StarTeaching Starting the School Year
Modeling Student Behaviors Learning Pods & Classroom Setup Creating a Class Rules Pamphlet Designing your Class Rules, Procedures, and Discipline Plan Take Your Time the First Few Weeks  


Modeling Student Behaviors

Whether you as a teacher realize it or not, you are the best model of behavior in your classroom. A large part of your proactive behavior plans should include your own behavior you demonstrate to the students every day.

You must set expectations for your students, demonstrate the behaviors, and be vigilant to correct the kids. Don't waver on your expectations; inconsistencies will only confuse the students and cause you more problems.

If you stay calm, collected, and in control, your students will exhibit the same behaviors. The same is true about enthusiasm; if you are excited about your lesson and truly believe in its importance, the kids will respond in kind. Conversely, the kids will know when you are tired, bored, don't want to be there, or are 'winging it.'

If you are late to class, or don't start on time, the kids will pick up on it and be more likely to do the same. The same is true about the way you dress, the way you act, the language you use, and your 'body language'.

If you want your students working from 'coast to coast', or from bell to bell, you need to set the expectation of activity all hour. Start with a warm up, and ensure the kids are doing it. Keep them busy on activities with transitions between each. Don't let there be any down time. Work them to the end of the period, and have them pack up when you say so, not whenever they want to.

If you want your students to quietly read in class, but you are spending that time working on other things, it sends the message that you don't value the activity personally. Modeling the skill for the kids reinforces your belief that it is important. It shows you as a lifelong learner who values the skills you're teaching them.

The same is true for writing, or labs, or math problems. Students rarely have the chance to see real people performing schoolwork - for many, the only examples (and role models) are their classmates. Work along with your students.

Now this doesn't mean you have to do this the entire time. You must also supervise, coach, monitor, and actively support their learning.  But you can spend at least a few minutes 'at their level'.

Be a positive role model for your students. Don't just explain and show the behavior; be the example day in and day out.

Learning Pods and Classroom Setup

Setting up small learning groups, or communities, in your class requires planning, not just in your instruction, but also in the physical space of your room.

When I decided to change my teaching style from a teacher-centered, lecture format to a student-centered, project format, I had to seriously contemplate how my room and its instructional resources were arranged.

I knew I wanted to set up student 'pods' of four to five students.  Four makes a great sized group, but five is starting to push it. These sizes also fit with the number of computers I had available. Each pod needed one computer for the group to use, as well as workspace, achieved by placing desks next to each other forming a table.

I placed the pods at the outside walls for a few important reasons.  First was to get some elbow space between students and groups. I wanted to eliminate interaction between groups so students could concentrate on their own group's activities. Secondly, this arrangement allowed me to monitor the computers at all times. Third, this setup created better traffic flow through the room, since students would often need to move back and forth to the central resource center.

I've set up the resource and presentation center in the center of the classroom. This is where I keep student file cabinets (the short types), dictionaries & thesauri, school supplies, and art-type supplies. I've combined this storage area with my podium, overhead projector, and the other tech equipment like vcr or dvd players, digital projectors, and the like. This allows for easy student access to all resources, and I can effectively use all of my wall space when I need to present material.

The 'traditional' classroom and the 'student-centered' classroom are very different both in philosophy and in the application. The basics of setting up your classroom to reflect the learning environment you've envisioned must be thought through carefully before jumping right into the pods.

Having previously taught in the traditional manner, I've found the pod setup, or student-centered class, to be both a challenge and a benefit to student learning. Now that I've had a chance to compare them, my students and I prefer the pods.

Creating a Class Rules Pamphlet

We've found that teaching your classroom rules and procedures right away at the beginning of the school year will tremendously improve your chances of a successful relationship with your students. This should include giving your students a hard copy to keep, look over, and even discuss with their parents

Our seventh grade team accomplishes this by creating a course introduction pamphlet. This tri-fold pamphlet is given out on the first day of class and presented by each member of the teaching team. That way we teachers are all on the same page, and students have consistency between their classes.

Creating a pamphlet is relatively easy on a word processing program.  You will need to change your page setup from 'portrait' (normal 8.5 x 11 tall) to a 'landscape', the 8.5 x 11 long. You will also need to create two or three columns to type in (two if you are simply folding in half, or three if the pamphlet is a tri-fold). Your word processing program will automatically adjust your document's margins, though you might want to print it out and double check the margin space when you're finished (sometimes copy machines will 'slide' your original up to 1/2 inch, so try a sample). Once the paper is folded, this setup will make your pamphlet look professional. A bi-fold pamphlet is easy to create and fold, but a tri-fold looks so much nicer both to your students and parents.

You'll want a catchy cover with basic class or grade information.  Include a school graphic or clip art with the teachers' names, the classes, periods, room numbers, and other key info. We've added a place for both students and parents to sign, indicating that they have read through and understood these rules and procedures. This returned signature becomes the students' first assignment for your class. In fact, I like to allow three days to get them turned in, giving 10 extra credit points if it's two days early, and 5 extra credit points for one day early.

The next few pages display what we will cover in class this year. Its not in great detail, but simply an overview. In English, for example, a brief section is devoted to our main areas, writing, reading, literature, speech, technology, and presentations. In science, a brief section is devoted to the areas of ecosystems, matter, waves, rocks & minerals, and weather. The same is done for math and social studies and any other core classes.

The last few pages cover class rules and procedures. We always try to have just a few important rules that are general enough to cover most events that can happen in class. We like to include a rule about respecting all people and materials, since this is general enough to cover most poor behavior choices not specifically mentioned.

You'll want to include a section on your discipline procedures so students know exactly what punishments or consequences are due to them if they make poor behavior choices. Again, leave yourself room by adding a statement such as "Serious or continual problems may result in skipping one or more discipline steps." As always, follow your school or district's codes or policies in making up your class rules.

Procedures are different from rules in that these are desired behaviors you want your students to display at particular moments in class. Some procedures will include your class warm up or wrap up, passing in papers, raising hands, lining up, sharpening pencils, and even answering the telephone, among others. You'll want to spend some quality time thinking of what your students are going to DO in class, and the most effective way to accomplish these tasks. Be clear and simple when writing these down so the kids understand them.

The rules packer looks nice and professional. Students and parents alike will enjoy (and respect) the fact that you've taken the time to spell out exactly your expectations and to begin communicating with them. By having a section to sign and return, no one can claim they weren't aware of your rules or procedures.



Designing your Class Rules, Procedures, and Discipline Plan

I like to create rules & procedures pamphlets for my students. I teach from this document during the first week of school, and it ensures that every student is taught the same information, and that I do not forget anything. An example of this tri-fold pamphlet can be seen below, and check the link at the end of this article to download a free example copy you can adjust to your own classroom. Each student receives a copy, and then we cover it together in great detail.

The students are even given quizzes over the material after a few days, and I'll periodically quiz them through the year. I instruct the kids to keep their pamphlet (for future reference) and I tell them I'll periodically collect the pamphlets for extra credit. Every so often, I'll tell the kids they can attach their pamphlet to the current assignment (or test/quiz) for extra credit, and I give a few bonus points. Of course, make sure you return these!

Students will respond best when you've taught them the procedures they need to follow. And make sure to review periodically. I even give short quizzes to the students to stress their understanding of the rules and procedures.

One common procedure is the simple act of passing in papers (or anything else you want to collect from the kids). Now certainly you dont want the down time of collecting each paper yourself. However, if you do not teach them a procedure you want them to follow, you could unknowingly be unleashing mass chaos. Trust me, students will try every method under the sun, including running to your desk, hitting each other, sending papers in all directions, and even throwing items. A disruption is sure to follow, and valuable class time will be wasted. A better method is to design a procedure for them to follow, and then spend time teaching it. Whether you have them pass forward in rows, or designate one person from a group to collect papers, or some other method, make sure you've designed a procedure that fits your room setup and your teaching style.

Other procedures you may wish to include could be for using computers, answering your room phone, responding to fire drills, leaving the room at the end of the hour, getting out supplies, sharpening pencils, throwing away trash, and even your seating arrangement. You'll want to set up and teach any and all procedures to your students early on so they can practice these often and become good at them.

Another pair of common procedures is beginning and ending the class. To be really effective, you'll want to maximize class time and eliminate down time. We call this teaching 'coast to coast'. So you'll want to teach your students to work on warm up activities when they enter your room. There are all kinds of warm ups you can use (next month we'll illustrate a few in our article on warm ups!) and your students will learn to start working on these activities while you get class ready. You will also want to design closing/wrap up activities to officially end class. Have students create quiz questions based on the day's lesson. Or have them write down things they learned (or didn't learn!). And make sure the kids do not start packing up their materials until you give them directions. Remember, YOU are in charge, not them!

Be proactive! Design your rules so as to promote positive behavior patterns. You don't need many rules, because then you'll spend far too much time enforcing little details. Make sure those rules you choose are important to the safe running of class, and that the students can remember them. As before, teach these to the students. Use examples they can relate to, and give explanations when necessary. Quiz the kids periodically to ensure mastery.

Your disciplinary steps should be corrective and promote positive behavior. Remember, your principal doesn't want to run your classroom, so don't rely on the head of your building to discipline your kids unles it has become a serious problem. Do your best to handle the problems in class. And remember that putting kids into the hall leaves them unsupervised. They could be doing anything anyplace, and this may not be a form of punishment to them. It's better if you can create a space in your room for separation. Discipline steps should graduate in severity, including strategies like warnings & explanations, changing seats, writing out or extra work, and separation. Be sure to explain your system in detail, and make sure the students understand what will happen if they choose to break a rule.

Everything your the students do in class should be put into a procedure and then practiced. The same is with your class rules. You can't expect them to be experts right away, but they will get better in short time. They will pick up your rules right away, so have your discipline steps ready when they 'test' you! This will save you many headaches later if you spend the time planning ahead of time.


Take Your Time the First Few Weeks


Don't be in a hurry when you first start the year. Obviously there are many things to cover in those first weeks (and especially the first few days!). Set yourself a plan and decide what the most important things you must teach first and foremost have to be. Then stick to your plan. Remember to teach, model, practice, and re-teach if necessary.

One major component is your classroom rules and procedures. We like to provide students with a handout they show their parents and keep with them over the year. But dont just provide a handout (see our article from the Sept issue). Teach those procedures and discuss the rules and expectations. Review them daily, even if its just for a few minutes. We even have writing assignments and short quizzes so students can actually use what they've learned from you.

You'll be teaching them many procedures for running a smooth class too. The students must learn your expectations for taking notes and tests, reading and writing in class, posing questions and asking for help. You'll have procedures for collecting work, giving assignments, handing back work, and dismissing class. And you'll have expectations for leaving your room, whether it is to get a drink, use the bathroom, or head for the library or lab. Each of these, among the many of your class, needs to be taught, modeled, and practiced by your students. Take plenty of time training them right, and the rest of the year will be smooth.

Spend plenty of time during your first few weeks in teaching, reviewing, and even quizzing your students on class rules, expectations, and procedures. The more time you and your students spend over the span of several weeks, the better the students will know and understand (and remember) these expectations.


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