A Weekly Newletter
Coming Soon: AVID Mentors
Keep your eye out for a signup sheet that I will put in the workroom.
AVID Student of the Week: 7th Grader Dilon Sok
Please congratulate Dilon when you see him!
Wednesday WICOR by Craig McKinney
O is for…
When I was a teenager, I sang in the school choir. (I took a hiatus for a few years because of some embarrassment issues stemming from a rather late puberty and getting teased for being a ninth-grade soprano, which is interesting character development but not important for this particular example.) In addition to practicing the music we would perform in front of adoring parents snapping Polaroids and wielding camcorders, we also spent what seemed like hours practicing lining up, walking onto the stage, and filing onto the risers. This seemed tedious and unnecessary to me at the time, but hindsight tells me that my choir directors were extremely wise. They knew about the importance of organization.
Do you ever have those days when you think your seventh period class looks like the Hollywood example of a classroom out of control? Either your students are literally bouncing off the walls or they’re drooling face-down on their desks and occasionally snoring. Student engagement seems like a far-flung fantasy. You stand helplessly in front of the class and consider other career options. You silently count to ten and then start over at one, hoping not to blow your top. Most of us have experienced this a time or two. Or daily.
Of course, there’s no simple solution to this, or I would have written about it in a book and retired wealthy. But one way that can help any teacher gain some extra control and carve out a few moments of sanity is to implement some new organizational strategies in the classroom. Classrooms with efficient procedures minimize downtime and maximize student productivity and engagement. When the teacher is organized, he or she appears prepared, and the students respond favorably. Additionally, impeccable organization makes efficient use of time and materials, which inevitably lowers teacher stress.
Organization,the O in AVID’s WICOR acronym, is also vital for student success. When students learn to manage their stuff and their time, they get things done, turn things in, and perhaps even have a few spare minutes after checking off their to-do list to play a video game or text their friends. Just think. If you were transparent with your students about your mid-year improvements in the organization of your classroom, this could spark some valuable conversations about the importance of organization for your students, too.
Here are a few of my thoughts about some organizational areas that will give you maximum bang for your efforts:
Managing Time: Do you have a procedure for your students to get them working as soon as the bell rings so you can take attendance and tend to teacher tasks? Do you plan out your transitions between activities so there’s little or no downtime? Kids with nothing to do are kids who run amok. My mom, who was a second grade teacher, knew that, so she kept my brother and me busy. Keep your students working bell-to-bell. Move smoothly between tasks. Set clear expectations for what students should do when they finish work before the others. The more time you spend planning things like this, the more smoothly your class will run.
Managing Materials: How long does it take you to hand back papers and distribute handouts? Do your students have something to do while this is taking place, or do they wait on you? I have found that passing out handouts and handing in papers across the rows (if you still have rows) instead of from front to back is more efficient, and it keeps the kids facing the way you want them to face. If your class is set up in interactive pods (because that’s how collaboration happens!), have your handouts sorted into piles with the exact number you need for each pod. Or ask one student from each row or pod to get up and fetch the materials for the others. This gives that wiggly student a chance to release some energy. Or how about trying a brain break for the kids while you’re handing things out? You can give instructions that allow students to stand and stretch, jog in place (time them!), or play a quick game of rock/paper/scissors with their table while you move about the room and distribute things. Another option is to deliver the next handout to rows or tables face-down while students are working on something else. When it’s time to transition, ask them to pass the handouts around the table or across the row. I find that it’s easy to alphabetize papers I need to hand back and then ask my students to line up in front of the class in A-B-C order so I can give them their papers as they file past me. This takes no time at all and gives the kids a stretch break, too!
Giving Cues: What do you do when you want your kids to get quiet and pay attention? I’ve witnessed many effective strategies. Yelling isn’t one of them (I mean, it works sometimes, but it’s not good for your blood pressure nor for creating a positive classroom climate). One teacher I know says, “Loud…,” and her students know to respond with, “...and clear,” and turn their attention to her. Another says, “Watch me whip,” and her students get quiet after answering, “Watch me nae nae.” Choose something that is fun and that fits your unique personality.
Knowing What Goes Where: Do your students know where to get makeup work when they’ve been absent? Is there a place where students are supposed to turn in assignments so you’ll be sure to find them? Having clear locations for these two processes to occur solves many problems and keeps things running like clockwork.
Giving Time But Not Too Much Time: Are you aware of how much time it takes for your students to finish an assignment or activity? Do students who are finished early know what they’re expected to do? A good rule of thumb, is to allow less time than you think it will take for all students to finish. Set a timer (perhaps on the screen where the kids can see it). As the time gets close, ask the students to hold up fingers to indicate how many more minutes they need to finish. Adjust the time if needed, and make provisions for those who are finished.
Dealing With Devices: I’m the first to say that handheld devices have an educational place in the classroom, but without a plan in place, cellphones will creep out of hiding constantly and become a barrier to learning. Devise a method for letting students know when it’s okay to use their phones and when they need to stay out of sight.
Posting Important Announcements in a Predictable Place: Prominently display assignments, due dates, objectives, and other essential information consistently, and make students aware of where to look to find them. Encourage students to keep a planner, and provide time in class for everyone to record important dates and assignments.
Having organized materials and procedures is the key to efficiency. That’s how Southwest Airlines gets everyone to line up in an orderly manner and board the plane quickly. That’s how the post office handles long lines and numerous needs without having customers go postal.
I’d like to give a quick nod to another useful resource if you decide you’re serious about adding some new organization to your teaching life. Two of my outstanding educator friends, Allison Venuto and Laura Blankenship, are creating podcasts that help teachers be more efficient, handle stress, and leave work each day with a smile (or at least not with a frown.) Check out their Ideal ISD podcast here. It makes perfect listening on your commute to work.