Sunday, December 27, 2015

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #5 Not Having a Well-Prepared Lesson

Okay, I hate it that this particular thing affects my classroom management so much, because fixing it is a lot of work, but this is:

Mistake #5 - Not Having a Well-Prepared Lesson.

It never fails. When I'm bumbling around at the front of the room trying to figure out what I'm doing because I don't have a well-planned lesson, my class senses a weakness in the Force, and things start going awry. They get louder and more talkative, less willing to do what I ask, more whiny, more rowdy and restless.

Or, maybe I have part of the lesson well-planned, but then there's dead time in the middle or at the end, and it takes me a few minutes to regroup and transition to something else. Or, I never do really figure out what I'm transitioning to, and it's just simply too late. They've already gone haywire.

So how do you make sure you don't get caught fumbling around trying to figure out what you're doing? Different teachers do this different ways. Some people have ready-made filler activities and games they whip out at the last minute. Me, I wrote 4 levels of lesson plan books because I hate not knowing what I'm doing and where this is all going so much. For me, a well-prepared skit lesson with smooth transitions basically runs like this:

1. A warm-up/review of the material from the last class.
2. Read something that reinforces the vocab and grammar from last class.
3. Conversation in Spanish about a question of the day or some sort of given topic, preferably something that also reinforces the vocab they have been learning. At the beginning levels, this would obviously be very scripted and guided.
4. Introduction of new vocab/vocab phrases.
5. Skit.
6. Q&A about the skit, me asking questions and them answering either as a group or getting called on one by one (if only a few are answering out loud as a group.)
7. 4-minute break.
8. Grammar, either intro of new grammar topic or a continuing practice of one that we've been working on.
9. Go over homework/new homework assigned.
10. Telenovela (right now, I'm showing Un gancho al corazón in level 3 and Al diablo con los guapos in level 4. We're all very addicted to these two shows. : - ))

Now, part of what makes me well-prepared when I run this lesson is that I do it almost every day, exactly in the same order. So my students are accustomed to this routine and so am I, and it runs pretty much like clockwork.

(For my Spanish 4/AP culture lessons, substitute the culture topic/reading/writing/conversation for #4, 5, and 6 above.)

You may need to experiment with your own lesson sequencing and content to find your sweet spot in terms of lesson planning, and you may also hate doing the same routine and need to shake it up more. I don't shake much, and that works well for me.

Another great source of lesson planning ideas is Martina Bex's awesome blog. She has a TON of resources, ideas, lessons, units, and activities there, so check her out!

What ideas do you have for last-minute activities that always go well in class? Share in the comments below!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #4 Not Telling Them Why

The original Pandilla de ciclistas - Trevor, Austin, and Joe.

If you're getting into a lot of arguments and having a great deal of whining in your classes, it might be because of:

Mistake #4 - Not Telling Students Why.

Why? Because they want and need to know "why" in order to have buy in.

I try to tell them "why" before they even start whining and asking me about it. In fact, nowadays I try to attach a "why" onto just about everything I tell them to do. "I need you guys to record yourselves speaking so I can tell how much Spanish I've taught you this semester." "You have to read and reply to this email so I can see if you would be able to read a native speaker's email and reply to it in Spanish if you had to." "Don't play on your phone right now so you can focus on helping your partner if they need it while they are telling the story." "Read the page with your eyes along with your partner who's reading aloud so you can learn new words, too."

The generation we're teaching right now is the "why" generation. They don't like to waste their time, and if you think about it, neither do you. So "why do we have to do this," while seeming to be a really rude question that hurts my feelings sometimes, is also just human nature. I might not have felt free to ask my teachers that question back in the 80's when I was in high school, but that doesn't mean I didn't think it at times. And it doesn't mean that the empowered-to-speak-their-minds students we are teaching right now are really trying to be rude and hurtful. They just need to know why. So tell them.

I would encourage you to start saying why more, before you're even asked, and see if you don't have fewer arguments and whines in class. And when you DO get asked "why do we have to do this?" react with zero heightened emotion or anger and simply tell them why. I've said this before, but if you find yourself (as I have) scrambling for an answer to "why," you might reconsider the activity at hand. Maybe not right then in front of your class (although I have changed course in the middle of class before) but at least think about it later. I should be able to easily articulate why I'm having them do a certain task, if I have clear objectives for their learning.

So that's it, saying why. A simple thing that in my experience yields big results in classroom management!

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #3 Not Having a Seating Chart

Now I know teachers who swear by not having seating charts, but the few times I've dipped my toe in those shark waters, I deeply regretted it. Therefore, in my experience, this is:

Mistake #3 - Not Having a Seating Chart.

I know that making seating charts is a lot of work, and it's a hassle to enforce them. But the difference between managing a class in which I have chosen everyone's seat up front and managing a class where they sit wherever they want to is night and day. Dark and Light. Demons and Angels. Hell and Heaven, or as close to classroom management "heaven" as I can get anyway.

If you let them sit wherever they want, you inevitably have to move some talkative, off-task students around anyway, and when you do that you have to argue and listen to whining and get the eye-rolls and sullen behavior just like you do sometimes when enforcing your seating chart. So just front load that eye-rolling session with a seating chart that's ready to go the first day of class. You'll get your turf established right away, and it's much harder for them to fight against it later since your class was clearly established like that, from the get-go.

Also, talk about the seating chart in your rules and expectations on your syllabus, or if you don't like having a lot of written rules (some teachers don't,) at least talk about it while you're going over the syllabus the first day of class. I say things like, "I organize my classroom with a seating chart that I design. I do this because [telling them why up front, because they are the "WHY" generation and that's how they get a little more buy-in,] I want to choose your partners rather than having you just sit by your friends, and leave some kids out. That way everyone meets new people, works with different people throughout the year, and my class runs smoother so I can teach you more Spanish. I expect you to sit in your assigned seat, without arguing or complaining about it, when the bell rings. If you have a problem with your seat, like you can't see the board or something, talk to me about it after class."

Here are my tips for creating good seating charts:

1. Space out the boys. You can do this whether you know the students or not. In Spanish, you'll get some really boy-heavy classes at times, so it's not an exact science, but in general, you want to make your grids boy-girl-boy-girl. I try not to have two boys next to one another either side-to-side or front-to-back.

2. Rowdy boys are in front. I call these the "power seats." Meaning, I have a little more (illusory) power over a loud, rambunctious kid if he's within a few feet of me. I can talk with him, joke with him, and ask him to settle down when needed, sometimes without most of the class even noticing that he and I have an exchange going. He naturally gets more attention from me, which is sometimes all that kid is looking for in the first place.

3. Quiet girls form a padding around rowdy boys. Sorry, quiet girls. Actually, sometimes they really enjoy this, because being partners with an outgoing, energetic guy brings her out of her shell a little, gets her laughing. Or, sometimes he drives her nuts. If I see that, I'll discreetly change that arrangement with my next seating chart.

I make new seating charts at the start of the semester, and I change them mid-semester. So that's four charts per class per year. Changing at mid-semester quells some of the complaining about having a seating chart, so to me, it's worth the extra work.

Also, you will have many students who really like having assigned seats, having a seat that is always theirs in my class that others can't just take whenever they want to, forming clumps of "cool" kids in certain areas of the room while the "outcasts" sit in the front, back, or whatever areas aren't "cool."

To sum up, I'd say making and enforcing seating charts is one of the top priorities in my own classroom management practice. It makes a world of difference for me, but I'd be curious to know what others think, so comment below with your thoughts!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

7 Classroom Management Mistakes - #2 Arbitrary Rules

Mistake #2 - Making Arbitrary Rules

The generation of students we're teaching right now is smart. And opinionated. And vocal about it. So when you decide what your official classroom rules are going to be, I recommend that you make absolutely sure you have a good reason for each one, a reason that you can defend to the death if need be and consistently enforce. Why? Because making rules that seem to have no logical reason behind them in the eyes of your students is an invitation for breaking them and getting into arguments in class. They will have a hard time buying into keeping rules that they don't view as necessary. It's simply human nature, and we teachers do it too with our administration, if we're being honest.

Examples of possibly-arbitrary rules that may be hard to defend and enforce:

1. No food or drink. I used to die on this hill, but that was before 2004ish, when there was a generation shift. Nowdays refusing to allow kids to have food and/or drinks in class is cause for all-out warfare in their eyes. In 2009, when I went back to the classroom (after working as our district's ELL coordinator for 4 years) I actually got a parent complaint that I hadn't allowed her son to drink his breakfast smoothie in class. I saw the writing on the wall. Yes, food and drink can be distracting. Yes, it spills and gets on desks. Yes, it creates trash bits on your floor. But to me, it's not worth arguing about anymore.

2. No gum. It's hard to notice that kids have gum, and therefore, you're always going to be fighting and fighting this battle. And you'll get accused of singling out and making some kids spit their gum out when others are chewing it too. And students see it as completely arbitrary, even if you argue until you're blue in the face that chewing gum hinders their ability to speak the target language, because actually, it really doesn't. You may not speak very clearly, but you technically can talk while you have gum in your mouth.

3. No cellphones in sight. Besides being completely impossible to enforce (it's like playing whack-a-mole,) this rule wears me out due to the arguing and haranguing I feel I have to do in order to have some semblance of control over whether their cell phone is "in sight" or not.

4. No talking. The generation we're teaching right now is very verbal. You'll have kids in class that literally talk themselves through just about everything they do, because that's how they process. In my class, there's plenty of talking at various points during class. I talk to them and they talk to me, and we all talk together. But I can get them to focus and quiet down when it's necessary for learning because I'm not constantly squelching ALL talking.

5. No bathroom breaks/limiting bathroom breaks. This is another one that can get you into trouble with parents, and keeping up with limited (paper) bathroom passes and the like is just not a part-time job I'm willing to take on. So I technically allow unlimited bathroom breaks. But if a kid asks me in the middle of some part of the lesson, I ask them to wait until we're done reading, writing the essay, acting out the skit, or whatever part of the lesson we are doing--unless it's an emergency, and I make sure it's not before denying the bathroom visit. That sends the message that I expect them to participate in the lesson first, but that I understand the need to be able to go to the bathroom when necessary. I honestly don't have that many students ask during the lesson, because of how I handle it. I do also give a 4-minute classroom break in the middle of my 90-minute block, and at that time I allow five students max out of the room at a time for bathroom or water. Most students wait until then to ask, and it seems to work out really well. (Plus they get that all-important brain break, so that when we reconvene I can get another "prime time" of about 10 minutes or so of new learning. See David Sousa for a full explanation of the primacy-recency effect and prime learning times.)

Those are just a few examples. I do have a couple of arbitrary rules, but they are ones that I am willing to defend and argue about. Mine are:

1. No sitting on top of desks. Once the bell rings, if anyone was sitting on top of a desk, they have to sit down in their desks. I don't know why, but I find this rule (which you could argue is kind of arbitrary) fairly argument-free in class.

2. No trash on the floor. This one is arbitrary and I admit it the first day of class when we go over my syllabus. I tell them, "You know how every teacher has their 'things,' well, this is my thing. It drives me crazy to have a messy floor because I live in this room all day and I don't like living in a trash heap." My floor isn't always spotless, but having this rule in the syllabus and talking about it does reduce the amount of trash left behind throughout the year, and it makes me feel less like a horrible nag when I ask a kid to pick up the little bits of trash around his or her desk before they leave.

So I'm not saying you can't have some arbitrary rules, but I would recommend keeping them to a minimum and thinking them completely through before you decide to put them out there. If you don't consistently enforce your rules, your students won't take you as seriously, so I personally avoid having rules that I know will be hard for me to enforce.

So that's it! Happy rules-making.

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