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College of Arts & Sciences

Classroom Management Tips

Improve Your Classroom Management Skills

By Carmelinda Chilelli

Classroom Management: Do’s and Don’ts

For novice teachers, one of the most challenging skills to master is classroom management. It is more than just being strict or organized, as it deals with setting up a structured learning environment where certain behaviors are promoted and others are discouraged. Take a look at our list of strategies to help you to prevent off task behaviors and to create a classroom environment that is conducive to learning.

Do’s

Build rapport: Promoting a caring class atmosphere will result in fewer behavioral conflicts. Forge a class identity and begin working toward a warm and inclusive environment from the first day of the semester:

  • Greet your students at the door.
  • Learn their names by the first two weeks of class.
  • Get them to meet and know one another by planning in-pair or group activities.
  • Invite them to visit your office.

Showing your students that you care often leads to more empathy and understanding and, ultimately, to fewer misunderstandings.

Organize your space: In a productive classroom or lab, all students are able to see without having to strain or engage in effort. Once you get to know the class, organize the seats to be free to roam during the class activities. Teacher movement and proximity throughout the classroom increases academic engagement. The arrangement of the desks depends on the kind of interaction you are pursuing. For example, if you want students to participate in a discussion or cooperative learning group, you would put the desks in tables. If you want students to work independently, instead, they should not face one another at their desk, so you can arrange the seats in order to face the front of the classroom. You may want to ask your students to help organize the desks to reinforce cooperative interaction.

Do your homework: Always have a well-designed and engaging lesson. You know the saying “if you don’t have a plan for them, they’ll have one for you.” Spending time on designing your instruction will help you to better manage your class so that you are not lecturing more than necessary, and more importantly, so that there is sufficient hands-on learning time for the students. Lesson planning and preparation can take an hour or more for every hour of teaching, but it will be reduced as you gain experience. When you carefully prepare a lesson plan, you can anticipate students’ questions or issues. This will prompt you to find easier ways to introduce and practice a topic and help you to feel more confident in your teaching. A successful lesson plan always includes the following key components:

  • Objectives for students learning
  • Teaching and learning activities                                                                   
  • Strategies to check student understanding/progress

Specifying concrete objectives for students’ learning will help you to determine the kinds of teaching and learning activities you will use in class, while those activities will define how you will check whether the learning objectives have been accomplished.

Always plan more: Always have one or two alternative activities in case the material you have selected doesn’t take all the time you thought it would, or doesn’t work as expected, or in case of unexpected glitches with technology.

Anticipate the students’ questions: Part of your homework is figuring out what the students might ask you and being ready to give an answer. What concepts are difficult? Is there a step to the process that may be unclear? Does the content rely on a recently learned item that the students might not yet understand well? Inexperienced teachers who do not think about what their students may or may not know often find that they cannot make it through their lesson plans because they did not anticipate questions or scaffold the information.

Build on students’ existing knowledge through scaffolding: By using this teaching approach, the instructor provides support to students that is specifically tailored to their needs as they learn a skill or process, as well as on their previous knowledge on a topic. Scaffolding promotes deep learning because it explicitly helps students connect what they already know to what they are learning at the moment. As students assume more responsibility for their learning, the teacher provides less support. The ultimate goal of scaffolding is for students to become independent lifetime learners, so that they can continue to learn on their own or with limited support.

In-class scaffolding may include the following strategies:

  1. The teacher does it: The teacher models how to perform a new or difficult task.
  2. The class does it: The teacher and the student work together to perform the task.
  3. The group does it: Students work with a partner or a small cooperative group to complete the task.
  4. The individual does it: This is the independent practice stage where individual students can demonstrate their task mastery.

Watch a YouTube video on scaffolding.

Be consistent: take the time to teach expectations—and to reteach them if necessary. For example, if you do not accept papers submitted electronically and want a hard copy instead, clarify that at the beginning (in addition to have the instructions in the syllabus as well as in Blackboard). This will free up class time and prevent you from having to explain assignments. Don’t consider it as a waste of time that could be spent on instruction. The more familiar your students are with routines, the less likely they are to find “down time” to engage in misbehavior.

Do get your rules straight, but pick them wisely. Limit the rules to three to five and make sure they are specific. A few rules are easier to remember than many rules. Moreover, an environment with many rules sounds like cold and rigid and may create an atmosphere of rebellion. Word the statements in a positive way rather than telling students what “not” to do (i.e. “Be prepared” instead of “Don’t forget your textbook,” “Listen to your instructor and peers” instead of “Don’t talk in class”). You might even want to do this the first week: Tell your students that you want the classroom to be the best learning environment, and to do so, we should set a few rules. Ask the students to discuss it in groups, then share with the class. In this way, the students have a hand in the creation of those rules. You also need to be consistent with the adherence to these rules so students not only feel that they are treated fairly, but also that there are consequences to breaking the rules, and they will be more likely to respect them.

Try non-verbal: When students engage in off-task behavior, simply moving in their direction or standing near them sends a message that you are aware of what they are doing and don’t accept it. Do not talk over students’ chatter. A well–placed pause in your instruction can refocus students because there is a noticeable break in what is occurring. Silence can be effective, as well as the use of a softer voice, so that everyone really has to listen to what you are saying. Make eye contact, use gestures, get close to the students when they need help with an activity. Establish looks or signals rather than drawing verbal attention to inappropriate behaviors. Also avoid turning your back to the class. Proximity and body language will effectively communicate that you mean to be taken seriously.

Don’ts

Do not ignore misbehavior, but avoid publicly embarrassing students by confronting them in front of the class. Students may test you frequently, but if your reaction is always the same, the game is over quickly. In case of misbehavior, remain calm, but be firm with what behaviors you accept or not. Speak to the student in the hallway or after class to resolve the issue instead of allowing an in-class confrontation. This will help the students feel respected.

No hard feelings: Discipline yourself not to take it personally. It in this context refers to everything that students dish out: cheating, whining, sleeping in class, turning in homework late, arriving late or not attending regularly, and so on. Regardless of their conduct, your job remains the same, namely teaching content and skills to help them to earn a degree. So model professionalism by not overreacting.

Set boundaries. Likability is an important trait that helps students learn. When students like their teacher, they learn more easily. However, it is important to understand that respect is just as important. To maintain professional boundaries and earn their respect, follow our guidelines above. Additionally, treat students with respect, engage them in small talk, but do not share too many or too personal details from your life. This includes through social media.

Do not get stuck in the same mode of teaching: Frequently vary the delivery of your lesson. When things become predictable and boring, discipline problems might become an issue. Move around the class, instead of staying attached to the blackboard. While students in the front might be engaged, the rest of the class is free to tune out. Instructing from different places in the room throughout class keeps students on-task and discourages off-task behavior.

Do not be late: It is very important to model the behavior you want from students. Being late very occasionally is not a problem. It’s when you are chronically late that you show the students it is acceptable for them to be late as well. Be as punctual as you possibly can, and when you are late be sure to apologize to students. It is also important to return tests or graded assignments on time as well; students need immediate feedback on short-term assignments because it facilitates information processing, reinforces efficacy, or provides specific directions for improvement. Also, immediate feedback encourages self-assessment. This means that the students can recognize strengths and challenges and use that information to improve their performance.

Sources: teachers.net; edutopia; The CSU Writing Studio; Vanderbilt's Providing Instructional Supports.

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