With a classroom full of computers at my disposal, there is a long list of ways students can get distracted and lose productivity.
I see browsers pointed at ESPN and prom dress websites on a regular basis.
There’s newstudyhall, a site with 100+ mindless games to fritter time away.
If iPads are the device of choice in your classroom, you’ve probably seen Flappy Bird or an array of knock-off games.
Even when students are on-task, there are plenty of inappropriate things they could type or do to derail class.
A very common question I hear at conferences is: “How do you manage students? Keep them on task? Keep them from doing inappropriate things?”
My answer lacks the “silver bullet” flash that they’re probably looking for, but it cuts to the heart of the matter.
Classroom management in the digital environment is much like classroom management in the traditional environment.
I treat my online spaces — blogs, our class website, student-created documents or drawings or presentations — like the paper and pencil ones of decades and centuries before.
If they type something in a backchannel or a blog post (or anything else that’s published immediately), it’s treated just like they’re saying it out loud in front of class.
If it’s part of a file or any other work that’s turned in, it’s just like putting a paper in my old tray of papers to grade (which I still have … buried in a closet somewhere).
Classroom management is classroom management. Kind of like how good solid pedagogy is good solid pedagogy.
Doesn’t matter whether you’re deep in the digital realm or in a traditional class that looks like the kind that have dominated classrooms for more than a century.
Despite that, there are still some maxims that I hold on to to keep my students on task and in bounds:
Circulate frequently. I probably look like I’m walking laps trying to burn calories when my students are working. My classroom is in a U shape with an inner U and an outer U. I’ll walk the inner U, then the outer U, then repeat. Over and over. I like to be close to my students, and I like for them to know that I’m paying attention. If you want to watch from your desk, however, there are several options. My school uses the free version of LanSchool, which allows the teacher’s computer to monitor what’s going on at all of the student workstations.
Be inquisitive. As I work my laps around the classroom, I like to stop and make observations. And ask questions. When I do this, I’m not giving pop quizzes and hovering to make sure they’re being good (although, in a round-about way, I really am!). If someone writes something funny in a story, I’ll stop and chuckle. If a student handles a tricky sentence deftly, I’ll stop and praise. I try to keep my observations positive.
Develop relationships and show respect. I work with high school students, and respect is huge for them. If they feel that you’re belittling them or acting better than them, some will do everything in their power to make your life miserable. I try to start at the beginning of the year — at the beginning of the period at the door — to “grease the wheel” and make life easier and happier for everyone. If I have laid the foundation early, I’ve found that it shows in the day-to-day activities.
Set mini-deadlines. When my students work on a longer-term project, I’ll often set smaller, short-term benchmarks to keep them on task. When my students are given several days, an entire week or longer to work, many see all of that time and feel no desire to get work accomplished quickly to avoid miscues or delays. When they have smaller deadlines — that have bearing on their final project grade — that helps.
Keep it engaging. I learned this one in education classes in college, and in this digital age it hasn’t changed: nothing helps classroom management like well-written, engaging lesson plans. If you’re creating quality lessons that are relevant to students’ lives and are challenging them, your headaches will probably be cured with much less Tylenol.
What strategies have you employed to keep students focused and appropriate in class? Share them in a comment below!
Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:
- PowerED Up (June 2-3, Perry Central Jr/Sr High School, Leopold, Ind.)
- Tippecanoe School Corp. technology integration workshop (June 3-4, Tippecanoe County, Ind.)
- Infinite iPossibilities Conference (June 10, Center Grove High School, Greenwood, Ind.)
- Knight Time Technology (June 13, East Noble High School, Kendallville, Ind.)
- Making Waves with eLearning (June 17-18, West Lafayette High School, West Lafayette, Ind.)
- Conference on a Couch (June 20, Danville Community High School, Danville, Ind.)
- Digipalooza (June 24-25, Scott County School District 2, Scottsburg, Ind.)
- Indiana Summer of eLearning conferences around Indiana (dates and locations to be announced)
Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!