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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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5 Quick Classroom-Management Tips for Novice Teachers

I made a good number of blunders my first year teaching that still make me cringe. I learned though. And it's fair to say, when it comes to managing a classroom, most of what we learn as new teachers is trial by fire. It's also smart to heed the advice of those who have walked -- and stumbled -- before you. If you are struggling with discipline, here are five tips that you can start using right away:

#1 Use a normal, natural voice

Are you teaching in your normal voice? Every teacher can remember this from the first year in the classroom: spending those first months talking at an above-normal range until one day, you lose your voice.

Raising our voice to get students' attention is not the best approach, and the stress it causes and the vibe it puts in the room just isn't worth it. The students will mirror your voice level, so avoid using that semi-shouting voice. If we want kids to talk at a normal, pleasant volume, we must do the same.

You want to also differentiate your tone. If you are asking students to put away their notebooks and get into their groups, be sure to use a declarative, matter-of-fact tone. If you are asking a question about a character in a short story, or about contributions made by the Roman Empire, use an inviting, conversational tone.

#2 Speak only when students are quiet and ready

This golden nugget was given to me by a 20-year veteran my first year. She told me that I should just wait and then wait some more until all students were quiet.

So I tried it; I fought the temptation to talk. Sometimes I'd wait much longer than I thought I could hold out for. Slowly but surely, the students would cue each other: "sshh, she's trying to tell us something," "come on, stop talking," and "hey guys, be quiet." (They did all the work for me!)

My patience paid off. Yours will too. And you'll get to keep your voice.

#3 Use hand signals and other non-verbal communication

Holding one hand in the air, and making eye contact with students is a great way to quiet the class and get their attention on you. It takes awhile for students to get used to this as a routine, but it works wonderfully. Have them raise their hand along with you until all are up. Then lower yours and talk.

Flicking the lights off and on once to get the attention is an oldie but goodie. It could also be something you do routinely to let them know they have three minutes to finish an assignment or clean up, etc.

With younger students, try clapping your hands three times and teaching the children to quickly clap back twice. This is a fun and active way to get their attention and all eyes on you.

#4 Address behavior issues quickly and wisely

Be sure to address an issue between you and a student or between two students as quickly as possible. Bad feelings -- on your part or the students -- can so quickly grow from molehills into mountains.

Now, for handling those conflicts wisely, you and the student should step away from the other students, just in the doorway of the classroom perhaps. Wait until after instruction if possible, avoiding interruption of the lesson. Ask naive questions such as, "How might I help you?" Don't accuse the child of anything. Act as if you do care, even if you have the opposite feeling at that moment. The student will usually become disarmed because she might be expecting you to be angry and confrontational.

And, if you must address bad behavior during your instruction, always take a positive approach. Say, "It looks like you have a question" rather than, "Why are you off task and talking?"

When students have conflicts with each other, arrange for the students to meet with you at lunch, after or before school. Use neutral language as you act as a mediator, helping them resolve the problem peacefully, or at least reach an agreeable truce.

#5 Always have a well-designed, engaging lesson

This tip is most important of all. Perhaps you've heard the saying, if you don't have a plan for them, they'll have one for you. Always overplan. It's better to run out of time than to run short on a lesson.

From my own first-hand experience and after many classrooms observations, something that I know for sure: Bored students equal trouble! If the lesson is poorly planned, there is often way too much talking and telling from the teacher and not enough hands-on learning and discovery by the students. We all know engaging lessons take both serious mind and time to plan. And they are certainly worth it -- for many reasons.

Share with us your classroom management experiences: What specific challenges are you having? What strategies have worked well for you and your students? Please share in the comment section below.
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Kate Topley's picture

These steps and good steps to remember. They are simple and yet cover large amounts of management techniques. Thanks for sharing these!

Aaron Olmanson's picture

I also use hand signals for students to communicate with me during a lesson.
Bathroom: cross fingers and raise hand.
Move to get something: circle pointer finger 3 or more times while hand is raised.
Need kleenex: pinch nose and raise hand.
At recess or hallway we use some of the Navy Seal hand signals, some students really like that.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia
Facilitator

Some great advice here. My first supervising teacher (a while ago now) told me that he didn't mind what I did in my first 4 weeks as a teacher, as long as I got my behaviour strategy sorted out. Good advice. I also have a couple of tips that I pass on now:
1) Take up time - allow students time to become silent - not immediate silence.
2) Tactical ignore - sometimes, it causes less disruption to ignore one student doing the wrong thing than disrupting the whole lesson.

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vanitha's picture

I agree with all the suggestions. The pitch and tone of your voice makes a difference.
Waiting for your learners attention takes time but it is successful when you are consistent.

Kevin's picture

Great advice! At the beginning of the year especially, and at other times when students were seeing or experiencing something new to them, I would try to put myself in my students' shoes. For example on the first day of school I would imagine what they would see and hear and be expected to do. The other piece of this was to walk through the flow of how students would access materials, learning resources and supplies. I would also have a plan for how I would address interruptions such as parents who wanted to stay in the classroom and I would mentally rehearse what I would do should a child begin to show high anxiety rather than relying on having to think on the spot of what to do.

A well-designed, engaging lesson is, as you said, the most important tip of all.

I found that often children would get off track if they simply were unclear of what was expected of them. Before sending students from where we were meeting to where they would do their work I would ask those who had further questions or wanted to talk with me to stay with me while others got started. ("If you know what you are going to do/write first when you get to your desk, cross your arms. Now whisper to the person beside you what you plan to do. Then listen to their plan. When you have done this, go to your desk!")

I would add that included in the student activity that followed would be some student choice, some open-ended questions and clear instructions on what to do if a student is stuck (ask three before you ask me) and last of all, set out some activities that students can flow to when they are done their work. It could be something as simple as "go back to our meeting place in the classroom and read or bring your work with you to share with someone who is also finished." That way I could easily see how many students were ready to move on and who might need some help or encouragement.

These forums are wonderful. I wish I had them when I began teaching!

MissT's picture

These are great tips! However, I'm finding that Tip #2 simply is not working with my students. I could literally be sitting there silently waiting for them to be quiet for about ten or so minutes. However, Tip #3 is more efficient. I simply raise my hand and it is their cue to raise their hand as well, be quiet, and focus their attention on me. It works wonders on a middle school crowd. Also, the most important takeaway from this article was Tip#4. I do feel it is important to nip problems in the bud right away, but I had never given thought as to how to approach that. A positive approach will only help to strentghen the relationship with the student, rather than to further place strain on it.I definitely aim to implement that tip next time a problem arises. Thank you!

marieg2000's picture

I wish I would have had this information when I began my teaching career. I have taught middle school and high school for most of the 14 years. I have found that #1 and #2 are highly effective. #3 not so much for the older children, it gets old very quickly. As for highly engaging, well-planned lessons, best laid plans . . . I also have an issue with always providing excitement. Secondary, undergrad and grad classes are more likely to be the opposite, not very engaging, and frankly, boring. I wonder if we put our students at a disadvantage if we try to always titillate.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I hear you, MarieG2000! But I think it's less about excitement and more about thinking how to make our lessons relevant to our kids' lives. If we view education as a path to understanding the world around us, then we can find ways to connect our lessons to making sense of the world. We may not be able to do that with every lesson, but I have found that if I try to make those connections clear some of the time, then my students are more willing to work through the tougher lessons.

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