A well-managed classroom serves students by keeping the focus of class activity where it belongs: on learning. But classroom management takes effort, especially in larger classrooms. Amy Zimmerman shares some practical tips and methods for keeping classrooms running smoothly, including how to communicate expectations, practice procedures, and manage homework. With adequate planning and practice, even large classrooms can become lively sites of learning.
First of all, it’s really important at the beginning of the year in any classroom to be very clear about your expectations and to have some procedures set ahead of time that you practice that the students know exactly what’s expected.
One thing, for example, is to practice handing papers in and out that they know exactly what’s expected. You can waste a lot of time with twenty students if they’re not sure what to do or if it happens different ways every time. So I practice handing the papers out. I actually have them passed across rather than back in front so that they are ready to—they can see their neighbor ready to hand the paper to them. That requires me to walk down the side of the classroom, but it works a lot better than them handing papers over their heads. The papers always go the same direction. I hand them out on one side of the room. They’re always passed across that direction and when they hand them in, they end up on the opposite side, so that papers always go the same direction. The student in the front of the classroom and in the back of the classroom on that side are taught and prepared to stand up and collect the papers and either take them to the back of the room or bring them to me in the front according to what it is. And they know in a moment what to do.
We practice that on the first day of school and a little bit in the first weeks, and then for the rest of the year it can happen very smoothly. They sometimes need a reminder, but that’s very helpful in getting papers passed in and out and usually only a simple reminder later we’ll brush that up.
I think it’s especially important with a large classroom to maintain a moderately quiet classroom. Every school kind of has its own culture of what is OK and what’s not. But if you allow a large class to be very noisy, it will get out of control very quickly because there are so many of them, so I think you need to be very clear about those expectations. If that means there is no talking between, whether it’s classes or between activities, then enforce that. Or if you have a small amount of talk aloud, then teach them how to end that at a certain time and end it very quickly, and practice that so they know that it’s time for the next thing. The time for talking is over and you don’t need to spend a lot of time getting their attention, whether that’s a clapping or ringing a bell or whatever. However you choose to do that, have some signal that the time for talking is over, and expect that they will do that quickly.
It’s also really important with as many students to have methods of keeping track of their papers, especially if you expect them to do corrections. So I have a paper on my desk that has a spot for their math papers each day, and I keep careful track of when their math papers are one hundred percent completed, and I mark it off so that I can quickly look at the paper and see exactly who in the class still has work left to be done. Of course, sometimes they’ve handed it in and it’s waiting on me at the time, so I don’t always know that immediately. But I can always check up on that, and it really saves a lot of searching for papers and figuring out what happened.
I’m also very clear about the marks I will put on their papers when the papers are finished. So when they get the paper back, they know what to do with the paper. They know if they’re supposed to put it away or continue working on it. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the same for every class, although it can be a little confusing. I structure my English papers and my math papers a little differently, and it takes a little time in the beginning of the year for them to figure that out. But it works better for those two classes, so I do it and they do learn it after a few weeks with a little practice and a few reminders.
I’m usually very gracious with them at the beginning of the year as far as if they thought they were done and they’re not. But then after I’ve taught them and they know, then I hold them to it. And so having some sort of system where you keep track of it and it’s written down is really important. And while it takes a little time to do, it usually saves you time in the long run or saves you from having students who never get their homework done and you never realize it or never do the corrections and you don’t realize it. So that can be very helpful.
Another thing I like to do is put as much of the work in the student’s hands as I can, and depending on your school culture and your class and the dependability of your class, you can probably do more or less of that. I rarely hand out papers myself. I put them out at a certain spot on my desk. They know if the papers are there, they’re ready to be handed out. I don’t include quizzes and tests with that. If I’m going to pass out a quiz or test for some reason, I’ll do that myself. We typically send them home. They don’t actually get handed to them at school, so I don’t need to deal with that. But I wouldn’t do that. I don’t want a student to see everyone’s grades for something, but I do for their homework. I would do that. They can hand them out, and that saves me a lot of time.
Another thing that I think can be done, if you have a lot of students, some teachers have a habit of grading a lot of papers, maybe more than necessary, something it’s good to look very carefully at how many of the papers you’re actually giving a percent grade and including on their report card. I really grade very few of their papers. They’re testing quizzes are graded, a few math assignments are graded. I grade none of their English papers. And so they’re handled in a little different way, and it saves me a lot of work. They are all checked. They all know they know which problems were done correctly and which ones were not. And we practice in class. But I don’t count the practice for a grade, and that saves me a lot of time not needing to grade that many papers. So I would strongly encourage that. Generally, we don’t like to be graded on our practice either anyway, and it often relieves a little pressure both for you and for the students if those papers aren’t graded. Even though that’s pretty standard at our school it’s still a little hard for students. Sometimes they really want to know how many they got wrong on the paper. So it takes a little homework to teach them that it doesn’t really matter how many wrong exactly. They should be able to look at the paper and see what they did wrong, and that’s actually what’s most important. But that saves me a lot of time. If I had to record twenty students grades in every subject for all papers every day, I would—I don’t know—I would never do anything other than school. So that’s really helpful to limit the amount. You need enough. You don’t want to do too few. That can also be unfair, but you want to limit it to the point where students can relax and do their homework and not be worried about their grade necessarily. And it also saves you a lot of work as far as recording grades.
I have fifth grade, so I understand that for younger grades this is not possible. But as the students get older, the more checking that can be done in class is actually to their advantage. They are more aware of the problems they get wrong if they grade it in class then if you do. And so and it saves me a tremendous amount of time. I actually like to do a small section of math and check that before we even move on. And we will sometimes do that two, three, four, even five times throughout the class. It depends a lot on the lesson in some lessons. I don’t do any of that just because of the time limit. If it’s a long lesson, I will sometimes choose to not do any of it just simply to get the lesson done so they don’t have so much homework. But if they don’t understand the first section, and you don’t realize it—they don’t realize it—and you move on to something more difficult, sometimes they never catch their initial mistake. So it’s a help to them. It’s a help to you, and they feel kind of good about getting to the end of the day and having the majority of a paper finished. Most of it’s actually checked already. They know how they did, and they know what to proceed with on their homework.
In class it can be difficult in a large class to get around and make sure that you include every student during class, so a few things that I think are really important. You may have possibly heard of the technique that is referred to as “cold call” when you simply call students without them raising their hands. I think that should be a very normal part of your class where students know that, especially in a large class, if a student chooses to never raise their hand, they can feel like they simply are not accountable for what’s happening in class. So I call on my students whether their hands are up or not. Sometimes I tell them not even to raise their hands. Sometimes I do call and raise my hands, but I call on them, and they’re very used to that. That doesn’t usually take them by surprise. It’s just a normal part of class so they know they can be called and whether their hand is up or not and it really helps keep them engaged. Other times I allow them to raise their hand and that keeps them engaged. But they really do need to be used to being called on, to being active part of class. In spite of the fact that they have nineteen classmates, they can’t hide behind that. So however you choose to do it, you want to make sure that each student is involved in class as much as possible.
If you have students that struggle with learning, you may need to be especially, I don’t know, pay special attention to which questions you give them. Sometimes those are the students I give more questions, and at other times I may give them less, just depending on the subject matter and how prepared they are. But I do want to try to make sure I give them what they need. The students who do better typically don’t need the questions asked, but it does make them part of the class, so I don’t want to overlook them either. I try not to hold them, put them on the spot, too much, especially occasionally I’ll say, “I’m sorry. “That was maybe a more difficult question then I realized,” or I try not to hold them too accountable for something that I suddenly realized it maybe was too difficult for them, and they simply weren’t prepared.
CONTRIBUTOR: Amy Zimmerman
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