After teaching a few college classes, I thought classroom management was something that I could improve upon, so I sought out a research-based book to help. Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong’s The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher is written for teachers in all subjects and of all grades. Some of their advice is more applicable to elementary schools than high schools or college, but some of their advice is still very useful and good for teachers of all grades. Here are some of the ideas that I took away about how to improve my classroom management, and some ways to implement them. I would love to hear your reactions to these ideas or your relevant practices.
The big idea: prepare and develop a routine so your students are well versed in your classroom’s rules and procedures so misbehavior is pre-empted.
Before the first day. Consider and plan for all your possible instructional methods, and how you will introduce your students to them. You should also decide what will be graded and how. Prepare your grade book accordingly, so that you can see how each student is performing at a glance. Electronic grade books are useful so the data can be backed up more easily, and so that students (and parents) can go online and see their current status in the class. Personally, I post at least the most important test grades on BlackBoard so students can more easily gauge their own performance quickly.
First Day. On the first day, students are nervous too and are afraid of finding the correct room. So on the first day, welcome them cheerfully and introduce yourself so that they know they are in the right room. Immediately direct them to their seat and give them some assignment to work on, such as filling out a questionnaire or information sheet. This reassures them they are in the right room, makes you seem friendly and approachable, and immediately gives them a task to do while everyone else is entering the room. If you rotate rooms or teach at a college, arrive early on the first day and have the name and number of the class on the first PowerPoint slide.
Seating Arrangements. Arrange desks in order to foster communication for whatever activities your class will be doing most often. If it’s lecture, rows are good. If it’s group work, groups of desks are good. No matter what, make sure students do not have their backs to the teacher and change the arrangement throughout the year. Of course, sometimes you don’t have control over the room’s desks if you’re a college teacher or move classrooms.
Bellwork. Have an assignment or way to ease students into the class when they enter the room. Post it or give them a handout so they know what to do when they enter the room. Do not keep it a secret and do not grade it, so that it is not a threatening experience for students and they can get on task once they enter the room. Ideally, the activity should review something from the previous day or preview that day’s activities. In my Roman history class, I liked to review what events we discussed at the end of the previous lecture. In my literature in translation classes, I liked to have my students summarize that day’s reading in groups. In a Latin class, you could have students practice declensions or conjugations while they wait for class to start.
Rules. Have a list of, at most, 5 rules with clearly delineated consequences–both positive and negative consequences–that are communicated on the first day. When you talk to your students about the rules after the first day, you should not interrupt instruction to penalize a student (Wong and Wong have some ideas for how to do this, but they seem to apply mainly to elementary school teachers). You should also always be calm, specific, and focus on how the students chose to break the rules. When you address broken rules with an individual student, have him/her fill out a form that helps them understand the reasons that they broke the rules and how to problem-solve in order to fix the habits causing the misbehavior. This practice helps students take responsibility for their actions and teaches problem-solving. When you reward students, Wong and Wong do not like the idea of using food and suggest that you give students free time to use on school work. Ultimately, I think this section applies mainly to lower grades, but it has some interesting ideas to consider.
Class procedures. You should develop and rehearse class procedures in order to preempt misbehavior. These procedures apply to how you want students to leave class at the end of the period, quiet down upon your request, ask for your help, pass in papers, or answer questions. You should think about your own preferences for these procedures, and how the layout of the room requires certain procedures. During the first week, you should introduce students to the most frequently used procedures, and practice them often. The earlier and the faster that these procedures become habits for students, the more smoothly the class will run. For example, on the first day, tell students that you do not want them to pack up their bags before the end of class because that is when you will announce the homework. A few minutes before the end of class, remind them of this procedure before they start packing up their bags. Finally, once you have finished class, politely dismiss students so they know when to leave.
Group work. Group work has its own procedures that can make things go more smoothly or waste time. In order to transition students into group work as easily as possible, specify the number of students in each group, how long they will be in these groups, and give clear instructions about what they will do in these groups. It may even help to give specific tasks for each group member to do. Depending on the size of the group or the task, you may want to specify how they should ask you for help during group work. For example, if you want students to review and correct their homework as a group, you should tell them that they can only ask you for clarification if everyone in the group is confused about that point.