Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations. What they don’t all agree on is how to do it.

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy. 

It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it

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I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.'” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

Value Criticism as Much as Praise

tumblr_nhul7x1xor1u06rnxo1_500Teaching is a job that requites intrinsic motivation. Like an artist will get many varied criticisms of her/his work, so it goes with a teacher. So how do you keep it all together and improve? I say you need to keep an open mind, have a thick skin, and learn to separate the helpful from the useless remarks and criticisms that come your way. Those who offer valid criticism should be appreciated. They point our your weakness so you can fix them. Keeping a humble attitude will take you far, especially when you start with one. As you teach and learn and grow, people will be drawn to your humble attitude like moths to a light bulb. It’s very rare to find in fact. It makes you more approachable. Continue reading “Value Criticism as Much as Praise”

Concept Development

Concept Development is an excellent way to open the learner’s mind to the learning objective.

IAB_CL1_PX01449In teaching, it helps to put things into stages or steps. As we move closer to the meat of the lesson, concept development brings us to what we call “The Big Picture.” Here, we examine with the students what exactly this lesson is all about and why it will be beneficial to learn it (also an aspect of another step we’ll cover later called importance.)

Bring in realia, newspaper clippings, objects, music, etc. This is a great place to really make the learning objective come alive. It’s where you literally “develop the concept” for them. For example, if you are teaching similies, you would make examples and show them and make a “non-example” as well. Continue reading “Concept Development”

Think Outside the Box with Kids

One thing I have learned in years of teaching is that kids remember better when you teach non-traditionally.  There is a lot of value in traditional frameworks but it is when you step outside that you really imprint to memory.  I remember when I was in college I had a college algebra professor who would pick a chair up and smack through the seat to show how important the correct equation was to building a chair.  If you got the equation wrong, the seat would fall through.  i will always remember that as the importance of math.  Kids of all ages are the same way.  use props, act things out, give visuals.  These quirky things outside the box are what make kids remember abstract concepts in concrete ways.

Keep Old Stuff

Keep old Curriculum 2To some this post is stating the obvious: keep your old materials for teaching. With all the “home makeover” shows on today, there is a definite emphasis on minimalism. Feng Shui and Hoarding are also a part of our modern vocabulary but throw all that away and keep old stuff! Remember encyclopedias? I kept a set. I don’t use them often but it’s a teaching opportunity to show the kids what life was like before the internet. We would consult World Book instead of Google. Kids get a sense of history that way. For example, compare the Apollo flight to the moon article in an encyclopedia to a Google search. Kids just don’t know there is a difference.

Keep old Curriculum 3Keep old textbooks that the District tells you to discard. I know so many teachers who regret getting rid of an old math series we used to use. I kept 21 of them! I wish I would have kept the 35 I once had. Another thing these are really good for is independent study. I sometimes get requests for independent study curriculum when kids are going to be out for weeks. When you have an old text, you can work with it and not risk losing the current texts. Of course, kids muct always have the option of taking home the current text per William’s act. These textx are great for small group work and even homework.

Keep old CurriculumMath manipulatives are notorious for being thrown out, as are Science kits. Both are golden to have around. I have noticed, for example, that many of my kids annot tell tradition time as in the hands of a clock. I got a hold of a kindergarten math kit a colleague had kept and I used it to teach time in about three sittings of 3 minutes each. Tis is helpful to all subjects and in all standards. You never know where it will pop up. Not to mention the kids that may think it’s cool to have an analog watch. Keep old stuff, I guarantee you’ll use it, Of course, some stuff must be thrown away. Someone said, it you don’t use it for 2 years, throw it away. I’ll leave that up to you.

Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed

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If you haven’t heard the myth of Procrustes and his bed, it’s the story of a man who invited weary travelers to lay in his guest bed. Once in, if they were too tall he lopped off their feet and if too short, he’d stretch them to fit. Horrifying I know and yet aren’t we as educators often guilty of trying to get our students to “fit” the curriculum? Continue reading “Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed”

Darn, I Was Gonna Say That

tony-anticipates-his-next-classI’m convinced that teachers who are starting out need to learn this lesson with time. It makes little logical sense to tell kids the answers but it serves a powerful function toward mastery when you are starting a new concept. Students often don’t answer because they do not know what is being asked of them. This can be the actual math or language arts of the thing or it could just be the manner and style in which the teacher expects the answer. Sometimes when students say the predictable phrase, “I was gonna say that,” they aren’t lying. They didn’t know what you wanted from them and that is a simple problem to remedy. At the introduction of the lesson, go around pucking random non volunteers by your chosen method, I use cards. Use this pattern: 1) Say the answer 2) Ask the question and 3) Ask the question again and pick a random non volunteer. This will inform them how to listen and answer questions and get you more familiar with their process. It sounds silly to give the answer and then ask someone to say it back but it really decreases their affective filter and makes them more comfortable branching out and taking risks. In short, they become more comfortable with you so you can ease into more higher order questions like “why is that the answer?” Continue reading “Darn, I Was Gonna Say That”

Special File for Student Notes and Creations

Explains a “sunshine folder.” In this, you put special “gifts” from the kids and then when you are feeling down or just want a reminder that you “don’t suck” as a teacher, you can just pull the folder out and browse through it.

Often teachers share with me that they get trinkets and drawings from their students. I know I get my fair share. All too often we sweep them aside to the edges of our teaching desks and end up throwing them away. A mentor of mine several years back told me about something I know have and call a “sunshine folder.” In this, you put special “gifts” from the kids and then when you are feeling down or just want a reminder that you “don’t suck” as a teacher, you can just pull the folder out and browse through it.

I am not sure exactly why, but it seems that all children love to draw. I have been given so many pictures through the years it could probably fill a landfill. Most of them are gone forever because I didn’t hang on to them. After my mentor’s suggestion, I started keeping all the photos and small stapled envelopes my kids give me and it is getting quite encouraging already. I never know what to do with these gifts and the students always give them to me at inopportune times. Having the sunshine folder helps me keep their sentiments until a time when I can properly enjoy them and it shows the students I care enough to file it and read it at a later time I’ve noticed in recent years the students have used more “realism” in portraying my bald head. The last on I got gave me wings like George Constanza on Seinfeld. I guess looking at the ongoing realism of these pictures from my students is a little bit like accepting that I am aging. All the more reason to keep these special items in a dedicated place.

In the recent past I had a not-so-great day of teaching. I was quite deflated. Everything seemed to have a “catch” attached to it and nothing was working, not even my printer. So, I sat down and pulled out my sunshine folder. As I read through so many messages of “You’re the best … You rock … You’re the best teacher ever …” I found myself feeling better and reminded once again of why I do this wonderful though often difficult job of teaching.

Play With Technology

IMG_2490.JPGI needed a USB multiport adapter and I found one that was as much fun as practical. I got to thinking about he represents play in learning technology. Whenever people ask me how I learned so much about technology, I tell them I simply “play” with it and learn stuff while doing so. Continue reading “Play With Technology”

How To Get Girls To Fall In Love with Science


Image via Flickr by daveparker

The United States is one of the few countries around the world where 15-year-old boys outperform the girls in science. This disproves the old theory that boys just have a better aptitude for science. Instead, the U.S. Department of Education believes that “improving girls’ beliefs about their abilities could alter their choices and performance.”

Inspiring a passion for science early could also help girls close the gender pay gap and gain financial independence for themselves and their families. But how do we get American girls to fall in love with science like their peers around the world?

Start Early

Studies show that societal and peer pressures make girls lose confidence in their ability to master scientific concepts by about fourth grade. It’s crucial then that they learn about science early so they have faith in their scientific skills. Conducting regular, simple scientific experiments from as early as kindergarten will help build their confidence.

Appeal to Their Desire to Solve Real Problems

Image via Flickr by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Studies show that girls tend to choose their career path based on their belief that it’ll make a difference in the world. This is why girls tend to favor nurturing professions, like nursing and teaching. Teachers can help their female students become passionate about science by emphasizing the ways it can help people, animals, or the environment.

“They see that there’s some value to it, that they can make a difference in the world,” explained Tamara Hudgins, Ph.D, the executive director of Girlstart, a charity that provides science-based after-school and enrichment programs for girls. “So when we do robotics, we look for ways to apply it to real world problems, such as creating a robot that can go into an oil spill and save a pelican.”

Encourage Girls to Participate in Special Programs

Girlstart is just one initiative that creates science-based programs specifically for girls. Many local universities, zoos, museums, and parks and recreation departments also run similar schemes. Seek out information about these and other after-school and enrichment programs available, encouraging your female students to participate in them. Since these initiatives are tailor-made for girls, they can provide more targeted instruction than most teachers who must try to engage male and female students.

Teach Them About a Range of Careers That Use Science

Many girls shun science because they think it’ll lead to a masculine career. Teachers can counteract this by teaching their classes about the many varied opportunities a career in science holds. For example, a student that loves science could become a family nurse practitioner, a marine biologist, a nutritionist, a product designer, or an industrial chemist.

It’s best to speak about these careers without any references to gender, as girls are certainly capable of entering any male-dominated profession. Instead, pique their interest with descriptions about the jobs available. If possible, you could also invite male and female professionals working with science to speak to your class. These positive role models can inspire the young science professionals of the future.

Changing the way we teach science in schools is key to getting girls to fall in love with this important field and pursue it in the future.