Hello New English Teachers,
Letter #3 in the series is a good one! What types of things do we need to consider for the beginning of the year?
There are so many things to consider when the school year is about to begin. You need to think about how you want to run your classroom. To have well behaved students, your classroom needs to have procedures in place. You need to think about how you are going to get to know your students and build a classroom community. You need to think about how you are going to get to know your students' abilities as learners of English. When I started to write this letter, I decided that it needed to be broken down into three segments. These segments will all be "letter 3," but since there is so much to say, they will be published separately. The segments will be: 1. Procedures, 2. Building Relationships, and 3. Assessing Students' Skills
I would say that procedures fall into two categories. Category 1 would be procedures that help the students learn to their maximum capacity and category 2 would be procedures that help teachers maintain their sanity (i.e. save you time!). There are so many experts that have helped me develop my classroom procedures (both in category 1 and 2). Let's look at two of those experts in the body of this post.
One expert that revolutionized my classroom is Rick Morris. In my garage, in one of many boxes, are my Rick Morris books. If it was easier to put my finger on them, I would totally be re-reading them right this second! That's just how good they are. But guess what...the website is also a gold mine. If you don't have the book, go to this link to read all about Morris's ideas. Rick Morris has so many great ideas to explore.
One of his ideas that I use consistently is student numbers. What I do is simply number my students in alphabetical order. Why? Mainly, student numbers allows for an organization of your students in order to save a lot of TIME (i.e. a category 2 procedure). Morris has multiple books, but the book that delves into numbering your students is the New Management Handbook. As a secondary school teacher, I generally teach multiple classes within the same grade level. For example, from 2012-2014 I had two seventh and two eighth grade classes. In the 2015-2016 I taught one sixth grade class, one seventh grade class, and two eighth grade classes. In these circumstances, my choice is to make a three digit number starting with the grade-level. All the classes within the same grade-level would be numbered consecutively. Let's look at the numbers for my classes this past year, just so you have a better picture of what I am talking about.
6th grade class= 21 students (two of whom were late entrants)
Since my main reason for using these numbers is to help me with alphabetizing paperwork, I really needed my students to be in alphabetical order. This is something that Morris does not necessarily agree with, but I find that to be the best way for the system to work for me*. The first late entrant has the last initial of K. For trimester 1 and 2, I had her number as 620, but at the start of trimester 3, I moved her to 612.5 (for alphabetization). The second of my late entrant's last name begins with an X and was alphabetically last...perfect. By trimester three, my stack of papers had 612, 612.5, and 613 in the middle and was just missing number 620, and thankfully back in alphabetical order! Yay!
The other three classes were pretty straight forward--
7th grade class= 19 students
8th grade class #1= 14 students
8th grade class #2= 11 students
*I would like to note that I can't remember how Morris numbers his students and why he does not number them alphabetically. I plan on re-reading the specifics of his system (when I can find my books) and I recommend you do the same. Then you can make a decision about how you would like to use the numbers. I think that for the late entrants, my need for alphabetization is a slight annoyance.
Along with the student numbers are Blackline Masters. These masters continue to help your organization, and they even go one step further by helping you easily see if students have missed an assignment. Let's take a look at those next. This is one example of a master that Morris provides. You cut it down so that you have three small sheets. The one shown below is designed for a class of 20 students.
This image came from Morris's website under the tab for download files. Basically, once your papers are organized numerically, you cross off the number of each paper in your pile. Then you can see which number (i.e. student) doesn't have their paper turned in. There is a key at the bottom that shows how Morris uses this master, but I generally don't get that specific. I do cross out the number when the assignment has been turned in, and I circle the number for students that didn't turn it in. That's it. I also create my own masters at the beginning of the year, and for ease of use, I write my students' names next to their numbers. Then I always have a quick reference of student numbers. I also have student numbers next to students' names in my gradebook and on the "Read" charts in the front of the room. I highly recommend that you look in to all of Morris's ideas, but this one in particular has been a huge time saver for me, especially in keeping track of mountains of paperwork!
Another master teacher that I have learned a lot from is Fred Jones. I went to a conference for his book Tools for Teaching a few years ago, and I so enjoyed learning from him. Much of what he says will help you with student behaviors, which I would put in category 1. When you are running your classroom efficiently, the students are on-task and learning.
One thing that I learned from Jones (and Morris also agrees with) is to have consistent bell work. When students enter the classroom, you should be greeting them at the door. Shake their hands, welcome them in, and show them that you are monitoring behavior. There should be a distinction between playful hallway behavior and the work environment within your room. Then there should be clear expectations for what to do when they enter. I have had the best results when the activity is predictable. If students have a packet that they complete a portion of everyday, then they know to get it out and do the section for the day. I have also experimented with putting up the daily warm-up on the board, but when it is not in the same format each day, it is harder to get the students into the routine of completing it. I use the acronym HAD to stand for get out your HOMEWORK, write tonight's homework in your AGENDA, and complete your DRILL.
Now students have entered your room peacefully, completed their Bell Work, and you are ready to begin class. As you can imagine, plenty of other procedures will need to be established to have a smooth running class. How do you want students to ask to use the bathroom or to sharpen their pencils? Do you want them to be out of their seats whenever they want? You need to decide what is important to you. Here is a good list of procedures from Scholastic. This list will help you determine what to teach in the first couple weeks of the school year. Fred Jones really emphasizes the importance of TEACHING everything that you want your students to do. Here is an article by Jones that goes more into that idea with an example of teaching your students to walk to the library silently. The key is that they have to practice until it is perfect! Don't accept less than perfection, or you won't get what you want for the rest of the year.
Along with the procedures that will help your classroom run efficiently are the rules that will keep the students accountable for their behavior. Rules and procedures go hand in hand. According to Jones, "Never make a rule that you are not willing to enforce every time. Consistency means every time." The students are checking you out from the first moment that they meet you. If you say something is a "rule," but then don't enforce it, students will push the envelope every day. You need to set limits. Speaking of limits...that's another book that is recommended-- Setting Limits in the Classroom by Robert Mackenzie and Lisa Stanzione.
Personally, I feel that classroom management is one of the most difficult things to teach because each person has a different set of limits. What bothers one teacher might not bother you at all. Therefore, the key is for you to figure out what matters to you and enforce consistently. And read lots of management books along the way!!!