Getting Your Classes Off To A Good Start at Year’s Beginning

The beginning of a new school year is always a hopeful and exciting time. Students by then are happy to return to school and be reunited with friends they haven’t seen all summer, and then there is the fresh start feel of a new grade, new teachers, and new classes. It is also a time when teachers are won’t to establish expectations and procedures, and to initiate positive relationship building with their students, and to help students do the same with each other. To help you get started on the right foot, today I will discuss specific strategies for establishing a well managed and efficient classroom.

Smoothly run classrooms begin at the door. When students arrive at your classroom, (or when you arrive at theirs if you are on a cart), you want to always cause them to feel and believe that you are glad to be with them and teaching them, and that you value them as individuals in your class. Nothing says this better than a friendly approach, greeting each student by name at the door (or once you are in the classroom if you are on a cart). Greeting each child by name gives each one a feeling of importance and significance, and children highly appreciate that you know their name.

After you have greeted each child by name, there are two things you must do as they are still on their way in. The first is to tell them where to sit. This is mostly a first day of class action, but many children will need to be reminded on subsequent meetings as well. The second thing you must do as each child enters the room is to hand them a paper on which they are to begin working immediately. This work is often referred to as seat work or “do now.” It is work that the students can successfully complete on their own, without involving you, and it should be a sort of warm-up activity related to the focus of that day’s lesson. Because the students can do this activity on their own, you are free to take attendance and complete any minor set up that is required. These two actions on your part sets the tone for the class, avoids children having time to become noisy and inattentive, and provides the structure of a solid routine to start every class. One more comment on this; if there is a student who is ill-behaved in the hall, I have them go to the end of the line after informing them that they are not ready to enter my classroom. I then tell the individual what they need to do to become ready. It is usually to stop talking or stop the horseplay in the hallway.

Once the students are seated and working on the paper you handed them, you should several times mention the expectations of the silent work, and give or reiterate the time limit on the work. This task should not be open-ended, or else they will drag it out until it takes a good chunk of instructional time, when it should only be an introduction or “jumping off point” to the lesson. When time is up, collect the papers promptly. Each child must surrender their paper to you when asked, even if they are in the middle of a sentence or word. This will teach them that your time limits are firm, and that it is their responsibility to manage their time well to complete the task in the time given.

There are nearly always at least a few students who complete any task ahead of the others, and this is equally true of this “do now” assignment. Because of this, it is a good practice to announce the next piece of work that the class will do so that those who finish early can begin the next task, or at least prepare to do so. Unless the next task is entirely new, it is likely that these early finishers will be independent enough to begin ahead of any review or instructions you plan to give. Another option is to gather those early finishers into a small group and get them started, then return to the rest of the class to do the same.

By this point, the entire class is engaged in the main body of work for that day, and you are teaching, guiding, monitoring, correcting and praising students as part of a normal class flow. When I am teaching a lesson and am looking for non-written responses, I like to make the responses non-verbal whenever possible. this keeps unwanted talking to a minimum, and allows me to assess responses of an entire class immediately. Let me explain how this works with a simple example.

Suppose that I am teaching on meter. I want students to be able to audiate simple duple and triple meter from music to which they listen. I can easily assess each student’s ability to do so by having them raise two fingers if they think the music is in duple meter, or raising three fingers if they think the music is in triple meter. Students will raise their hands a few at at time, rarely all at once. I acknowledge each response, but do not give the answer until all have responded. Students take great pleasure and pride in getting these questions correct. Students can also raise a hand every time they hear an occurrence of something in the music. For instance, I might have them raise their hand every time they hear a motif that I have previewed with them. This gives me feedback on their listening without any speaking that would interfere with listening to the music (and model bad audience behavior).

In general, my students know that there are two times they may not speak, and must save comments and questions. The first is when I am speaking, and the second is when they are listening to music. They may raise their hand at any time to let me know they want to say something, but raising my index finger reminds them to wait to say what they have in mind until I have finished saying what I’m saying, or until the music has been stopped.

Just as I began class with a well-organized structure, I also want to end class that way. It is important to save time, perhaps the last 5 minutes, to review and summarize what learning has taken place. This can be done with a simple written exit ticket with one question on it, or it can be done by calling on students to give summarizing statements about what they have done and learned during that class. The time also can be used for you to summarize the key points of the lesson. This is good to do early in the year, while the students are building their proficiency at doing it themselves. Your summary can be a model for them, and gradually you transfer the responsibility for summarizing learning to them. I like using exit tickets because collecting them adds structure to the dismissal. If I collect them by hand, I have each student line up as I receive their completed ticket. This also gives me the opportunity to thank each student by name, reinforcing the relationship building. Other times, I may ask whole rows to place their tickets on the counter next to the door and then line up after doing so. This is less personal, but works well if time is short. Having lined up the class, they are ready to transfer back to the teacher who has come to collect them.

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