Hacking Your Classroom

The fundamental practices of classroom instruction are like the lines of code in an app: remove only a few and you’ll find yourself in glitchville.  

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If you want your lessons to run smoothly and effectively, here’s some classroom hacks you can employ right away:

Greet Your Students at the Door

This is straight out of Harry Wong’s The First Days of School. And just because it was written in 1991, doesn’t mean the concept no longer has value. Greeting students is the epitome of good teaching for so many reasons:

  • Establishes a positive relationship with your students
  • Allows the teacher to ensure students are entering the classroom with the right attitude, the necessary supplies, the appropriate attire, and without any distractions (such as food, drinks or other unnecessary items)
  • Positions the teacher in the corridor, so you can keep an eye on the students passing between classes and hustle tardy students along to their next class

Wong isn’t the only educator with strong opinions about greeting students at the door. Ron Morrish, consultant, speaker and author of Secrets of Discipline and With All Due Respect, has this to say about being at the door: “Use the doorway of your classroom as a point of transition, not just a point of entry. Be at the door to ensure that the socializing of the hallway is left in the hallway.”

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Create a Seating Plan

Develop a seating plan for your students. This is another oldie from Fred Jones’ 2000 book Tools for Teaching.  If they choose their seat, they will choose to suit their needs – which may conflict with your needs. I take this concept one step further and actually have marks on the floor to indicate the precise position of each desk. This way, I am able to keep large and clear walking lanes between the desks open for myself to move around the room. And, with the desk positions marked out, students can get the room back in shape quickly and efficiently at the end of class.

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Use a Warm Up Activity

Since my first day of teaching, I have always had my students at work at a warm-up task when they enter the room. A warm up routine provides incentive for coming to class on time and a sense of probability in terms of how every class will begin. Most importantly, a warm up activity sets the tone that the room is for learning, not socializing. We enter the room, we get focused and we get down to business.

My warm up (read here for more details) takes the form of a daily quiz. The data I acquire from these quizzes helps provide useful information in terms of what areas students struggled with/what might need to be reviewed or strengthened.

One variation I have used in the past is to have my warm up quizzes also double as an exit pass for the class. Students review their daily notes and see if they can come up with questions I might ask them at the beginning of the next class. If they guess correctly, they earn bonus marks.

These quizzes are graded and later returned to the students. They keep them as part of a developing study guide for future tests. I pull questions for the test directly from the quizzes. So, students have a collection of both potential questions and answers.

If students have incorrect answers (or blanks from days when absent or tardy) I give them time to share answers among themselves. Students who are late to class do not get to participate in the quiz. They must wait outside of the room until we are done taking up the correct answers. This means missing items for their study guides and missing grades when I correct them. This provides a strong incentive to come to class on time.

Plan Your Transitions

Moving between one activity and another during class are opportunities for students to get off track and potentially begin engaging in non-desirable behaviors. Students can sense poorly planned transitions from a mile away, so be prepared! First, make sure your next steps are ready to effectively roll out. So, make sure necessary materials are printed and available closely at hand. While you are looking for your copies, they will be looking for trouble. Then, make sure your instructions are organized in a logical manner and clearly expressed. If you need materials distributed, have an efficient system already set up and rehearsed – certain students, when asked to hand out materials, see this as an opportunity for socializing. Choose your helpers wisely! And, when necessary, help students move along to the next activity and/or setting. For instance, position yourself right next to students who are not following your directions – getting into their personal space is subconsciously uncomfortable and students will move to avoid you. Avoid touching students. Instead, tap on their desks to break up conversations. Use clear, but neutral, verbal cues to keep students moving to where you need them to be. Be clear without being confrontational.   

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But, these are some fundamental hacks that every educator can instantly employ to bring order and effectiveness to a learning environment. And, please take some time to look up some of the authors I mentioned above, especially Ron Morrish. That guy is the best kept secret in classroom discipline.

Think big, but don’t forget the basic little hacks. The little things, you will find, can make a very big difference!

Hi 5!

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