Before I went out on Teaching Experience, I had a couple of people mention that year 1/2 teachers have it easy because all the kids are learning at this age group is their 123s and their ABCs with some finger painting thrown in for fun. I’m convinced that anyone who thinks this must never have set foot in a junior classroom. Sure we all know our ABCs and the prospect of teaching that part of the curriculum might seem easy until you are actually staring down the barrel of 25 youngsters at various reading levels and keeping them engaged with reading.
During my first week I quickly found myself in awe of my associate teacher’s ability to juggle 8 reading groups plus the few extra students that come into the classroom for reading knowing full well that in no time at all I would be taking the reigns. Having only observed English classes at my last placement, where the students were reading George Orwell’s 1984, I knew reading was going to be tough task but I’m here to learn so last week it was my turn.
29 junior students, 8 reading groups, 60 minutes and 1 student teacher what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a bit.
This school’s reading programme is based on small-sized reading groups for more individualized instruction. However the corollary of this type of programme is that a teacher doesn’t have much time with each group, maybe 10 minutes but certainly not 15, which is how long I spent with my first group. This meant I didn’t finish going through all the groups I needed to during the session. I had some kids way off task which inevitably led to trouble which I didn’t pick up on soon enough because I was concentrating on putting the theory of what a guided lesson is into with practice and wasn’t scanning the room.
But with so many balls in the air it is perhaps unsurprising that I might have dropped some. I keep reminding myself that it took me about a week to remember to mark the roll back on my first placement so it is unsurprising that I’m finding the reading session hard when I am still literally finding my way around someone else’s classroom. Right now I have to think about things like where are the marker pens, student-sized whiteboards, modelling books and reading books for students while keeping an eye out for off-task behaviour and also trying to keep focused on the task at hand, taking a guided reading lesson.
Eventually I will remember where the marker pens are kept, that student A and student B have a habit of distracting each other from the task at hand so need to be split up and will make better use of the extra space that the collective indoor courtyard area attached to the classroom has since there are extra bodies in the class and activities going during reading that require extra room.
This is learning at its best: messy, unpredictable with lots of mistakes and the best thing is that I get to make some new mistakes next lesson!
Yes there was stuff I did well. I’m good at using questioning strategies to promote thinking and understanding, the students were moving between activities quickly, the dexterity check is a good way to get the class’s attention and at the end of the lesson the students and I did some collective trouble-shooting of problems encountered during the lesson (which we will recap on Monday) but I’m definitely my harshest critic.
Hopefully next week will see some improvement because I have a lesson assessment with my visiting lecturer which Murphy’s law dictates will be during the class’s reading session. Last placement I taught my best lesson when my visiting lecturer came to visit which was an awesome ego boost but also meant we had trouble generating next learning steps for me. So I’m trying to use this assessment as an opportunity to improve rather than to feed my Type A desires of wanting a nice gold star for my learning.
If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you read Classroom Management techniques Part 1.
7. A musical device
One of the teachers at my school has a small old-school bike horn which she plays when she wants the class’s attention. She uses it at the end of the countdown, but it could be used without. Obviously it adds to the noise, but the noise is distinctive so the kids know that when they hear it they are to stop what they are doing.
8. Dexterity Check
Teacher says “dexterity check” and the students clap five times twice, three times twice, say ‘whoop, whoop’ clap. Once they’ve finished, the students are only allowed to move their lungs and their hearts while the teacher says what she/he wants to say (in other words there is absolute silence). When the teacher has finished saying what he/she wants to say, she says ‘check dexterity.’ At that command the kids go backwards through the chant: clap, whoop, whoop, clap 3 times twice, clap five times twice. Feeling a bit confused? Here’s a guy teaching a group of students how to perform a dexterity check. Obviously this technique would be a bit too hard for youngest kids and some of the older kids (year 8 ) think they are too cool for it. There’s also the issue of time, the routine takes a day to set up and a lot longer to get But the class whose teacher used it thinks it is one of the better classroom management techniques out there.
9. c3 b4 me (see three before me)
This technique is used as a way to avoid getting 100 of the same questions and is a great for kids to manage themselves. Basically it encourages the kids to see three people/books/information sources before asking the teacher for help. For example in maths, we have a bunch of text books, a couple of computers at the back of the classroom etc. that students could check in with before asking the teacher. The students can also ask a neighbour for help.
I used this one when I was teaching in Korea. Basically I would say attention and the students would say it back until I was satisfied that all the students attention was focused on me. This technique was useful for me in a very large class (Think 40 students) where the kids didn’t speak english so I needed a one-word command that could grab the kids attention. Obviously it adds to the noise and excitement, but is effective in large crowds, especially large crowds of English Language Learners.
11. Alternative learning pathways
Avoid having kids off-task by letting them choose the task! At the start of the learning unit the kids are given a print out of pre-test results which show their strengths, gaps, achieved and not achieved areas of the curriculum. They also get a print out of activities from books etc. which will support the various learning objectives. The kids are then directed to highlight the areas that they need help with and find activities to support them. Based on my observation students value this sort of learning because they can choose their pathway (so they have control) and also they aren’t going over material they already know so aren’t bored. Lessons should regularly open with a ‘plenary’ where kids are asked what they have been learning about and at the end there is a closing plenary. The teacher will also pull aside groups in order to concentrate on problem areas. The students also need to see the teacher if they get more than two wrong on an exercise. I wouldn’t recommend this technique for under year 7 and even then there are some year 7s who have struggled with this sort of learning.
This list isn’t exhaustive and I obviously wouldn’t recommend trying to do too many of them at once, however I wouldn’t rely solely on one technique. My advice to trainee teachers would be to have two or three that you consistently use so the students don’t get too confused.
What techniques do you use to manage behaviour in your classroom?
For student teachers perhaps the biggest challenge of being in a classroom is finding ways to manage student behaviour. Teachers yelling ‘quiet’ every five minutes isn’t a particularly effective form of discipline. The kids don’t like being shouted at and you’ll end up with a sore throat by the end of the day.
So what are some techniques I’ve seen in action in the last 4 weeks?
1. You catch more bees with honey…
AKA as positive discipline. Instead of focusing attention on troublemakers, the teacher focus their attention on the children who are behaving in class. Eg. ‘I like the way Sarah puts her books away,’ ‘I like the way Matthew is sitting on the Matt.’ This technique is particularly effective with younger children who still seek a teacher’s approval for their behaviour however I’ve seen it used in year 7/8 classes as well.
2. ‘Eyes on me’
You sing, eyes on me, the students sing it back to you. Good for juniors, drowns out other conversations but does tend to add to the classroom noise.
3. “Clap clap, clap clap”
Like ‘Eyes on Me’ but the teacher claps a pattern and the students clap it back. Suitable for older kids as well as juniors again it drowns out other conversations but it does add to the noise.
4. Stand and glare
This is particularly effective at the end of the lesson and with kids from about year 3/4 upwards. Don’t do or say anything and wait for the class to bring itself to attention. Pro doesn’t add to classroom noise, con takes time there’s a risk the students will continue with their off-task behaviour ignoring you. Must have good ‘teacher glare’ to implement.
5. Hand up
You put up your hand and stand quietly. The students notice and then start to add their hands up until every is silently sitting/standing with their hand up. Pros, doesn’t add to classroom noise and is visible. Con, takes time to train and to implement.
Teacher counts down to 1. The technique is effective when you want to get students to complete a task, eg. putting away reading books, in a timely matter.
7. The silent pick-up
Students are given a list of tasks that need to be done at the end of the class, eg. putting away the paint, washing the brushes etc. The class is checked off against those criteria the students win points for extra jobs and lose points for talking. At the end of term the class with the winning points gets a certificate at end of term assembly.
Part 2 to come tomorrow…