Creating a Classroom that Maximizes Opportunities for Students to Learn and Interact Positively with Others
In almost every life situation, spoken and unspoken procedures tend to guide the way we interact and treat others. As colleagues, we are considerate and respectful of others, and as neighbors, we share expectations about how such things as basic maintenance and respect of personal space are displayed. Generally, we follow the procedures as a matter of common courtesy. Society has expectations for interactions in public spaces. Even though the expectations for behavior at a movie theater are not posted, they are clear—stand in line, buy a ticket, refrain from pushing and shoving and remain quiet during the movie. As in other life situations, whether the expectations are written or unspoken, once classroom procedures are established, they set the tone for how the classroom should operate to build a positive, safe, and secure learning environment (Marzano et al., 2005).
An effectively managed classroom runs smoothly, has minimal confusion and interruptions to learning, has little down-time, and has maximal opportunities for students to learn. Movement is purposeful and productive with the amount of noise acceptable to the activity. Planning for movement and noise frees the teacher to teach without interruption due to procedural concerns. (Evertson & Emmer, 2009) One way to make the most instructional impact on students is to establish expectations for how the class will begin each day. Beginning and ending well consistently sets the tone for how the classroom will operate and helps students to know what to do. This expectation reinforces a sense of structure and consistency and establishes the classroom as a place of learning. Regardless of the grade level, whether elementary, middle level or high school, procedures communicate order and instruction at the same time (Marzano et al., 2005).
If the procedures for activities in an elementary classroom were to be analyzed, the complexity and detail that is required to create an effectively managed classroom is surprising. Seven categories of procedures include: procedures for the classroom itself, procedures for teacher-directed and seat work, transitions into and out of the classroom and to other areas of the school, procedures for small-group activities, procedures for cooperative work, general procedures and procedures for student accountability for academic work and for behavior. These procedures may change or new procedures may need to be changed as the year progresses. In addition, procedures must be taught, demonstrated, and practiced (Hardin, 2008).
Although classrooms across the nation have a variety of materials and technology for students to use, many teachers set a few simple and direct procedures for handling these materials (Marzano et al., 2005). When the teacher is conducting a lesson, students are expected to be in their seats or area and directing attention to the teacher. At other times, some teachers allow students to move freely about the classroom for purposeful use of areas that can accommodate only one student at a time and for classroom supplies (Evertson & Emmer, 2009). Examples of a "classroom use" procedure might include such things as sharpening pencils, getting a drink, handing in classroom work and homework, asking for help, and securing classroom materials. For example, classroom teachers have a variety of approaches for the use of the pencil sharpener. Many teachers have helpers who sharpen all pencils at the end of the day and put the pencils into the "sharpened" can. As a student uses the pencil or breaks the lead, students put the pencil into the "used" can and get a freshly sharpened one. Although this may seem to take procedures to the extreme, when student teachers discuss the school day, almost every student can recount examples of instructional time wasted as students look for a pencil, borrow a pencil or sharpen a pencil in the middle of class. Other teachers have students start the school day with three sharpened pencils. In middle school, students often trade a shoe for a pencil or borrow a teacher's pencil with a large flower or other object attached to remind students to leave the teacher's pencil at the end of class.
Dealing with student restrooms can cause additional problems. If the restroom is accessible or adjacent to the classroom, teachers usually allow students to use the restroom one at a time when the teacher is not teaching. A reversible sign on the restroom door that changes from green to red is a way to indicate if the bathroom is free to use (Evertson & Emmer, 2009). In middle school and high school, teachers are required to give students "restroom passes" and because of the social nature of middle level students, students often abuse the restroom pass to get out of class or to "drop by" other classrooms to see friends. Middle level teachers have a variety of procedures for the restroom. Some teachers give students tickets for three to five "bathroom passes" each six weeks. If the student does not need the passes, they can be returned for additional privileges. By setting up procedures before there is a problem, the teacher can focus on instruction.
Another critical part of developing classroom procedures includes how the school day or class period begins and ends. Elementary classes usually begin with activities that create a community of learners, that address the idea of "being in this together". One way is to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the state pledge, and the classroom promise or pledge. It might also begin with recognitions and announcements. The beginning of the class or the school day sets the tone for the day or the class and directs the focus to instruction. Effective teachers have "sponge" activities or "daily starters" available as students enter the classroom. Madeline Hunter is usually credited with the idea of using activities to maximize instructional gaps and "soak up" every bit of learning time. Sponge activities review the previous day's work, open the day's topic, generate reflection on a specific topic, or provide "food for thought" about relevant topics. Sponge activities are as varied as the teacher and may require students to work with a partner that is predetermined or to work in small groups.
Just as important to the classroom as how the class period or the school day should begin is how the time should end. In the elementary school, the teacher may review the objectives for the class, review homework, answer questions, conduct clean-up time, review homework guidelines, store materials, make announcements, or reinforce good study habits. Middle level and secondary teachers bring closure to the learning objectives, reflect on the topic for the day, allow students to share what they have learned with classmates, write down questions from the day's work that may be confusing, or complete one or two activities for guided practice (Marzano et al., 2005). Teachers who do not plan for the end of the class or day end that time with confusion as students start to close notebooks, gather materials, and start to think about the passing period. For middle and secondary students, getting ready to leave the classroom usually begins well before the class period actually ends. As the bell rings, students jump and run for the door. Harry Wong suggests that the teacher, not the bell, dismisses the class (Wong, 1998).
Teachers who think through the activities for the day decide how students will complete the activities, teach the procedures, allow students to practice the procedures, and help students develop routines that will save the teacher many questions and much confusion once procedures become routines.
Different teachers have unique approaches for classroom procedures. If the teacher is extremely organized and has an analytical tendency, classrooms will reflect a variety of specific procedures for most things children do in the classroom. Other teachers may be less structured and specific; however, most first-year teachers comment that they plan to start the second year more organized and with procedures in place. Teachers can begin this process by thinking through the school day or the class period and organizing procedures based on what happens during that day. Examples could include:
- Enter the classroom, turn in homework to the basket, put coats and backpacks in the lockers.
- Make a lunch choice on the "What's for Lunch? chart. Choice (The chart has choices like "Hot Lunch", "Home Lunch", "Salad Lunch" with pictures as necessary. Students attach a clip with their own pictures to their lunch choice. The teacher can also see who is absent or who has not made a lunch choice.)
- Sharpen two pencils.
- Get daily supplies from the locker.
- Pick up morning work from "morning work" basket, go to your desk and start to work.
For middle and secondary students:
- Enter the classroom quietly.
- Place homework in the "homework" tray.
- Sit down and begin the "daily warm-up."
- Determine a definition for "tardy". Most teachers determine that students who are not in their seat when the bell rings are given a tardy slip. Be consistent on the issue of being tardy, defined what it is to the teacher before it occurs, and be true to whatever has been determined.