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Uncategorized   |   Aug 23, 2012

Ask Angela Anything: August Edition

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Ask Angela Anything: August Edition

By Angela Watson


Welcome to the August edition of the monthly post series in which I answer readers’ frequently-asked questions. Although I do respond personally to every email, with this series, you can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality. I’ve called the series “According to Angela” because I share what has worked for me in my own classroom and in the rooms of the teachers I coach. My personal philosophy is that there’s 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.

Though the content of the post is completely mine, the series is sponsored by companies and organizations that are committed to providing high-quality resources for educators,  This month’s post is brought to you by Marygrove College’s Master in the Art of Teaching, an online degree program designed to empower teachers by focusing on the knowledge and skills required to deliver effective instruction to diverse learners from preschool through high school, including those with special needs.

I have been teaching middle school for the last 3 years and I am starting at a new school teaching grade 3 this August! Can you give me any classroom management strategies and transition techniques that will be effective in the classroom? Any tips would be appreciated!

Hi, Michelle! You’re in luck–I have an entire page of Transition Tips and Tricks which includes a 13 minute video excerpt from my webinar to show you specific examples! The main thing to remember is that third graders thrive under routines and explicitly-taught procedures. Plan everything out in advance so that they know what’s expected and how to be successful. Check the Routines and Procedures section of the site for specific examples.

Be prepared to rehearse and practice procedures and transition times more often than you did for middle schoolers. I even taught my third graders how many paper towels to take when drying their hands and the proper way to throw the paper towel in the trash can! It can be a little overwhelming when you come from the upper grades, but you can make the practice time fun and you’ll find that most of your students enjoy it. Stay upbeat and positive when communicating what you want and when giving reminders, and the kids will be eager to please you. Do your best to convey a sense of classroom community and shared responsibility so that they understand the connection between smooth transitions/routines and their own learning and safety. Enjoy your new class!

In your experiences in the classroom, consults, and speaking engagements, do you get many questions about working with students with special needs? What do you think are the top 2-5 questions or concerns they may have?

Hi, Audine! I think the main things that teachers want to know about their special needs students is: 1) What can I do to help them learn and be successful in my classroom? 2) How can I meet their needs without sacrificing the quality of instruction I provide to the rest of the class? and 3) How can I keep up with the pull out/push in schedule? Sometimes teachers also question why a special needs student behaves or learns the way s/he does, since understanding  the underlying issues and triggers makes it easier to meet the student’s needs and prevents classroom disruptions.

Discovering the answers to those questions requires time, observation, conversations with family members and other people in the child’s life, and quite a bit of trial-and-error. However, the fact that a student has already been identified as having special needs is a very good thing: it means s/he gets additional support, resources, and accommodations, and the teacher is not struggling alone to find ways to help the child. Having other members of the school’s staff to bounce ideas off of and look to for support can be extremely beneficial for everyone involved.

I teach fifth grade I have a student who works EXTREMELY slowly and often daydreams.  He will often sit and stare off and will startle slightly when I call his name or tap his desk.  It is not an issue of not being able to do the work as he does this even when he is asked to copy something off the board.  I have asked him what he thinks about when he drifts off and he said that he is thinking of nothing and doesn’t know why he does it.  I have tried positive and negative reinforcement with short-term success.  It doesn’t seem like he is avoiding work because I always make him finish it either at recess or for homework.  It could be attenting-seeking behavior but when I redirect him I often do it so that other students do not know that I am doing it.  Do you have any ideas on how I can help this student?

Hi, Julie! I think every classroom has two or three students like this. In my experience, the lack of focus could be due to: a medical issue; a socio-emotional issue (there are things happening at home that the student is preoccupied with); a lack of interest in the material that’s being taught; or an extremely active imagination and “inner world” that is more engaging than what’s happening in the classroom. I think the first thing you should do is talk to the parent(s) about the issue. Just say, “I’ve noticed __ happening in class. Do you see that at home, too?” and see how the parents respond. Most of the time, I’ve found that the parent is well aware of the issue and the child tends to zone out at home, too, whenever the parent is trying to get him or her to get something done. Hopefully you can work with the parent to come up with solutions. You may want to advise the parent to seek advice from a medical doctor just to rule out anything in that arena, or offer to have the child talk to the school’s guidance counselor.

In class, the best thing you can do is be patient and try not to take it as a personal affront when the child tunes you out. Pair him up with a friend who’s really on the ball and is naturally drawn to making sure everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to. Give lots of non-verbal cues so you don’t embarrass the child or drive yourself crazy with nagging. I like to just walk past the child when I’m circulating around the room and tap the paper or table in front of him or her, smile, and keep walking. That’s usually enough to break the trance. Don’t frustrate yourself by trying to make sure the child is focused 100% of the time, because that’s a losing battle. Aim for progress and increased time on task each month.

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Hey Angela,

    I recently read a post on your site about some kind of tree, where you can put in pupils sheets.
    It had a funny name i don’t remember, ….i can find it nowhere on your site.

    Can you please help!

    Thank, best regards,

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