Wow, I think Fawn Nguyen is absolutely spot on when she says that classroom management is completely dependent on the who the teacher is and the types of students you have. (Fawn is my heroine BTW - just needed to throw that out there). This seems obvious, but it's taken me a while to put this tidbit of knowledge into good practice.
Books like First Days of School and Teach Like a Champion have been invaluable reads, providing tons of practical advice teachers can implement right away. The issue is learning how to filter that knowledge so that it's true to your own teaching style and well-suited to who your students are. Teaching math in an academic classroom is way different than in a college or applied-level classroom, for instance, and not because the material is different per say, but because the students' attitudes towards math differ tremendously. I found that students who are in applied or college-level math courses generally have lower confidence in their math abilities. Subsequently, each wrong answer means another failure added to the list and just reinforces what they already knew, "I'm not good at math." Here, priority #1 is to build a safe and welcoming classroom where a culture of error is the norm, and is celebrated as a vehicle for learning. Likewise, North American students and Asian students also differ in their attitudes towards math. Comparatively speaking, math anxiety seems to be a bigger issue in North America. On the other hand, students in Asia tend to be really good at math, they respect the subject, and they will work hard at it, even when things get tough. In Asia, the norm is repeat and rehearse everything the teacher's taught, but the challenge is to get kids thinking independently and creatively.
Different mindsets on math, as told in memes:
An interesting article here on the influence of culture on achievement in math.
April's Tips on Classroom Management
Okay, so still fairly new at this teaching thing, but here are some things that worked for me:
0. Plan a good lesson. I'm echoing Fawn on this one when I say that having an engaging lesson solves soooooo many potential discipline issues in the classroom. Kids will act out when they are bored. I know this because I WAS this. I mean, I was an A student throughout high school and a MODEL student at that. One summer I took a physics and had a teacher who literally read the textbook to us. I can do that myself, thank you very much. So, rather than sit in silence and boredom, I discovered that the reflective properties of light were pretty fun to play around with. I was particularly intrigued at how various angles of light rays from the window would bounced off the shiny surface of my watch right into - yup, the teacher's eyes.
1. Learn names. I always make it a point to know the names of all my students and connect with them in some way. To me, there's nothing worse than being called "you in the red shirt" or "hey you." Teach students, not the subject.
2. Don't repeat student answers. I first noticed this during my observations of a veteran teacher while I was student teaching, and it completely changes the way discussions flow in the classroom. If a student answers a question, and the teacher repeats the answer (usually in a louder voice or with elaborations), in the students minds this translates to, "Information is not important, unless it comes out of the teacher's mouth." If a student says something really insightful, ask them to repeat it instead - you'll have reinforced two important messages to a) the student: "Your contributions are valuable!", and b) the class, "We have a lot to learn from our peers!" It is so vital for teachers to give students opportunities to be responsible for their own learning.
3. No Opt-Out. I got this one from Teach Like a Champion. The premise is simple, if a student does not know the answer to a question, they cannot get away with "I don't know." You might ask another student for their thoughts, you might provide a hint, you might just say the answer outright, but you will always go back to the student who said, "I don't know." "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer in my classroom. We want students to get from:
"I don't know" therefore "I don't have to try", to
"I don't know, YET" so "I'm going to keep trying."
4. Keep it simple. If you're like me, you probably have a list of 20 different procedures, routines, and policies you'd like your students to do and maintain throughout the year, but this is not realistic! I ended up flopping on most of them. My first two years of teaching have been chaotic, and I'm slowly coming to accept that it will be this way for a while. Focus on the five most important guidelines and procedures that your classroom cannot do without, then build from there.
5. Document everything. The biggest lifesaver for me last year was getting students to fill out "Action Plans" for whenever they made a bad choice. There are many variants of this on Pintrest. Student Responsibility Cards for homework were also cool, but didn't work out that well for my classroom because I didn't follow through on consequences. So I'll keep the first and toss out the latter. Links to some documents I used below.
6. Give logical consequences. When I was little, my punishment for making bad choices was always the same; mum would make me stand facing the wall with my arms up, and fingers pinching my ears. I guess it was supposed to make me feel ashamed of my actions, but it doesn't make sense. Let's remedy the behaviour, and not punish the student. Examples of logical consequences below.
Yay! So excited to actually start contributing to the #MTBoS (Math Twitter Blogosphere) community, and to start blogging more in general! This Sunday Funday blogging initiative is the perfect excuse to set aside some me time each week and reflect on my teaching.
I'm now going into my third year of teaching, and so far, each year has been in a different country, which has made each "first day" even more special.
My First First Day
In my very first day of my very first full time teaching job in Kazakhstan (blog post here), I spent the first day getting to know my students, telling them a bit about myself, talking to them about my expectations for the class, taking selfies of all the students, and giving them some general advice about how to succeed in math class. I found that it was important and effective to start building those relationships with my students from day one, and by learning all their names as quickly as possible, I let them know that I notice them and care about them.
Prior to preparing my first day lesson plans, I soaked up as much information as I could with all the resources that were available to me. I had read First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong and a few other teaching books, browsed the internet for countless hours looking for ideas and inspiration, watched this entire video by Agape Management, and looked for elements of each that I thought would be suitable for my teaching style. What didn't work, however, was the fact that I did not start the year knowing where I wanted my students to be by the end of the year. This was difficult because I didn't know much about the culture, the style of teaching that students were accustomed to, and I had never taught a class full of ELL students before (hence why nobody laughed at my jokes). Moreover, I did not have full autonomy over the classroom (it was supposed to be a co-teaching type environment but ended up feeling more like I was "guest teaching" a few times a week); my co-teachers were not fluent in English, and had different visions of how they wanted to run their classrooms, which made it difficult to have consistency when it came to expectations and rules.
What ended up happening was that the first day allowed me to start building relationships with my students, but it did nothing to help me manage my classroom (because nothing was consistently enforced). If I could re-do my first day, I would spend more time getting to know my co-teachers, and specifically, these are the questions I would ask:
1. What are your classroom rules and expectations?
2. What are your beliefs about learning in math? (i.e. How do students learn best?)
3. What are your beliefs about teaching in math? (i.e. How can teachers best reach their students?)
4. Describe a typical day in the math classroom for you.
I learned that it is important not to go in assuming that your teaching partner will have the same views about teaching and learning as you do, and not only that but that I needed to take the time to get to know and understand their views! Had I done so much earlier I would have discovered that hands-on activities, student investigations, or differentiated teaching and learning weren't a common tools in their teaching toolbox. The general style of teaching I observed included very fast-paced progression through the units, with lots repetition and mental computations, but very little time spent developing the concepts or looking at their applications. Knowing this, I would have modified my first day presentation to include some math activities that integrated both styles of teaching.
The Second First Day
Country: South Korea
Grades: 8 - 10
In my second year, I taught in South Korea and had full control over my own classroom, which made it significantly easier to plan and organize everything the way I wanted to. My first interaction with my students, however, was not on the first day of class. We had an "orientation day" in which both students and parents attended brief 10 minute presentations by all their teachers.
I began by greeting every student and parent at the door with a handshake. I called the students by name as they walked into the classroom, which took a lot of time for me to learn beforehand, but was so worth the reactions! Prior to meeting all of them, I borrowed the previous years' yearbook and memorized the faces and names of all the students I would be teaching in my classes. Some of them looked stunned that I knew their names already, when none of them had a clue who I was yet!
At the front of the room, I had copies of letter to parents and the course syllabus which I asked each student to pick up as they walked in. In my presentation, I talked briefly about who I was, my educational background, and what students can be expecting to learn this year. My primary goal was to let them know that I care about them and their learning, and that while this year would be challenging, they would also be supported by me.
Then, on the actual first day of class, I had students fill out a "Get to Know Me" form, we played an icebreaker game (two truths and a lie - my favourite to this day), I talked about the rules and expectations, and I ended the day by teaching them my class dismissal routine. What I DIDN'T do (but wish I did), however, was any science, and that's about to change for this year.
This Upcoming School Year
Subject: Chemistry (?), TBD
Grades: 9 - 12 (?) TBD
As in the past, my main goals for the first day of school are:
1) get to know my students, and
2) set the tone for the rest of the year,
but how I plan to achieve them will change somewhat.
1 - Getting to know my students.
Ideally, I would like to learn student names as quickly as I can, before the first day, if possible. But regardless, I would still like to use name tents with feedback, an idea that Sara Vanderwerf talks about in her blog. I think this is a great way to connect with students individually and on a more personal level. I would also like to take pictures of the students with their name tents so I have a visual record as well. A modification I will make to Sara's version of the name tents is that I will provide some open-ended prompts that the students can respond to, so that they have a jumping-off point for organic thoughts to develop. For instance:
- I noticed ...
- I wonder ...
- I learned ...
- I wish ...
I also really like the Talking Points activity from MathMinds and plan to modify it to make it chemistry specific.
Another idea I've been toying with is some sort of homework assignment that addresses a few or all of the 5 Questions to Ask Your Students To Start the School Year from @gcouros but my problem with this is that I don't want it to JUST be about rapport building, it needs to address or be linked an aspect of science (or science learning) specifically... to be determined.
2 - Setting the tone for the rest of the year.
We will, presumably, be doing chemistry so I would like to begin the first day with a demonstration, or an activity related to the nature and processes of science. Some ideas I would like to try:
Stacking Cups (Dan Meyer) - related to concepts of measurement, accuracy, precision, and estimation
Candle Light Activity (Art of Teaching Science) - importance of observation (qualitative and quantitative) in science, making inferences and predictions, chemical and physical properties
Ira Remsen Demo (Michael Morgan) - observation, predictions, inferences, chemical safety, chemical reactions
I believe that it is important to talk about my expectations and what students can expect out of the class, however, what I DON'T want to do is just read the syllabus on the first day. A prof once suggested just letting the students read the syllabus at home and talk about it the following day so they can ask questions about what they read, or doing a quiz if necessary about the content in the syllabus.
First Day Plan (rough draft):
1) Greet students at the door
2) Have an activity for them to get started with on their desk (either to quietly read the syllabus or fill out a Who I Am handout)
3) Introductions myself and the course
4) Student introductions + talking points
5) Do some science!
6) Dismissal routine
My first day experiences thus far have been pretty nerve-racking and exciting. I'm slowly learning to strike the right balance between talking about rules and procedures to relinquishing control, and giving voice to the students. This is particularly difficult in a room full of ELL students, but once they gain confidence in their ability to speak and be heard, I found that they had a lot to contribute. With international schools, it is usually the case that the students are well acquainted with each other already, so usually the introductions are more for the teacher rather than the students. Even though students may already know each other, however, my role as a teacher to facilitate a safe and positive community cannot be ignored. This was made prevalent to me in Korea when I realized that students still felt unwilling to work with particular classmates even though they had been in the same classes for years. Regardless of country, language, or culture, my biggest take away for the first day of the school year is to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS and ESTABLISH COMMUNITY. I will keep this in mind as I continue to plan for my first day of school in China this school year!
International math educator who writes, occasionally.