This is a new monthly-ish feature on the site in which I’ll answer readers’ questions. Although I do respond personally to every email, I’ve found that many teachers are grappling with the same types of issues and it’s useful to share some ideas for handling common problems here on the blog. I’m calling the series “According to Angela,” as I’ll be sharing what has worked for me in my own classroom and in the rooms of the teachers I coach. The column’s title is in keeping with my personal philosophy that there is no one “right” solution that works for every child in every classroom: I encourage you to adapt the ideas I share for your own situation and hope to empower you to trust your own professional instincts.
The questions below were posed by participants in my Construct a Self-Running Classroom Webinar last week, and I wasn’t able to answer them due to time constraints. Here you go Natasha, Amy, and Chris!
When I teach 8-11 year olds they tend to get very noisy, especially when doing something exciting. I think, this is quite natural and shows that they’re enjoying themselves but at the same time, it is too hard to get them back. How can I cope with that?
Hi, Natasha! A noisy class doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing anything “wrong”—when kids get really involved in an activity, they tend to forget to monitor their volume. As you mentioned, that’s actually kind of a good thing—it means they’re really engaged in the task! So first and foremost, you may need to adjust your own expectations for what a classroom is “supposed” to sound like. Many of us have a vision of a traditional classroom in which students are seated quietly in rows with their hands folded, and we have to actively create a new vision for what we want our classrooms to look (and sound like) today.
Then talk to your class about the situation. Tell them about the problem you notice and ask kids what their solution would be. You could say, “I love to see that you all are enjoying the activities we do and I’m happy you are exciting about learning. Sometimes it gets loud in our room when you’re working. This hurts my ears and makes it hard for me to talk with you and answer your questions. Have you noticed this? What do you think we could do about it?” Just sharing with the kids how you feel about the noise level makes them more sensitive to the issue and shows them that you’re not a cranky teacher trying to take away all their fun; you are on their side working for the same goal, which is a positive, fun learning environment. Invite them to take ownership over the issue and address it in ways that make sense for them.
Getting students “back” when they’re involved in an activity is best done with non-verbal signals so that you don’t have to shout over the kids or nag them. Teach your students clearly defined signals for which they know to “freeze”: it could be a bell, a clicker, chimes, etc. Some teachers like to also dim the lights to get students attention. Model and practice this signal with them as many times as needed. Try to use the technique sparingly so that students take it seriously: you don’t want to interrupt their work and thought processes unnecessarily.
How do you manage transition times? My class takes any opportunity to mess around so moving tables or tidying up is the perfect opportunity to play fight with each other, call names etc.
Hi, Amy! This is a really important question that I think every teacher grapples with. I’ve created the Transition Activities and Tips page of my website to help. There you’ll find a 13 minute excerpt from my video webinar which explains how to create smooth transitions between subjects, the beginning and end of the school day, before and after lunch, etc.
How can you automate a classroom when you must put all materials away for others to use your space? I teach on a stage, and I have a different class setup every day and sometimes every class period. It’s very challenging to refocus classes of 26 kindergarteners, 1st, and 2nd graders. They receive Music and Physical Education from me, leave their classroom building 2 blocks away to attend my class at the end of the day. Transitions eat up all the class time.
Hi, Chris! It’s always tough when you don’t have your own permanent classroom space. I’d advise you to set up a rolling cart with your materials (a locking one, if possible) and teach your students how to quickly get the right materials, use them appropriately, and then put them back the right way. Spend as much time as you need to one practicing these routines: use the 7 steps for teaching any procedure.
Be patient with the kids, as they’re quite young and not in their familiar learning environment. Keep your lessons very structured and don’t try to cram too much into a short time. You’ll need to be very firm about your expectations and present the hands-on activities you do as privileges that must be earned. Start small, maybe by giving them just crayons and paper for art or one simple instrument for music, and tell the kids they have to show you that they can handle these things responsibly. Guide and encourage them during the activity, giving lots of feedback, and then debrief afterward. Slowly work up to activities that are harder to manage, like painting.
It’s also a good idea to have some basic routines for starting and ending the class. For example, you may want to always play the same song as students come in: it should be something fairly calming and have some hand motions they have to concentrate on remembering and executing so that they’re not playing around and talking. Teach them to fall silent after the song ends and listen for you to explain the day’s activity. You could have a clean up and closure song to end the lesson, so that you can review the directions for cleaning up, play the song, and then have all students sitting in their chairs when the song ends, waiting to be dismissed. Think carefully about these beginning and ending procedures and plan them out well, as they’ll set the tone for your instruction and provide a predictable framework for all the lessons you do in between.
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