Thursday, July 10, 2008

Daily Classroom Practices

For this assignment we read through a set of book excerpts about establishing classroom rituals: rules, procedures and behaviors that should be set in place at the beginning of the year so that students will understand what is expected of them. I can see the wisdom of this: Students may simply not know what behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate, particularly the younger ones, and it's better to set your expectations in the beginning than to reprimand for inappropriate behavior on a case-by-case basis. I also like the idea of working with the students at the beginning of the year to develop these rituals; not only does it establish a social contract that they can be reminded about, but it forces them to think critically about the effects of their actions on other people. I'd rather get their cooperation that way than by playing the "heavy" because someone got out of line.

We also read a chapter about organizing content for instruction, to make sure that the material is presented in a way that is engaging, effective, and uses class time efficiently.

After reading the articles, I think the following elements of classroom management (both behavioral and instructional) will be "must-haves" in my biology class:

1.) Giving the students a "Do Now" list of tasks to complete when they come in to the classroom. I can put these instructions on the projector using PowerPoint. Tasks that the students might need to complete at the beginning of class could include getting out materials needed for that lesson, dropping off homework at a pile on my desk, stashing their bags out of the way (in a pre-designated location) when we're going to do a lab experiment, and writing down their answers to a pre-assessment question on an index card.

2.) Basic ground rules for talking, listening, and paying attention: students raise their hands to speak during instructional phases, pay quiet attention when I or another student is speaking, and stop whatever they're doing and listen when I give them a pre-arranged signal. I like the idea of raising my hand and having the students raise theirs in response to show that they are listening; it seems like a fair way to enforce compliance, and it exploits the "herd instinct" for a constructive end (i.e., students aren't going to be the only one not doing something that everyone else is doing).

3.) Lab experiments will be a big part of my class, and that means that there will be specialized materials that need to be distributed for these lessons. I'll need to develop a "ritual" for how these materials are distributed to the lab groups, and (even more importantly) how cleanup is handled afterward. This will be especially important with dissection labs; I've seen too many classrooms left as disaster areas because professors didn't make students clean up after themselves -- and that was at the college level, when students are (theoretically) more mature. Commonly-used materials, such as dissection kits, will be kept in numbered boxes or bins that are assigned to the lab group of the same number; this also allows me to prepare ahead of time by putting any special materials the students will need into that bin. It will also be important to teach the students proper safety procedures, especially when they're working with sharps or potentially hazardous chemicals.

4.) I need to establish procedures for following directions on lab experiments. I noticed in my sample lesson that some lab groups read through the printed directions and followed them closely, while others obviously did not read them at all (since they asked questions that were answered on the first page of the instructions). Some students may not have well-developed English skills, so I think a good way to deal with this would be for each team to choose one member to read the instructions to his/her teammates. This would give the students with stronger English skills a chance to explain the instructions to the ones who might not read as well, and it has the added benefit of cementing the instructions in the mind of the team's presumptive leader.

5.) Chapter 4 of "Qualities of Effective Teachers" presented an excellent idea: having "contingency plans" worked out in advance for events that are likely but whose occurrence is unpredictable, such as the arrival of a new student in the class. I'll need to brainstorm with some of the more experienced teachers to work out what sorts of contingency plans I'm likely to need.

6.) Going along with #3 and #5, having a set of organizer bins in place to store commonly-used materials seems very important. Knowing my own tendency for my personal spaces to become cluttered, things will go better for me in the long run if I set up a system of organization at the beginning.

7.) I'll need to develop a clear, consistent routine for moving between phases in the class. Two hours is a lot of time, but I know first-hand how quickly it can go by when you're doing a lab or other small-group activity. One idea that occurs to me is to use sound files on the computer to signal that the small-group phase is wrapping up; it would give me an opportunity to put a little whimsy into the presentation, and that's usually a good thing where science is concerned.

8.) Chapter 4 talks about establishing plans for student activities at three different levels: high-achievement, standard, and remedial. The idea is that students who have mastered the material will be able to go deeper into it while those who are struggling will have more time to learn the basics. I love this idea in principle, but in practice it seems daunting to do not one, but three preps for every lesson. I'll need to talk to some more experienced teachers to come up with ideas on how to implement this and still have time for things like eating and sleeping.

Those are the main points that jumped out at me while reading these chapters. Much of the information presented was very abstract and general, explaining what effective teachers do without going into detail about how these things are accomplished. The "Qualities of Effective Teachers" chapters were also rife with jargon that I haven't mastered yet, so I think it will take further time and exposure before I am fully comfortable with the material presented here.

1 comment:

Page Tompkins said...

Without responding to the specifics of your ideas for different procedures (they mostly seem good, but you'll also want to understand the school culture and context so that your classroom culture fits... Otherwise you will be looking at almost certain revolt - Victoria can be very helpful to you in this regard).

For now, I'll just reinforce your notion that expectations for classroom procedures need to be clear, they need to be taught like any other skill you want students to have, they need to be reinforced, and students need to get meaningful feedback about their performance. Especially at the high school level, it's easy to think about the knowledge, skills, and habits of how to be a student as either besides the point, something they should already know, or something you can just say once and leave it at that.

I really like the notion that you alluded to about thinking like a scientist. You might frame your classroom (or, better yet, laboratory) procedures as the way that scientist act, interact, and organize, and why... This provides a real world context. Perhaps you may even, at some stage, take them on a field trip to an actual science lab and they may recognize some of the procedures you taught them...