Monday, September 23, 2013

That 4th Grade Class - A Day When Classroom Management Won

Classroom management. It's what principals want to know that you have. It's what makes new teachers quit because there is no worse feeling than a class who is not listening to a word you say and doesn't respect you. Trust me, I know that feeling. However, the best aspect about classroom management is the least discussed, that you can get better at it!

I have two 4th grade classes that I teach. At this age in the district all students learn violin. My first lesson with these two classes was like a study in contrasts. One class accepted me as their teacher and cooperated without any special classroom management needed on my part. The second class was quit different. They talked a lot. They were not respectful to the music stands. No one did anything way out there, but I knew I did not want to spend my year playing tug-o-war with the kids. And I did not want to feel that special feeling of a class out of the range of my influence.

The first thing I decided was that I wasn't going to try to figure out why the two classes were different. It doesn't really matter why. I decided I needed to teach that second group of 4th graders that the music room is a place where certain expectations need to be met. With that I was off and planning. What could I do to raise the expectations for behavior and reinforce that I was serious?

I started our next class meeting outside of the classroom. Two things happened there. I told them that today they would have the opportunity to earn the right to play the violin.  The class could earn a star for doing various things in the classroom. If the class earned 10 stars by the end of the day, then we would play violins at our next class. I also started my expectations outside of the classroom. They were in two lines. They had to enter the room silently. The first line started walked up the ramp. I had them stop at the door. They started talking, so back off the ramp they went. I repeated my expectations and had the second line try. Success!

I kept repeating that to earn this first star they needed to be silent entering the classroom and what that meant. It included not making noise with their mouth, feet, or hands in any way. That meant silent. If I had said no talking, then some of the kids would have made other noises and that's not what I wanted. 

The room was ready for the students when they arrived with chairs and stands. The name tags were out on the stands so I could address students by name. It also meant that I sat them where I wanted them, alternating boy-girl-boy-girl. Each stand also had a pencil. It is really important to have the classroom ready. It showed that I was ready for them, even if they weren't ready for me.

From there I proceeded with a basic staff lesson about the names of the lines and spaces. The first thing I needed to do was get a handout to each student. I explained that I could have had these out on the stands before they came in, but that I wanted to give them an opportunity to earn a star. They could earn this star by not talking while I passed out the handouts. This included not talking even when I was no longer at the front of the room. 

For the entire rest of the class every direction was given as an opportunity to earn a star. I praised them to the skies when we earned one and I told them specifically why they did not earn one as that happened. Any amount of talking would negate earning a star. I focused on specific students who were doing specific things that were helping us earn stars.

It was amazing! They learned I meant it. I was not going to put violins into their hands until they showed me they could be respectful to one another so we could learn. They learned that they could be quiet as a class and get to work. They learned that music class is different. They learned that I have high expectations and that I will teach them how to meet those expectations. They learned what success feels like. 

Because at the end of the 45 minutes they had nine stars. They could earn the last one by exiting the room silently. After they were lined up outside they so wanted to know if they had earned the last one. And they had! For the first time that day my face broke out into a huge smile. They had done it! So many of them smiled too. I raised the expectation for their behavior and they met that expectation. 

I tried something different and it worked. This time. It doesn't always work because every group of kids is different. That's how group dynamics work. But you don't have to accept a class that is not meeting your behavioral expectations. Try some new things. And praise yourself for trying. You've earned it.

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