These are just things that happen to work for me; I’m not sure if they work for everyone or if it’s just my school and my kids, but here they are nonetheless:
- giving the kids a break. I have 90-minute blocks. 90 minutes is a long time. About halfway through class and/or when their eyes are starting to get glazed over, I read to them for 5 minutes and then give them a minute and a half to get up, stretch, walk around, etc., after which we resume class.
- giving the kids time to get their lives together at the beginning of class. I was finding that expecting ALL students to come in and be able to start their bellwork within seconds of entering class was a little unrealistic for me. Some of them had to borrow pencils, get their notebooks, etc. So what I do now is put 1 1/2 minutes up on the timer on the smartboard (the bellwork is written on my whiteboard) and I tell them when the bell rings that they have 1 1/2 minutes to “get their lives together” and when the timer is up, I expect them to be working silently on their bellwork. This gives me 1 1/2 minutes to get MY life together too, which helps :). This sets a much more finite expectation in terms of time. After that 1 1/2 minutes, I look around and check to make sure everyone has their materials. If so, I award class points.
- giving the kids a choice. I read this in Teaching with Love and Logic, and it’s worked beautifully for my 7th graders this year. Whenever possible, I give them a choice. We vote (quickly) on almost everything, from what music we listen to to whether we do something as a whole class or in groups. Anything I can afford to give them a choice for, I give them a choice for. The condition here, though, is that both choices have to be equally desirable for ME; I can’t say “Okay kids, do we want to do work today or not?”.
- read to the kids. My dad, who taught 7th grade 20 years ago, gave me the idea for this. As mentioned before, I have my kids put their heads down about halfway through class and I read to them for 5-10 minutes. I understand that since I have block schedule I have that extra time to spare and can afford it. It’s a nice little mental break and lets the kids switch into their right brains for awhile. Plus, literacy is always a good thing, right? I have one class that’s almost all boys, and they generally come into class really rowdy and it was getting really difficult to start class smoothly and peacefully. So I changed things a little for them. After they finish their bellwork, I have them put their heads down and I read to them right then and there for about 5 minutes at the beginning of class. It really calms them down and helps them to mentally transition to math class. This has made a really big difference in the attitude/mood of my classes.
- have a class routine. I know that all of you are sitting there thinking “You’ve been teaching for more than a year and you JUST now figured this out?!”. Well, yes. Last year I didn’t really have a consistent class routine. Now I do. It works well.
- use interactive notebooks. They’re AWESOME. Just imagine: no loose paper!! It takes a little bit more organization/planning on my part, but it’s well worth it.
- write positive notes home. I don’t feel like calling parents when I get home, so I’ve been writing notes instead. Notes are perfect for me because I can work on them while watching a movie or in the back of a really boring meeting! It requires much less effort, and it’s something tangible that that kid can keep on the refridgerator.
I’ll add more things as I think of them. Parent-teacher conferences await!