To say that math has never been my strong suit would only be a half-truth. As a student, math confounded, terrified and tormented me—until I met Mr. Bauer. Thanks to this amazing man, a 23-year old, first-year teacher with unswerving patience and kindness, math (algebra, specifically) not only became my favorite class, but the one I continued to excel in over the course of my freshman year in high school.
Most of us appreciated Mr. Bauer enough to submit our work on time, listen, take notes and ask questions when we had them, but he did have one Achilles heel: effective classroom management. As a result, there were always a few upper classmen who would interrupt him, throw things across the room when his back was turned and deliberately break the games he brought in to enhance the lessons. Many of us would come to his defense, but invariably, delinquency would seep in and eventually dominate. Those who wanted to learn did, but I’d be lying if I said our motivation, focus and comprehension didn’t suffer as a result.
To make a long story short, our math teacher didn’t last long. Whether he left of his own volition or not, I don’t know. What was clear to me, even then, was that he did not receive the effective classroom management training he needed to become as brilliant at classroom management as he was at teaching math which is a tragedy.
What does research say about effective classroom management?
Classroom management is crucial to students’ success. In fact, research has shown us that teachers' actions in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality, and community involvement. Another study suggests the same thing: Of all the variables, classroom management has the largest effect on student achievement.
It should go without saying, but in order for students to learn, we must provide them with a well-managed classroom. Here are 5 effective classroom management strategies to help you accomplish this.
1. Establish an appropriate level of dominance
“Dominance” has the same effect as a dirty word, but not when it is used in the proper context. Healthy dominance is simply when a teacher provides students with a clear sense of purpose and guidance, both academically and behaviorally.
2. Verbalize and model clear expectations
A common (and costly) misstep is to presume that students share our definitions of appropriate behavior. We must not only explain appropriate and inappropriate behavior, we must also model it. We need to remember that negotiating the nuances of social interaction—all of which takes place in class discussion, group work and peer review exercises—is uncharted territory for many of our students.
3. Consistently follow through with consequences
One way to redirect students’ behavior is by using a wide variety of verbal and physical reactions:
- Move close to the student (you may not even have to make eye contact) and simply stand next to him or her until the behavior stops.
- Establish a variety of signals that correspond to specific behaviors you want to curb. Depending on the grade level, you might consider collaborating with your students on coming up with signals.
- Acknowledge appropriate behavior and do so in every class.
4. Be assertive, not antagonistic
Consider linguist Henry Calero’s suggestion that 55 percent of the messages we transmit to each other come from body movements and 38 percent from the voice—inflection, intonation, volume. Here’s the kicker: A mere 7 percent of the messages we transmit come from words. What this seems to suggest, then, is that you don’t have to be sharped-tongued to be assertive. Let your body language do the work:
- Stand erect and face the offending student, but make sure you keep enough distance so that you are not threatening.
- Avoid an emotional response.
- Do not elevate your voice. It’s generally a fact that humans respond to negative energy in kind: if you are sarcastic or attempt to single out the student by making him or her look stupid, you shouldn’t be surprised when you receive a similar response.
- Do not ignore an inappropriate behavior and do not continue until the behavior subsides.
- If the inappropriate behavior persists, speak to the student after class.
5. Embed Social Skills
- Teach students how to greet each other and lead by example. As students trickle into the classroom, greet them individually and address them by name. A simple, “Hi, Joe. How are you?” breaks down hierarchy and shows students that you care.
- Spend five minutes before (or after) class talking about something not directly related to the course materials. The topic could be something related to popular culture, a TV show, a movie, an artist, or a current event. These conversations have the potential to go “off the rails,” but so what? You’ve already accomplished all of your goals for the day. This activity is short and simple—and it teaches students to negotiate the art of group conversation.
- Embed turn-taking skills in class: Implement group or partner work and in-class discussion.
Ryan O’Rourke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writing tutor, blogger, guitar strummer and former adjunct professor. He graduated from Madonna University in 2005 where he received his B.A. in English and Philosophy. After living and teaching abroad in Taiwan, he returned to Detroit in 2006 to complete his M.A. in English from Marygrove College. Currently, he blogs for Marygrove's OnlineGrad programs including the Master in the Art of Teaching program.