By Chris Janotta November 1, 2010 8:40 pm
Within today’s school climate, if students aren’t sitting quietly at their desks reading, writing, or listening to what the teacher has to say, the teacher is often accused of having poor classroom management. While some standards of decorum are indeed necessary for education to properly take place, it is often difficult to engage students while having them remain quietly seated at their desks the entire period.
So how do we, as teachers, find some sort of middle ground?
The use of technology is one answer to this question, but not every school has the same access to the type of technology that can really help engage and educate students. For instance, I am lucky enough to have a Smartboard in my room which allows me to do everything from presenting meaningful, interactive lessons to taking my students on a virtual field trip.
Every time I even turn the Smartboard on, my students’ eyes light up, and their ears are open to my every word. Doing basic grammar lessons on the Smartboard is somehow more fascinating to them than even writing a note to a friend–they would rather come up and move subjects and predicates to the correct side of the board than engage in the age-old process of gossipping through folded up pieces of paper.
As I said, however, not every teacher has access to a Smartboard, and the costs associated with getting them can be quite steep. If you have a Proxima projector and a Wii controller, you may be able to create a makeshift Smartboard by following the directions in this YouTube video. If not, or if this all just seems far too complicated, don’t despair; technology is one way to keep your students engaged but still relatively quiet, but not the only way.
Group work. Two words that can strike fear into the hearts of any teacher who is worried about his or her classroom management skills. I remember when I first started teaching, having the students work in groups was just asking for trouble. At best, I might end up with some form of controlled chaos that produced minimal results for some of my students and no educational value for the rest (unless you count discussions about which basketball player was better, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, as educational; I certainly didn’t because we all know Jordan is the better player anyway).
Needless to say, I abandoned group work in my classes until I felt I was better equipped to properly manage my students while they were working in groups. The shame of this is that students really can learn while working in groups, they are definitely engaged while working in groups, and the process isn’t nearly as difficult to deal with as I assumed it was.
During one of the many inservices I have attended in my career as a teacher, none was as important as the one in which I learned about a group work rubric.
I know what some might be saying, “A rubric? You mean with all those boxes and check marks and, well, excessive work that I have to do? No way, I’m not going to fill out some rubric for every student every time we do group work. I’m already walking around the room trying to keep order in my class room when they’re in groups; how am I going to find the time to fill out rubrics too?”
Well, my doubtful colleague, the beauty of this rubric is its simplicity and effectiveness. Each student receives a slip of paper with the number 100 at the top. Under this are the numbers 95, 90, 85, 80, and so on.
I explain that working with others is a skill that must be learned early in life in order to be a productive member of society later in life. Therefore, their daily classwork grade depends upon how well they are working with their groups.
If a student is up wandering around or sitting idly by while the rest of his or her group is working productively, the 100 gets marked off. If a student is talking about last night’s episode of American Idol instead of discussing the task at hand, he or she will get the next number marked off. If a student is too loud and is distracting other groups, his or her grade drops another level. If students are arguing with each other about who should do what or what the correct answer is instead of logically discussing the different possibilities, they get a grade marked off.
Whatever the highest unmarked grade is at the end of the class is the student’s classwork grade for the day. All of this is done while circulating the room with a pen, and then collecting the rubrics at the end of class. Simple, yet effective.
By the third time of doing this, nearly every student received a grade of 100, and now group work is one way of creating an engaging, educationally effective environment instead of creating a noisy, unstructured classroom..
Because this method worked so well while the students worked in groups, I decided to create a rubric that could be used at anytime during any type of activity in order to help students self-monitor their behavior. When students are not only aware of the consequences of behavior that disrupts the educational process but are also aware of where they stand in relationship to how far away that consequence is, they become much better at controlling their behaviors.
Therefore, I think it is important that they have something right in front of them that acts as a type of “scoreboard” for their behavior. Thus, I created the following “Individual Daily Work Rubric”:
I’ve used several versions of this same rubric, some having another warning below excellent, others having a specific consequence listed instead of simply the word “consequence,” but this is the basic format that each rubric follows. I will sometimes use this rubric to target certain areas of behavior (i.e. disruptive talking) and sometimes use it to target all of the expectations.
While I am teaching, I circulate the room, and if a student is not meeting one of the expectations of the class, I will mark off a box. I explain to the students that they are not to argue with me when I do this, but if they are unsure about why I marked a box off, they can discuss it with me at the end of class. I also sometimes offer “reward points” to those who don’t receive any marks on their rubrics.
While using this process, I’ve made two discoveries. First, students become upset with themselves when they get “Excellent” crossed off and work harder than ever to make sure that they don’t receive any more marks for the day and that they receive “Excellents” for the remaining days.
My second discovery builds from my first; not only is this rubric a great way to help students monitor their own behaviors, it also helps them with motivation. Even when no reward is given for achieving an “excellent” on the rubric, students still aren’t happy unless that is what they receive. It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment to look at a piece of paper stating they did an excellent job in class that day. And nine times out of ten, a student who received an “excellent” on his or her rubric was also highly engaged in class that day, no matter what type of activity we may have been doing.
A teacher’s goal is to educate each and every student. Sometimes this is best achieved through manners that might be considered “unorthodox” to some administrators or fellow teachers. If an administrator walks by your room and the students are all out of their seats and talking loudly, he or she might instantly judge you as having poor classroom management skills without even walking into the room to see whether or not those children may just be excited about the lesson and are actually moving around with a purpose and talking loudly because that is what kids do when they are excited.
For this reason, it is often up to teachers to comply with what is deemed “appropriate” classroom structure while not giving up the methods that they know work best. Hopefully I have shared a couple of ideas that can be used in your classrooms to help you meet this middle ground, but, more importantly, I am also hoping that some of you have some simple, effective techniques that you use and would be willing to share. I look forward to hearing some of your ideas in the comment section.
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