I have found that really working on building trusting relationships with my students is the best tool I have ever had for classroom management. Once your students trust you and respect you, the level of required classroom management drops significantly. I try to keep my classroom fun and feeling safe to them. Teenagers already feel targeted by adults and are so sensitive to any punishment; this is why I try to make my classroom management strategies more ‘friendly’ than serious as they are less likely to blow up and freak out. Here are my ‘friendly’ classroom management techniques:
We all remember being students and having to raise our hand for help. Sometimes it felt like it took the teacher forever to get to us- our hand would start to fall asleep, our muscles would weaken and it gave us to perfect opportunity to whine! THIS method eliminates that. This traffic-light system of using solo cups is SO HELPFUL!! When students are doing great (going strong) and need no assistance, they leave the green cup on top. When they are struggling (going slower) and are trying to figure it out but would not reject help from the teacher, they put yellow on top. When they are totally stuck (stopped) and cannot move forward until the teacher comes to help them, they put the red cup on top. This makes it SO easy to see exactly where each group of students are within a couple of seconds of scanning the room. I also like the fact that it forces them to constantly think about where they are in terms of understanding as well as determining the level of their need for help. This keeps them focused on task and less likely to wander around the room out of frustration.
Everyone likes to win things. Our students are no different! During class, when students are doing something good, staying focused, participating, being kind to one another etc. I will give them one of these tickets. They simply write their name somewhere on the ticket and drop it in the ticket ‘jar’ for their class period. Before tests, after we have reviewed the study guide, I will pull tickets for prizes. Prizes include: an extra late pass, sit next to a friend for a day, share a funny (approved) YouTube video with the class, a small toy from my treasure chest (all silly things from the dollar section at Target and the Dollar Tree). Sometimes I add other things depending on the needs and desires of the students. The tickets are magical- if no one is participating in class, I reach into my desk and pull out a couple of tickets and miraculously all of their hands shoot up! If they are being a little antsy or distracted during a quiet activity, I will walk by one of the kids who is on task, set a ticket in front of him/her and say loud enough for others to hear “thank you so much for working so quietly and staying focused and on task!”. The rest quickly follow suit. I love the tickets; and so do my students.
(I made the ticket jars out of large coffee cans and covered them with some wrapping paper I had on hand).
This little gem is something I saw in Pinterest for toddler time-outs. I thought to myself: ‘hmmm… teenagers are like giant toddlers… I wonder if this would work for them…’ It does! Not only does it calm down and center my students who struggle with focus in class, but also with the students who just need to calm down from frustration or anger. They simply shake the bottle with the glitter and have to watch all of the glitter fall and settle to the bottom of the bottle before re-entering class. I keep it close to the door so that they can easily take it on their way out. Many of my students are great at self advocating and just go grab the bottle, step outside for a minute and come back in. I have had a few students who do not like it, but for the most part they actually use it on their own without prompting from me which I think is great!
(This is just a tall water bottle that I added about 2 tablespoons of glitter to and then glued AND taped the top shut).
This idea is actually something that my current student teacher taught me (she is awesome! Not only does she help me with grading and anything else I need, but she is sharing her amazing ideas with me!). Each class has a spot on the board (I chose clouds, because I like clouds!), during random times throughout the class period, simply look around the room and count how many students are off-task and write that number in the space for the class. When the students see you writing a number, they immediately want to know what the number is about and as soon as you tell them- boy, do they start to shape up. The ‘positive peer pressure’ of knowing that the other classes will see the numbers also helps them to want to stay on task and focused.
The ‘mute button’ is a great trick I learned from my master teacher and I have used it ever since I was with her. It’s pretty simple: when a students talking gets out of hand, you simply “mute” them. As soon as they speak, they get some sort of punishment (my punishment is that they have to come spend 15 minutes with me after school as an ‘informal’ detention. Failure to show up leads to a formal detention through the admin). I really only use this during class when I am instructing and a student is calling out or being disruptive and it’s making my lecture run longer then it should, etc. It’s fun because the other students get into monitoring if the ‘muted’ kid actually talks and they call him/her out on it. Until last year, I did not actually have a physical ‘mute button’ and I would just mime using a TV remote on the student. Then an awesome student from last year (who continuously got muted) made this one for me. The best part is that he actually took apart an old computer mouse so that when I press the “mute” button on the controller, it makes a clicking sound! So cool!
(this controller was free as a student made it, but you can use an invisible remote until you get your own)
I like having my students sitting at table groups. However, sometimes the fact that they are facing their peers can lead to too much chatter. To help alleviate some of this, I have these dividers (named ‘the fortress of solitude’) that I put up around individual students or between tables to help separate students and lower their desire to talk to one another. Although they are short enough to see over, they really are just serving as a reminder to stay focused and not talk to the other people at their table. Strangely enough, many students request a fortress (which is great!) and I show them where to find them in the classroom so that they can take care of their own needs as they see fit. My next goal for these is to find brick patterned construction paper and cover them with it so that they truly look like a fortress!
(these dividers were made by cutting folding poster boards left over from science fair projects)
Although this picture is from my classroom tour post, it is part of my classroom management as well as being part of my classroom decorations. If the fortress of solitude (mentioned above) is not enough for a student to stay focused, I will usually give them a ‘plane ticket’ to go on a trip to ‘Isolation Island’. I have always used this island to separate a kid completely if the level of distraction becomes unmanageable, but I only recently decorated it. The students do not complain about going there, many even ask to go to the Island (again, it’s great that they can self manage). I do have a lei for them to wear if they feel like it. I really did not want the island to feel like a punishment, and I think I have been successful with that.
(I got the 3 dimensional decorations, and fancy 2 dimensional decorations like the palm trees are from the Dollar Tree and I made the rest with construction paper and hand-drawing the lettering -Gilligan’s Island was my inspiration for the font)
THE TIMER!!! I forgot to snap a picture of my stop watch, but this is a method that I use and love. When I count down from 5, I expect my students to be silent and looking at me. If they are not, I time them until they are. Then, the time that they have incurred by the end of the period is time that they owe me. I have done this two ways: 1. ANY time they have on the stop watch is time that they have to stay after the bell rings before I dismiss them. 2. If they stay under 10 seconds they are safe. I prefer the second way because it gives them more of a chance. Think of your group and reflect on your own pedagogy and decide what you feel is best for your classroom.
Those are my main classroom management strategies. I hope they prove useful to you or inspire you to try something new in your classroom.
-The Ardent Teacher