February 26, 2018

January and February: What *actually* works in the classroom

The short answer is nothing.

This is, without a doubt, the hardest time to teach. The kids come back after 2-3 weeks of Christmas break without care. The teachers are refreshed, yet still burnt out (this was the year I was the most "done" and really didn't want to go back to work). The weather doesn't always guarantee recess and sickness and germs and absences are everywhere.

Here are the things that I do know work and what I keep going back to as my support systems.

Someone told me once that as long as you are consistent and fair, no one can argue with you or challenge your methods. I mean, they'll ask (parents, kids, administration), but you'll have something to back you up. Consistency is more important than kindness, fairness, and good decision-making. As long as you have a system for something, no one can say you are being unfair.

Rewards for hard work.

+I updated my clip chart rewards for things they really want.

+I started instituting surprise Fun Fridays. Fun Fridays aren't new. A lot of teachers/grade levels do them. The idea is that the kids who did all of their work for the week get extra recess or game time or a movie or whatever, and the kids who didn't do their work get a study hall.
This is why I like it: it's a kick in the pants to the kids who didn't do their work. In most schools I've been in (except Missouri...that district was unflinchingly rigid and I loved it), students don't really have grades until 4th grade.

+I also try to do something fun every once in awhile. If you work in a place like I do, everything is very scripted and regimented. By throwing in an art project or something fun for Presidents' Day or something interesting with our 2nd grade buddy class, they can still like school. Kids today do not like school as much as I (or we) used to like school.

Giving students more responsibility.
Students love to do things for teachers. At the beginning of the year, they ask, ask, ask if they can help. The answer is always no, no, or not right now. And I work much harder at the beginning of the year. Once they realize how the classroom works, I let them start taking over.

For example, students love to hop up and erase the board between lessons. Every bit of me wants to say, sit back down and do it myself. Then I realized that a kid getting up, quickly erasing the whiteboard while I'm swapping out papers and changing screens, and sitting down without saying a word is a good thing. I need to let her do that. They don't squabble over it. They just...do it.

If a kid wants to get up to turn the lights off when I start a video and turn them on when it's over, I need to let her.

If a kid wants to star papers for me and stuff mailboxes, that is less work for me and makes him feel important, so I need to let that happen.

If a kid wants to adjust the clip chart and fill out the results on the roster at the end of the day, it's all hers. That saves me five minutes at least. It's pure busywork.

The point is: giving them a stake in how things operate makes us appreciate each other more.

Giving students more privilege.
+After Christmas, they get to use mechanical pencils. Usually I give them this at the beginning of the year but realized they weren't mature enough for it. January is the perfect time to introduce this...and it's made my life so much easier. (I could write a book on Pencil Sharpener Problems.)

+I let them vote on the read alouds I do. I show them two books that I'd like to read or have read in the past to classes. I read them the blurbs on the back, tell them how I feel about the books, mention other books by the same authors, etc. I let them look at the books on display for a few days. Then we vote. It gives them choice in what we're doing and they really seem to appreciate that. I also project the book under the document camera so they can see the text and any illustrations. (I do my read-aloud right after their late afternoon recess before we head into the last subject of the day. Am I allowed to suck up 5-10 minutes of class time to read aloud? No. I'm not. But this is why my class calms down more quickly and is actually eager to sit down after recess, so I will keep doing it.)

+I let THEM read aloud. I have a sign-up sheet and, for the 10 minutes after lunch/recess each day, a kid can read out loud to the rest of the class. They put their book under the document camera so it projects on the screen and their favorites to read aloud are graphic novels because they'll do the voices and make all the noises that go with it. It's an excellent way to teach expression and voice. Not everyone has to read aloud and the same kids do tend to sign up over and over again, but it's a great way to let them decompress before we head into the afternoon. Other kids can read or work on things they need to finish at their seat while someone is reading. (Am I allowed to use 10 minutes of Reading to do this type of activity? No, absolutely not. But this is honestly why my class is calm and responsive to me, so I'm not going to give it up.)

+I let them control the timer for me. This is something I've been doing since October-ish, but it's worth a mention. I have an iPad at school (it's the school's) and is supposed to be used for part of our writing curriculum. I find it easier to access the curriculum on my laptop there, so I affectionately call the iPad my "$500 timer".  I put it on the desk of a different student each day. I'll tell them how much time we have for an activity and they set it. Whether this is two minutes to put things away and get new materials out or 15 minutes for a small-group activity, I have nothing to do with it. They take care of it. They charge it for me every few days (and to be honest, it's super germy now, so I want nothing to do with it). The classroom wouldn't run efficiently without it, and the student who randomly gets the iPad each day is always thrilled to be in charge.

None of these are foolproof and they're specific to each group of kids. However, I've used most of these techniques for several years now and it's been helpful to me for getting through the rough winter months without losing my mind (or taking all my sick days). 


  1. I literally busted out laughing with that first sentence.

  2. These are great tips but like you said not all classrooms or kids are the same. So it's trial and error.

  3. It makes me sad that reading aloud is not allowed and seems like a waste of time. I think you're doing the right thing because it's super important to read aloud regardless how old students are. It's sort of like one of my buildings that wants to cut library back to every other week because they need more instruction time. But going to the library and finding books to read is an important part of building literacy. Sometimes the things we do in schools makes me wonder what people are thinking.


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