March 4th, 2012
All teachers want to achieve effective classroom management.
Now that you’ve identified your personal goals and created your classroom management plan it’s time to start thinking about how to develop some techniques that will lead to really effective classroom management. These are the techniques we should plan to use every day with every class, they should be priorities, because this is where we need to spend most of our time now, putting first things first, and developing classroom management that works.
These effective techniques are much more than ‘classroom management tips’ or ‘handy hints’. They are the good habits we need to start to develop, they are the features of the way we conduct business with our students, helping them to learn, in the very specific context of the classroom.
There are 4 dimensions to developing effective classroom management techniques. Sometimes they are grouped together in the acronym ACTS [sometimes this is changed to CATS or SCAT]. These four ingredients of effective classroom management are:
- A – Activity
- C – Climate [ie classroom climate, mood or ethos]
- T – Time [ how to use it effectively]
- S – Space [how to exploit it to best effect]
Let’s look at these techniques in turn.
The first dimension of effective classroom management techniques.
The first technique we need to master is activity because this is the most important technique of effective classroom management to get right. Everything that happens in the classroom should be driven by learning, and learning cannot happen unless students actively engage with it. So our first priority as educators is to create activities that give students something to do that will result in learning. It sounds obvious enough, yet often we take it for granted that learning will happen, but in reality we need to choose carefully the activities we offer students. The point for me is that there is a direct link between the quality of learning experiences we offer our students and the level of engagement on the part of students.
So what do we need to keep in mind when devising learning activities for students?
Successful learning activities are likely to show some or all of these features:
- have a clear purpose that leads to specific learning outcomes
- have a clear structure
- be appropriate to the age of learners and to their stage of learning development
- be suitable for use in the classroom space [if the learning is taking place in a normal classroom]
- be safe for both teacher and students
- appeal to different learning styles – in practice it is likely that students will experience a range of different learning activities that are linked so students have a chance to learn in a range of different styles
- be engaging, interesting and enjoyable
Of course it’s difficult to guarantee that every learning experience we offer students meets all these criteria and often in our search for classroom management that works we will compromise and find the ‘best fit’ for our students. We need to use our judgement about what the ‘best fit’ might be, and we should learn by trial and error what works well and what proves to be less effective. The important factor is that,when aiming for effective classroom management, our starting point should always be to use a mental checklist similar to the list above when we’re planning classroom activities
The second dimension of effective classroom management techniques.
The second most important dimension of effective classroom management is the classroom climate we create for, and with, our students. The issue here is not really the physical climate of the classroom, although the research evidence does suggest that extremes of temperature and the lack of natural light can have negative effects on learning. What I mean by classroom climate is the emotional or psychological climate that exists in the classroom, and the teacher plays a major role in establishing a climate that promotes learning, or, if we’re not careful, a climate that negates learning.
What are the features of a healthy classroom climate?
The first thing to say is that the climate we create in our classrooms will be a direct expression of the personal goals we set for ourselves. If we don’t value core principles such as respect, honesty, integrity, and certainly if we don’t commit to them, we have no hope of achieving a classroom climate that will consistently promote effective learning. So our first step is to remind ourselves of our core value principles and use them as a basis for deciding what our classroom climate should be.
A healthy classroom climate seems to have the following features:
- positive relationships where everyone, students and teachers, agree to help and support each other in the classroom
- teachers encourage students to grow as learners and as human beings, and all students feel able to do so
- routines and procedures are clear and explicit, so that students understand not just what they are doing,but also how and why
- classroom routines respond to learners’ needs and so can adapt to changing circumstances
The important thing is to create a classroom environment or ethos where students feel safe yet challenged, relaxed yet alert, able to take risks without fear of ridicule, are motivated, productive and successful.
The third dimension of effective classroom management techniques.
The third of the effective classroom management techniques we need to master is the use of time in our classes. Apart from the obvious consideration that the time we have with students is limited, teachers need to become skilled at managing pace and progression in lessons, and need to make judgements about how much time to devote to direct learning and how much time to spend on meta-cognition activities, in other words how much time to spend involving students in thinking about how they learn[meta cognition] as opposed to what they learn[direct learning], and in particular, how to help students find out how they can learn more effectively.
This strategy is sometimes known as assessment for learning, as opposed to the more traditional assessment of learning. Both are important, but time is finite and teachers need to develop clear structures for what is inevitably a ‘trade off’ between product [what students learn] and process [how they learn]. I have found time and again that time spent on helping students learn more effectively has been worthwhile, because students can learn skills and strategies that they can transfer to other areas of learning, and they find that learning facts and information becomes easier after that.
The fourth dimension of effective classroom management techniques
The fourth technique which helps bring about effective classroom management is the use of space. Like time, space in classrooms is finite, and most teachers have to operate in classrooms that are ‘traditional’ in shape. It is true that in some countries ambitious school building programmes are providing updated spaces, although in many cases these spaces are simply newer versions of the traditional classroom.
It is possible to use classroom space creatively, in order to enhance the learning experiences of students. Many teachers worry that anything other than a very formal arrangement of students sitting in ordered rows will lead to a breakdown in classroom discipline, and so they never experiement with informal seating arrangements.
This is not an easy fear to overcome, and the solution probably lies in defining in more detail your personal goals, your own classroom philosophy, as well as proactively looking to specific behaviour management techniques to help give you the confidence that you can be in control of your class no matter what the seating arrangement is.
It really is worth considering how you can best use space in your classroom: as in other areas of classroom management, start small, pick a specific activity which requires a different seating arrangement, and try it.
Over the years I have found it helpful, when considering how to make effective use of classroom space, to keep in mind the following:
- decide what the purpose of the learning activity is [e.g. if you want students to use kinesthetic learning techniques you need to make it easy for them to move around in the classroom - this is more difficult if the tables and chairs are left in rows]
- decide what you are comfortable with [if you have an 'autocratic' style you may want the 'default' seating arrangement to be formal rows - if you are more 'democratic' you may be less comfortable doing most of your teaching in front of students sitting in rigidly ordered rows]
- put learning before teaching: in other words, it’s more important that students learn than that you teach – students deserve a varied menu of well conceived learning activities, and some of these, at least, should be activities that encourage students to learn by themselves, investigating, ‘exploring’, and to learn cooperatively with other students, problem solving, discussing, sharing ideas – which almost certainly means using your classrom space differently to when you are in ‘teacher talk’ mode
- like all other aspects of effective classroom management – use your judgement, try and test different strategies for using classroom space
It’s worth spending a lot of time and effort to become proficient in these four techniques because they really are the ‘bread and butter’ of the educator’s role. It’s what we do, day in day out,it’s classroom management that works. When we master these effective classroom management techniques our professional satisfaction reaches new levels. Not only do we feel successful, we also gain the confidence to meet new challenges positively, because we have established a framework for classroom interaction that we know works and we can also look to take our classroom management expertise to the next level