By Amie Weinberg
Let’s begin with an important, common question that new teachers typically ask: “What’s the difference between classroom discipline and classroom management?” Discipline refers to a reactive, problem-driven process that focuses on something that has already taken place; classroom management centers on being proactive and promoting student responsibility (Wong & Wong, 2014). Experienced teachers know that a successful classroom management plan can make the difference between a day of learning and a day of chaos.
Classroom management includes rules, procedures, and guidelines for students that allow them to focus on learning. Teachers introduce each procedure at the beginning of the year, adding additional ones as needed, but also consistently reinforce and review rules throughout the school year. Once students understand and can easily participate in the classroom management plan, behavior problems will be minimized.
1. Let Students Talk!
Teachers spend too much time trying to get learners to quiet down. Children (and all people, for that matter) need and want to talk! Students can actually learn from organizing thoughts to speak aloud, listening carefully to someone’s response, and then thinking and responding. So a popular and effective classroom management strategy includes allowing time for students to talk to each other about learning topics you provide.
If you are introducing a unit about the ancient civilization of China, you begin by asking students to write what they already know on individual sticky notes. Partners then meet to discuss their notes and see what they both have listed, giving them a chance to speak and listen, creating interest in the upcoming unit. You then ask pairs to become quartets by meeting with other pairs to further compare notes before students post their sticky notes on a class chart of “What We Already Know About Ancient China.” As they learn throughout the lessons, students will look back at their sticky notes and talk about incorrect information they initially listed or additional details they have learned since that day. The key is that you provide them the topic and let them talk.
2. Develop Beginning and Ending Routines.
As teachers, we know how precious every moment of the academic day can be, so you need to make a plan for successfully starting and wrapping up a class and when the day is over. Creating routines for older students who switch classes, or for younger ones who stay in the same room but change from one subject to another, not only provides the structure and organization that benefits children, but it also maximizes learning time. Routines will vary depending on students’ ages and physical transitions between classrooms or mental shifts between subjects, but once you develop it, the management plan stays the same.
A 5th-grade teacher has students enter the classroom each morning and immediately move their picture-magnet to show buying lunch or bringing one from home. Next, these upper elementary students put away jackets, backpacks, and any books or notebooks they took home. This routine then invites students to draw or write on a group white board how they feel and what they hope to learn during the day. Some choose to sharpen pencils while others take a moment to organize their desks. These young learners automatically stop talking and take their seats when school announcements begin.
At the end of the day, these 5th graders listen as their teacher reads aloud from the class chapter book while small groups of students quietly pack their backpacks. Once today’s chapter is finished, students return to the white board where they wrote or drew in the morning. They write a sentence about their day as well as something new they learned. When students hear their bus number announced they automatically form a line and walk toward the school’s exit. The beginning and ending routines provide comfort and predictability and help build students’ independence.
3. Choreograph Your Moves.
Modern-day teachers rarely sit at their desks or stand in front of the class providing information to students. Educators typically welcome children as they enter the room, help individual or small groups of learners, and facilitate those who are reading, writing, talking, creating, and making sense of various topics. Taking time to mentally rehearse and physically plan for each day’s lessons and interactions aids in the placement of materials and other considerations, like securing extension cords, preparing supplies, and ensuring all students can see and participate in activities.
Classroom management procedures and routines are beneficial, but students are easily distracted when it takes too long for the teacher to share a video on the interactive white board or when there aren’t enough materials for a science experiment. Breaks in the day’s flow add unstructured time for young learners who lose focus and learning time. By choreographing your movements ahead of time and checking for working batteries and sufficient materials, you maximize students’ time on task and increase learning time.
These three strategies are easy to implement, and they complement most teachers’ classroom guidelines. Encouraging and structuring student talk allows interactions that build better communicators and allow students to speak. Teaching beginning and ending routines promotes students’ independence and success because they prepare for each subject and day. And teachers maximize the academic day when planning for their own physical and spatial interactions. After all, reducing students’ challenging behavior will increase the focus on learning.
Dr. Weinberg taught for more than 20 years, including in Masters and Doctoral Education programs. She developed professional learning and trained teacher-mentors to work with beginning educators. Amie earned her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology and Curriculum & Instruction.
Gonzalez, J. (2017, October 17). When students won’t stop talking. The cult of pedagogy.
Wong, H. & Wong, R. (2018). The classroom management book. Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.