jar is full, they'll get a PAT activity that they'll vote on as a class, but will still encourage CI (i.e. a game, kindergarten day, etc). When marbles are messed with they also make a loud, tinkling, and unmistakeable sound - whether they are being put in or taken out of their jar. It instantly gets the attention of the entire class and the response is immediate (especially if I feel like I'd have to work to get their attention again when they've gotten a little out of hand - the marbles quite them down immediately!)
Posting Grades and handing back work
Even though I only posted one grade on the first Friday, nearly every student wanted to see what they got for their behavior and participation. I collect all work on Fridays (including their daily journal, quizzes, and any assigned work), as well as hand back the items from the previous week (though they should know their grade before it's handed in with the way that I grade and because they do immediate peer-corrections for items that they may not know the grade for). This was extremely reinforcing for them as well as myself as I knew that they were invested and interested in their achievement. Since all work is handed back on Fridays, they're able to immediately compare the posted grade with the grade on their work and let me know if there are any issues as well as check the no-name pile for items they thought they turned in and rectify the situation. These weekly postings keep me on top of my grading and the students are responding to this beautifully.
Passing out work
A system that is working for me is to front-load the passing out. There is a pass-out folder that I put copies of each day's handouts in (great job for a teacher's aid!). My "Capitán de Pasar" (Captain of passing) grabs their folder at the beginning of each class and then passes out the items in the folder WHEN INSTRUCTED (still teaching that to a few of them). The folders don't go back until the end of the day. Passing in work follows similar procedures, but is only done on Fridays.
Students have been taking their time to fill out my short surveys after each Friday quiz indicating which activities helped (or didn't) help them and why as well as giving me a percentage "grade" for how much of class time we spent in Spanish. I've gotten a lot of really constructive comments and am adjusting my teaching accordingly. It's great to know what my "customers" think and it seems to be fostering a truly open learning environment where we are all learning and making an effort for one another - even me!
Essentially, my entire class is guided by PowerPoint slides. At first, I started doing this because I have very limited board space, so I needed something I could change quickly. However, they've essentially become the lesson plan that I can follow easily and maintain the flow of my class. Moreover, I can explain more in Spanish and make sure students are understanding as they can see the Spanish (and sometimes English) "subtitles" for the instructions I'm giving them. For my more novice classes, I can start with bilingual instructions and then transition to straight Spanish as students become familiar with the instructions and specific slides. Plus, I can copy and paste slides we didn't get to onto the next day's slideshow. As a teacher, these have drastically improved my instruction - and my students have noticed. Though I never said anything about my slides in my surveys, at least two students in different periods commented on how much they like them.
There are a number of other little things I've done, but the bottom line is that I'm enjoying my job more than ever and I feel like I'm achieving my goals as an educator. Both returning and new students have commented on how much they enjoy my classroom. Though I got over being "liked" last year by students, more effective management and therefore teaching seems to be resulting in more positive student experiences and "liking" my class more because they are organized and successful! And, I would have to say that I have pretty high expectations for their behavior and don't compromise (like I did last year) - It's my classroom I refuse to let my students (or sometimes a student) take control. We play by my rules, and we're all happier for it, especially since they're LEARNING!!