Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
As I've been helping other students start on the same Kagan journey that I've taken over the last two years, I've been reflecting on where I need to grow as a teacher and how I can practice what I preach by really using Kagan the way it's meant to be used. This is one of the areas I've slacked off in the past, but is SO valuable to instruction that I can no longer ignore it:
Two essential components that maximize the effectiveness of Kagan Cooperative Learning are Teambuilding and Classbuilding. These activities are the "process by which a room full of individuals, with different backgrounds and experiences, become a caring community of active learners" (Kagan Cooperative Learning, 5.6-5.7). Teambuilding does this with members of individual teams, while Classbuilding does this for the entire class at once. These activities are critical because, as we all know, teaching and learning begins with relationships. And, where cooperative learning is concerned, we need to ensure that the students have positive relationships with one another before we can expect them to learn from one other (Have you ever been asked to collaborate with a stranger? How successful was that and why? Likely, you had to find some sort of "connection" before you were really able to make progress).
Most teachers attempt to build relationships with their students, and some even help students build relationships among one another. Those who do TPRS rely heavily on this because it not only supports the classroom environment, but also drives content as we use the students themselves as our topics of conversations. Some strategies are more effective than others, and some teachers are more effective than others, at building these relationships. Kagan gives method to this madness by ensuring class- and team-building does happen (and it happens on a regular basis), that it happens for every student, and that it's quick and efficient, so you don't lose class time. The irony here is that you are intentionally taking class-time to do something non-content related in order to teach more content. It's a pre-emptive strike works the same way as taking time to stop and teach students classroom management procedures thoroughly before getting on with the rest of the school year - if we do it regularly and we do it well, it saves us time during instruction because students are ready, willing, and able to cooperate and learn. Isn't that worth 2 minutes of your class's time? We give a little to gain a lot.
There two basic rules to remember when planning class- and team-building activities:
The number rule is easy - it just takes intentional planning and foresight to see when would be a good time to do the activity. Of course, this means you will likely need to plan a week out so you don't get to Friday and realize you haven't done any relationship-building all week. Sometimes, there's is just that "spot" that they fit in a lesson, and I can check one off for that week. However, if I plan out a week and realize I'm missing a teambuilder or a classbuilder, I scan through and see if I missed a good opportunity. If not, I throw a quick one usually right after my warm up on a particular day. Why there? First, it doesn't disrupt my bell routine and students still come in and sit quietly. I NEED that routine - as do my students. Second, it sets us up for the remainder of the day. There's not much use to a pre-emptive strike if it doesn't come before the kids have a chance to get squirrely! Third, it gives me a chance to check the "temperature" of the class - how is everyone doing today? Is there a vibe that I should be aware of? Finally, it gives students a chance to review, but that brings us to the next point.
Then, the solution occurred to me - and it was so simple! The key to Teambuilders and Classbuilders is that they need to be accessible to every student. No matter how "good" or "bad" a student is at a particular subject, they need to be on an even playing field with all of the other students and talk about things that are meaningful to them. What if the activity was structured and scaffolded in such a way that anyone could do it in Spanish? I presented this thought to our coach with the following example: In week 1, I teach my students how to ask and answer "¿Cómo te llamas?" (What is your name?), "En dónde vives?" (Where do you live?), and "¿Cómo te sientes?" (How do you feel?). For a Classbuilder, I could do Quiz-Quiz-Trade with those three questions after they'd been taught (LOTS of repetition!) and cards that look like this in order to provide support so that even a student brand new to the class could succeed (The cards get cut out and folded so that the hints are on the back, and I would put options for ¿Cómo te sientes?" on the board to select from). I reasoned that if someone who's never had a day of Spanish in their life could participate successfully, then it's accessible enough to be a Teambuilder or Classbuilder - and my Kagan coach agreed! Score! Of course, I'm talking about the most novice of the novice-low speakers here. As students acquire more language, the types of questions and prompts used in these activities can become more complex. The key is that students should be able to participate without having to try or learn anything while getting to know their peers. For language teachers, the beauty is that students are still practicing interpersonal speaking - and CI teachers will likely have a bank of past PQA questions to pull from for students to talk about (this is why my Teambuilders and Classbuilders are an opportunity for review!).
In summary, with a little adaptation and thorough understanding of the what and why to Kagan methodology, each of the barriers to using Kagan to its fullest extent in CI classrooms is slowly coming down. Of course, incorporating these relationship-building elements into our regular instruction is something that is old news to most TPRS teachers, but Kagan adds one more tool to the tool box. And, for me, it's the hammer that secures that last nail necessary to ensure that I've reached every student on a personal level. As an added benefit, students are building relationships directly with one another while still getting low-risk opportunities for the ever-important Interpersonal Speaking practice. This is another win in the methodology book for me, and I plan on working hard next school year to make sure it's regularly present in my planning.
UPDATE (October 16, 2016): Due to my experiences over the past few months, I've had a "rebirth" of sorts into the CI world. Due to this, I have taken some significant steps away from using Kagan as a main method in my classroom and instead focusing on simply storytelling and communicating compelling and comprehensible methods. However, Kagan and the underlying principals of cooperative learning do still have their appropriate places and are used often in my classroom - just not as extensively and not in the same way that I was using them before. I do still feel that cooperative learning is essential in my classroom for a few reasons - it demonstrates my faith in students to figure something out on their own, allows them to build relationship through supporting one another, adds variety to the classroom, and especially because it gives me an opportunity to hear how they verbalize their internal processing of the language - I occasionally realize that the class was "understanding" something in a different way than I intended, and this gives me a quick break from instructing to monitor and adjust instruction as we move forward. I generally use teacher-centered instruction to co-creation of stories, which forms the backbone of the language that we use in class. The cooperative activities (and therefore Kagan) come into play when students are processing input together, such as re-reading a story that we co-created. There are excellent structures beyond Kagan that utilize cooperative learning, such as the "Running Dictation" or any variation thereof. As long as students are engaging in Positive Interdependence, have Independent Accountability, have Equal Opportunities to participate, and are Simultaneously Interacting, then all of the benefits of true cooperative learning are present and valid.
UPDATE: For a summary of most useful Kagan structures for CI instruction as well as specific activity ideas, click here. For a comprehensive list of Kagan structures and ideas, click here.
I started my CI journey at the beginning of my career when I taught in a TPRS classroom. In fact, we could actually go even earlier when I observed my would-be master teacher at work during my teaching program and was amazed by what he was doing, so I requested that I be placed in his class for student teaching. I'd never heard of Comprehensible Input or TPRS, but I was hooked! I have been 100% on the CI boat from the very beginning and it shapes everything about my classroom, from the activities we do to assessment to the posters I have on my wall. When it comes to foreign language teaching CI is king. Of course, I know I'm likely preaching to the choir here, but I wanted to make it clear where I stand in terms of the importance and superiority of CI. I also want to make a comparison:
I was introduced to Kagan two years ago during a staff development activity. Since then, my school as worked to become a "Kagan" school, complete with our own certified Kagan coach on staff and complete professional development days dedicated to official Kagan training and credits. At first I was resistant to using Kagan in my classroom - I argued that I needed to be the one providing input because students can't possibly learn correct language without a proper model! I resisted for the entire first semester. Then, I had the opportunity to observe our Kagan coach at work (he teaches middle school math) - and I was hooked. Again, I was amazed by the energy and engagement levels of students at all levels and I had to have that same thing in my own classroom! Kagan, like learning about CI and TPRS, has again revolutionized my classroom and I won't go back to how things were before.
Before I go any further, I should point out that Kagan can be a LOT to process, but it's best to take it little by little. Just like CI (and especially TPRS), misunderstanding and misapplying the Kagan methodology is likely to end in frustration and abandonment, claiming "it didn't work for me." I believe it can and will work for you as long as you are careful and really know what you are doing. If you are new to CI, focus on developing your CI skills first. That is the foundation of your language instruction. Once you are ready to dip your feet in the Kagan pool, keep reading and follow the "next steps" at the end of this article.
What is Kagan?
For those of you unfamiliar with Kagan, it is a style of cooperative learning that provides structures/strategies to increase engagement and accountability. However, the full Kagan methodology is just that - a methodology. Like with CI, most teachers have to re-think their classroom paradigm and have some philosophical discussions about the what, how, and why of teaching and learning. However, those that teach and assess using CI have already made most of those same paradigm shifts. In particular, Kagan emphasizes student-centered teaching and personalization, learning through communication and interaction, building a positive and supportive classroom environment, and moving from teacher-controlled classrooms to student-driven lessons where mistakes are OK! For many teachers, these can be radical ideas - I would argue that for many CI teachers, these ideas are standard and best practice. In many ways, Kagan and Comprehensible Input are made for marriage. However, just like with any real marriage, careful considerations must be made in order to make the marriage a success:
There are four fundamental components to every Kagan structure for engagement, summarized by the acronym PIES (which every other teacher understands to be a fruit-filled pastry, while I understand to be "feet"!). If one of these is missing, the structure will not work as intended:
How do I use Kagan in a CI classroom?
To really make this process efficient, I keep a catalog of CI strategies and Kagan structures handy to flip through during steps 2 and 3. I recommend that you develop your own personal catalog of the structures you've tried (meaning that you didn't just give it a shot once, but actually did it 3-5 times and ensured you followed every step every time) and found most effective for your classroom, along with the specific activities and objectives that you've used them for. I'm working on categorizing Kagan structures by the types of CI activities that they pair well with, including whether they are suitable for input or output activities. At most, you may only ever use 5-10 different structures during a given year - this again emphasizes that you are not expected to use every Kagan structure, just the ones that work best for you and your content area!
How do I get started?
First, get familiar with what Kagan really is and how it looks in the classroom. Do a little bit of reading to understand the fundamentals and familiarize yourself with some of the most common structures (see The Essential 5). If possible, attend a conference (you'll want to start with the "Kagan Structures Level I" 4-day workshop). If you can't go to a training or attend a conference, then you should read the Kagan Cooperative Learning book. However, DO NOT read this book front to back - that would be far too overwhelming! Start with the essentials - I recommend reading about the Seven Keys for Success (Chapter 5) and previewing the Structures (Chapter 6). That should be enough to get started - look over the other chapter headings and read/apply as it suits you. There is a LOT more to true cooperative learning that just what is in those two chapters, but it's enough to get the very basics down.
Next, group and label your students appropriately. If you've read about teams and grouping in the book above, you'll know the what and why for this. I skipped the heterogeneous groups and went straight to the structures my first time around - it was ok, but not really what it could have been because I had the blind leading the blind. I really saw the benefits of Kagan when I had my students grouped properly - my high students were processing information on a deeper level as they had to explain to their partner(s) why they know that word means "they live" instead of "he lives" (it has an n!), while my students at lower levels were getting quality input, all while building a positive relationships and value for one another. Don't make the mistake I did - if you're going to do Kagan, do it right the first time and carefully assign those groups (I recommend purchasing the Team Tools software to make this a breeze!). Then, make sure students know their letters and numbers (Kagan style - see the book!) - these help with the facilitation, management, and efficiency of Kagan activities. For those without desks (I'm hoping to join your ranks next year!), you can label your chairs with the group names, numbers, and letters and then teach your students who their "group mates" are so they can quickly move their chairs to be with their groups.
Finally, use the lesson planning steps above to carefully select the structures that will support and enhance your instruction. Start small with simple structures (your first few structures will likely come from The Essential 5), and only try one or two Kagan structures at a time. It will take 3+ tries to really make a structure work, so don't give up! Double check and make sure you are following all of the instructions and steps. If you realize you missed something or students are confused, don't be afraid to pause the class and clarify. I usually teach structures like this:
Follow the steps above, and you should be well on your way to an effective CI/Kagan classroom. Please leave any questions below and let me know if I can be of any assistance - I would be happy to be your "virtual Kagan tutor"! I will update this post once I have the "catalog" of Kagan structures matched to CI strategies that I referenced above. Happy teaching!
As I'm reflecting on the year so far, I figured it was a good time to invite input from my Beginning Spanish students on what they'd like to see happen in the future. Overall, I've been very happy with my Beginning Spanish classes and would have been satisfied to keep doing what I'm doing. But, hey, maybe there's something I'm missing? So, I decided to put the question out to my sixth and seventh graders and see what they have to say - and I'm so glad I did!
I labeled three areas on my board ("I like...", "I don't like...", and "We should...") and passed out sticky notes to each group. I invited them to write their feedback on the post-it notes and stick them on the board under the category it went with. I set the timer for 5 minutes and they were very engaged in writing the notes! Afterward, I went through what was on the board with them and responded (eliminating the suggestions like "taking naps" and "no homework", etc.) as well as asked for clarification on what they wanted to see happen. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by all of their great suggestions (and I have to admit it gave me the warm fuzzies to see all of the wonderful things they wrote about class so far, with nothing mean or negative - I love my kiddos!). Here are some of my big take-away's from this discussion:
Students love Señor Wooly! In fact, there weren't any notes that said they didn't like the songs, but a few that asked that I don't use any more non-Señor Wooly songs because they're just not up to par with those on the website. There were a few that said they didn't like the Nuggets for homework, but once I told them that they were going to have homework, they all agreed that the Nuggets are better than anything else I could assign.
Students want to play games and use their devices to learn and review, namely using Kahoot. They report that they do it in other classes and that they pair up if they don't have their own device - and they agreed to "teach" me how to make it work. Overall, I want to do more review, so I will build in all of the requests for games by using them for review. Another activity that they suggested that they do in other classes involves giving hints and pictures of a spot in the world, and have students use their devices to figure out "where in the world" that place is. This could be an interesting way to introduce cultural activities or even have little mini-lessons in under five minutes.
Overall, students seem to enjoy the classroom environment and activities. These are things I already knew, but it's nice to hear them say they enjoy the teamwork, I'm building rapport, that I interact with them, that I'm joyful, and "awesome possum" haha. There were a number of different things they expressed that they enjoyed about class, and multiple students specifically said it helped them learn Spanish.
Students want more learning options. There were a number of students that want to act things out, make up songs, make up dances, do projects, etc. I could address this two ways. First, I could mix things up a little more. Although I address many learning styles, I can often get into some of the same routines with these activities. Students want to mix things up more with different activities. Second, I can assign tasks and projects with menus, allowing students to express their learning in different ways. They also don't want to present in front of the class - I could easily accomplish this by having students present in groups and using a variety of Kagan structures. Some items they suggested for menus include: arts and crafts, act out, make up songs and dances, translate authentic resources like songs and cartoons, etc.
Students want to move and interact. I can easily build in these activities with Kagan. They want both opportunities to do Kagan class-builders to "get it out" of their system (referring to talking to each other) as well as opportunities to practice talking in Spanish. I will have to look for opportunities to get the up, moving around the classroom, and talking to each other in Spanish during class time. Some even wanted to go outside. I'm sure I could accommodate that from time to time.
Students want to change seating. Of course, the request was for "free seating" and I explained that my seating was very intentional so that each person had something to contribute to the group (see information about Kagan cooperative groups for more information on my seating arrangements). As a compromise, I offered to change seats once per month. It sounds like I need to get my Kagan group tools set up so it can automate these seats!
Students want to learn about culture. I need to look for more ways to build culture in. I'm doing this much better in my higher levels, but we've been caught up so much with Señor Wooly that we don't have a whole lot of culture. But students want to learn more!
I feel like a total n00b when it comes to my Advanced Spanish class. I've never taught at this level, nor with this amount of differentiation. I feel like each day is a struggle to try and meet students' needs at the level that they need it. Moreover, since all of them are in Spanish IIIH and AP, I feel an obligation to make sure they are satisfied with their elective choice, especially since it goes beyond the two years most students feel like they need for college. They are here because they truly want to learn what I have to offer. I have to admit I'm a bit flattered that they would choose this over, say art. But yet, here they are. And I often feel like I'm letting them down with first-year teacher issues.
Except, thnere's one big difference: I'm not a first-year teacher and I know I've done more difficult things than this before. I can do this - I just have to figure out what works. I keep reminding myself - at least I know how to teach now! I just need to put the pieces together! And of course, having an additional two years of classroom management makes me feel like a pro compared to that first year.
I've tried three distinct curricula with them so far:
As students finished their tests, I drew a table with three columns on the board: "What I like", "What I don't like" and "What we should change" and filled in a few of my "big" things I've been thinking about in black. As they finished, I invited them to add their own thoughts to the board in any color other than black. When everyone finished adding their ideas, I found that I could accommodate everything they'd written and still do my job well. How awesome! However, it occurred to me that not everyone may agree with the ideas on the board, so I passed out post-it notes and told them to put a check mark next to the things they liked and an X next to the things they don't like. They didn't have to put their name and I positioned myself looking away from the board.
When they informed me I could turn around, I was happy to see that there was a high degree of consensus among students. In fact they all agreed on every item except one - more on that later. Here is their feedback (my comments are in black, theirs are in blue).
Overall, I'm very pleased with the students' suggestions. Students want to talk in Spanish! Which is ironic, because I feel like this is what I work the hardest to encourage them to do. I think that with this expressed desire, I can capitalize on this and structure more activities. I believe structure is the key - they need to know when to talk (taking turns and for certain periods of time), what to talk about, and how to talk abut it (sentence frames, etc.). They also want to explore culture more, which is something I've been moving toward using the Tejidos activities and addressing the AP exam themes. I'm not sure I'm seeing quite the payoff from listening to Un Gancho al Corazon, but it's a powerful motivation tool and the students love it. I can use that to my benefit by encouraging them to work hard for me and then reward them with Un Gancho. They also didn't completely oppose anything that I suggested was good or needed change.
It was pretty evident to me students did not find the reading log valuable. Instead, they requested worksheets. I personally feel that the reading is more valuable and I would get value from it. However, this is a place I can give in, especially since they gave me an alternate type of homework that I could use to be meaningful. I'll probably start with Conjuguemos and grammar-type worksheets. That seems to be what they want - I'll load class with Comprehensible Input and let them work out the grammar at home. Win-win!
There was sharp disagreement in feedback about splitting the class. It appeared that the majority of the class (we assumed the IIIH students with easier work) was happy with the split, while four students (we assumed these were probably the AP students) did not like the split. Some of the more vocal Heritage students were upset because "it's not fair" that they are doing harder work. They asked if they could get the "AP" on their transcript, which cannot happen because they don't have credit for Spanish IIIH (nor are they getting the full AP curriculum). However, this is one of the issues that I'm not going to budge on - I will not sell them short by giving them material that is too easy for them, nor will I give the rest of the class work that will set them up for failure. It looks like I need to have an honest discussion with them about how and why I am differentiating the instruction, and why I'm doing it for them (it's sure to make my life easier!).
Overall, I think this gives me a good "checkup" on where we are, what my students want, and what they need. I'm excited to move forward with these activities with the hope that I'll have more buy-in and motivation since the activities match their desires, resulting in more motivation and learning on their part. Plus, I'm excited to do the things that they want to do as well! It will be interesting to see how these next few weeks go with new strategies based on this conversation.
**NOTE - Though this is a management post, it has some very specific and important implications on my use of Spanish and CI in the classroom as I get to the specific examples of what is happening in my classroom now
Last May, I hated my job. I was overwhelmed with all of my responsibilities for a number of reasons, including personal circumstances. However, I'd also created a monster at school through my lack of solid plans, including classroom management.
When discussing what the most important aspect of teaching was during my teacher prep program, I decided on classroom management since it forms the structure of everything else we do and provides us an environment conducive to learning. I did not realize how true that was - and that the classroom management plan cannot be a half-baked idea with the expectation that students will fill in the blanks like young adults might in order to make class time useful. Last May I absolutely realized that and vowed that I would not let my classroom deteriorate like that again. I do not want to hate my job in May. It's such a wonderful, rewarding, miraculous job - and I want to want to keep coming back!
So, this last summer I overhauled my classroom discipline and management plans. This led to a number of small but significant changes in my classroom, all adding up to a class that I'm absolutely loving now that we're 2 weeks into the school year. My classroom feels more like a place of learning than it ever did before. My solid plans are what kept my sanity through two straight weeks of non-working technology, students being added/dropped/switched daily (even just yesterday!), starting XC practices on the second day of school with a first-year team, and still managing things in my personal life (including a trip during the entire weekend with no time to prep for week 2!). Students are still learning the procedures and expectations, but they're working like a charm and it's only going to get better from here!
The book I've been using to overhaul my classroom is "Discipline in the Secondary Classroom." By working through the chapters step by step, I developed a vision of what I want my classroom to look like, clear expectations to communicate to my students, procedures that will help my classroom run smoothly, and more physical management artifacts such as my Course Expectations and even the arrangement of my room. Here are some examples of things that have worked wonders these first two weeks:
Behavior Log/Rules and Guidelines for Success
I used to groan at things like behavior logs and grading behavior/participation at first. Now, I will never teach without one. The first week made me a fan - the second week made me frenzied fanatic over this thing. The basic concept is that I keep a clipboard with all students names on it and a column for each day of the week Friday-Thursday. I have codes for specific behaviors I want to encourage and discourage. Students start the week with 15/20 points, and their behaviors are tallied and then totaled Thursday nights. My items are directly linked to the rules (LISTEN: Look me in the eye or where I direct your attention, Involve yourself, Show me when you get it and when you don't, Tune back in, Español only, No talking over), which are 6ft high on my wall right next to the door. We began with a discussion of the rules as well as the Guidelines of Success (Susan Gross's "Responsibility, Respect, Results"), also posted on a large poster next to the rules. In addition to these individual points The results of this practice has been miraculous:
Similar to the individual points, class points are earned when the whole class is being awesome. These are awarded as marbles in that period's jar. There's not a hard-and-fast rule to this, but I do try to give some points every class period. Oftentimes, I'll give multiple points at once (usually 2-3 marbles, 5 marbles for something that I really want to recognize, though I did give 10 marbles to one class yesterday for a very lively rendition of the "Taco Song" that out-did all the other classes). When the jar is full, they'll get a PAT activity that they'll vote on as a class, but will still encourage CI (i.e. a game, kindergarten day, etc). When marbles are messed with they also make a loud, tinkling, and unmistakeable sound - whether they are being put in or taken out of their jar. It instantly gets the attention of the entire class and the response is immediate (especially if I feel like I'd have to work to get their attention again when they've gotten a little out of hand - the marbles quite them down immediately!)
Posting Grades and handing back work
Even though I only posted one grade on the first Friday, nearly every student wanted to see what they got for their behavior and participation. I collect all work on Fridays (including their daily journal, quizzes, and any assigned work), as well as hand back the items from the previous week (though they should know their grade before it's handed in with the way that I grade and because they do immediate peer-corrections for items that they may not know the grade for). This was extremely reinforcing for them as well as myself as I knew that they were invested and interested in their achievement. Since all work is handed back on Fridays, they're able to immediately compare the posted grade with the grade on their work and let me know if there are any issues as well as check the no-name pile for items they thought they turned in and rectify the situation. These weekly postings keep me on top of my grading and the students are responding to this beautifully.
Passing out work
A system that is working for me is to front-load the passing out. There is a pass-out folder that I put copies of each day's handouts in (great job for a teacher's aid!). My "Capitán de Pasar" (Captain of passing) grabs their folder at the beginning of each class and then passes out the items in the folder WHEN INSTRUCTED (still teaching that to a few of them). The folders don't go back until the end of the day. Passing in work follows similar procedures, but is only done on Fridays.
Students have been taking their time to fill out my short surveys after each Friday quiz indicating which activities helped (or didn't) help them and why as well as giving me a percentage "grade" for how much of class time we spent in Spanish. I've gotten a lot of really constructive comments and am adjusting my teaching accordingly. It's great to know what my "customers" think and it seems to be fostering a truly open learning environment where we are all learning and making an effort for one another - even me!
Essentially, my entire class is guided by PowerPoint slides. At first, I started doing this because I have very limited board space, so I needed something I could change quickly. However, they've essentially become the lesson plan that I can follow easily and maintain the flow of my class. Moreover, I can explain more in Spanish and make sure students are understanding as they can see the Spanish (and sometimes English) "subtitles" for the instructions I'm giving them. For my more novice classes, I can start with bilingual instructions and then transition to straight Spanish as students become familiar with the instructions and specific slides. Plus, I can copy and paste slides we didn't get to onto the next day's slideshow. As a teacher, these have drastically improved my instruction - and my students have noticed. Though I never said anything about my slides in my surveys, at least two students in different periods commented on how much they like them.
There are a number of other little things I've done, but the bottom line is that I'm enjoying my job more than ever and I feel like I'm achieving my goals as an educator. Both returning and new students have commented on how much they enjoy my classroom. Though I got over being "liked" last year by students, more effective management and therefore teaching seems to be resulting in more positive student experiences and "liking" my class more because they are organized and successful! And, I would have to say that I have pretty high expectations for their behavior and don't compromise (like I did last year) - It's my classroom I refuse to let my students (or sometimes a student) take control. We play by my rules, and we're all happier for it, especially since they're LEARNING!!
One of the number one things I learned this year (and I've heard it's a common lesson for first-year teachers) is that I need a little work on Classroom Management. Between the normal struggles and the extra stuff that was going on in my life, I was SO sick of being a teacher by the end of the year. However, I've got three months to figure out how to make things go differently next year, and my goal for next year is to still like my job come May (that could be a very tall order!).
Classroom management was the place to start, so I researched a number of books and chose the one that seemed best: Discipline in the Secondary Classroom. (The reviews for the current edition are lacking, but the older edition got a number of glowing reviews, so I assumed the third edition would also be good). I am not disappointed. I have to say, this book is completely changing my views of my classroom and making me re-think every little detail, while still providing flexibility for me to do things my way and customize them for my classroom. It's an easy-to-follow, step-by-step how-to instructional manual for all things classroom management. The worksheets on the DVD are an added bonus that I'm using along with my own documents that I've created according to the activities in the text and I'm going to have a solid Classroom Management binder to refer to throughout the year. I highly recommend this book to anyone who teaches in a secondary classroom that would like to fine-tune their classroom management plan. Right now, I'm working on the activities for the first half of the book, which involve nailing down exactly what my plan is and articulating them in a way that I can clearly visualize how every aspect of my classroom should function like a well-oiled machine using the STOIC model. Below is a summary of this, including what I've done thorough Chapter 5 (I recommend reading chapters 1-5 and then working on your plan since things in later chapters will influence your plans related to earlier chapters - I find I'm jumping back and forth to fine-tune things a lot):
Section 1: Structure your classroom for success (S)
Chapter 1 - Vision: Understand key concepts about managing student behavior
Chapter 2 - Grading and Instruction: Design instruction and evaluation systems
Chapter 5 - Expectations: Plan to teach students how to be successful
Section 3: Observe Student Behavior (O)
Chapter 7 - Monitor Student Behavior: Implement and adjust your classroom management plan
Section 4: Interact Positively (I)
Chapter 8 - Motivation: Enhance students' desire to succeed
Section 5: Correct Fluently
Chapter 9 - Proactive planning for chronic misbehavior
Over Spring Break, I had the opportunity to observe a French classroom that did Organic World Language. While there are still some things I'm hesitant about with the method, I did get a huge takeaway regarding classroom organization.
I've never been a fan of desks. They're in the way, clunky, and hinder true interaction. This is a major point of the OWL method. So what do they do? Students stand or sit in a circle! The desks are gone. Students are all able to see and interact with one another as well as the teacher.
I decided I had to give this a try in my own classroom and did so as soon as I got back. My initial thought is that I love it - suddenly, my students who don't usually interact are in the front row and able to participate - many of whom did so on their own. They're able to see what's going on with everyone else and comment on it. I can see all of them and move freely about my classroom - as can they. With only two people next to them, classroom management is easy enough to simply ask someone to move to another part of the circle. We can act things out in the circle or I can bring people to the middle. If I write something on the board (which is kept to a minimum), students can move around to see it clearly. No more heads down on desks or texting/reading under desks - and definitely no sleeping!
I can see a few clear issues that are easily solved with the right resources and classroom management techniques - both of which are going to be difficult to adjust in the final quarter of the year, but not impossible.
How does this solve my problems and then some?
What do you think? How would you put in your buckets seats and what activities would you do with students in a circle?
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