Friday, March 8, 2013

Year 3: Week 23 - Creating The Shocking Silence

This week in one of my 5th grade music classes I was shocked by something that I rarely experience in school: silence.

We are studying “Sumer Is Incumen In,” and I gave them a worksheet, which asked them to pair up old English words with modern English words. I told them that I wanted to them to work individually for five minutes and then I would let them work in groups that I had formed.

For the next five minutes the only thing I heard in the room was the faint sound of pencils writing on papers.

When teachers talk about classroom management they often mention expectations, clarity of instructions and reinforcement. What doesn’t come up very often is the role of curriculum and instruction in the behavior of students.

If you teach a topic that students are interested in they are a lot more likely to pay attention. Also you can make a boring topic engaging if the learning tool, like a worksheet, is at the right level of difficulty with an interesting end goal. I don’t think teachers should create all of their curriculum and assessment just to help manage the class, but it is something that deserves consideration.

There are times when most of my class is engaged, times when none of them are with me and other times like with this worksheet this week, everyone is really interested in the activity. These moments are rare. In the same way that you try to figure out what went wrong during a bad class you also need to figure out what went right in a more successful lesson.

One of the reasons that curriculum and instruction don’t come up in discussions about classroom management is because many teachers don’t have control over their curriculum and how they teach. In these cases the focus really has to be on other ways to motivate kids to be respectful and engage in the learning. This is extremely difficult because the bottom line is that the greatest teacher in the world tied down to a mediocre curriculum and poor instructional activities can’t make a class be successful.

When you have one of those moments right after a class when you have a headache from a group of kids who got out of control, think about what you were teaching as much as how you were teaching. Don't focus so much on the rules and the expectations.  Get the excitement in the learning and in those great moments of student engaging build student expectations.

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