Friday, March 1, 2019

5 Essential Classroom Management Strategies to Keep Your Inclusive Class Running Smoothly

As any teacher will tell you, teaching isn't just about lessons, marking school work, and tests. It's also about keeping track of a million little details such as how many available pencils are in your classroom at any given time, which student has gone to the bathroom, who needs to finish an assignment, and remembering to hand-out permission forms for the class field trip. It's enough to make you forget what you have to teach that day!

Classroom management plans are established to make school life a little less chaotic for teachers and a lot more predictable for students. Those plans are made of routines and protocols that are meant to be consistent and effective. For example, students can write their name (or use a name tag) on the board before leaving the classroom. Thus, a teacher only has to glance at the board to know who or who is not in the classroom. 

Having an established classroom management plan also has the added benefit of promoting positive behavior. Students know exactly where to find supplies, how to submit homework, or where to hang up their coat and backpack. There is no jostling for the best spot in a line up or roaming aimlessly looking for a pair of scissors to use during an art activity. 

It took me years to develop an effective classroom management plan for my inclusive class. There was so much trial and error.....and error and error! While classroom management plans are established to keep structure and routine in a classroom, in an inclusive class they must also be flexible plans that can adjust according to the diverse needs of the students in the class. 

In an inclusive class, plans must be responsive to students with learning differences, physical challenges, or social/emotional needs. For example, one year I had a student who had difficulty transitioning from home to school. He would arrive at school unhappy and not comfortable following any of our established morning routines. Rather than expecting him to arrive at school, put away his back-pack, hand in his homework, and get started on his morning work we created an alternate plan. Before coming to class, he would walk down to the library, meet with the librarian, and get a print-out of the daily weather forecast (he was fascinated with the weather). He would then bring it to the class and read it during our morning meeting. This allowed him time to settle into school which led to more positive outcomes in learning and behavior through the day.

Anyway, back to the topic! In this post, I want to share with you some of the successful classroom managements plans that I established (through practice and positive reinforcement) in my inclusive classes. Aside from the typical procedures such as sharpening pencils and going to the bathroom, here are a few extras that I feel are just as essential. They are not in any particular order of priority but give you an idea or a springboard for setting up routines in your classroom! 

1.  Color Code the Classroom - this includes books, desks, centers, and supplies. Grouping items by a color can give students a visual reference point as well as a sense of organization. Color coding is also known to create efficiency and improve memory. For example, I grouped subjects by color (i.e. supplies, books, folders, labels related to Social Studies were in blue). This reduced a significant amount of time and confusion that the students spent looking for materials, as well as directing their attention to scheduling. With the student desks grouped by color, I could also call on the color group to meet me at the carpet for a reading activity or ask them to line up at the door. Assigning colors also  avoided the perceived heirarchy created by numbers and letters and an excellent way of promoting equity in the classroom!

2. Sit Spots - not only were students assigned desks to sit in, I also had a seating plan if they were in the library, an assembly, or with me during a small group lesson. When necessary, I could ask the students to sit with their desk group in PE class or sit in a row with their desk group. The goal of sit spots is to create optimal learning conditions in all aspects of the school environment. Of course, students were also given times to make their own seating choices. Furthermore, they had the opportunity to give me feeback and voice any concerns over their seating assignment so adjustments could be made.

3. The Morning Sponge - The beginning of the school day can be hectic - from greeting students, to answering parent questions at the door, and collecting homework. To facilitate a stress-free start to the day, I asked the students to do 3 things as soon as they came in the room:

a) They were to hang up coats and unpack their backpacks.

b) Hand-in any homework/notes. 

c) Choose a calm activity. This could be reading (independent or buddy), working on a word puzzle, drawing/coloring, finishing unfinished work, listening to music, journaling or meditating. 

Having this time acted like a "sponge". It drew students into the school day and prepared them for learning. It also allowed me to take care of any administrative issues. Additionally, I had time to circulate around the room and check in with my students before the day started!

4. Student Planners - student planners are such a valuable tool for helping students keep track of their activities and responsibilities. To ensure the planners were a successful component of our day, I set aside time in the day for the students to fill out their planners. I would then check to make sure the planners were filled out with the correct information. Additionally, I would check the planners again in the morning for any notes/messages that were sent from home as well as monitor the completion of homework. 
5. Signals for Attention - I found that giving a signal for attention worked best in two parts:

1. I would verbally let the students know that I needed their attention.

2. I would hold up my hand and count down from 5 using my fingers. 

This approach gave the students both a verbal and visual signal that their attention was needed. They were also given a moment to stop what they were doing so they could give their full attention. By using my hands AND voice, I could use this strategy in any school/learning setting. I didn't have to remember to carry around a bell or other type of attention-getting instrument. I didn't have to speak loudly in large groups because the students could see me raise my hand. It was an effective, low-tech way to communicate when necessary.

5. Unfinished Work - .....never goes back in the desk! I always make the assumption that whatever went in the desk would never come back out. Thus, if work was not complete, it went straight into the student's backpack (for homework) or in a tray on my desk (to finish at a later time). 

Do you have any questions or any other ideas to add? Leave your comments below! You can find more information about creating inclusive classrooms (and modifying curriculum) in my book, Inclusion in Action: Practical Strategies to Modify Your Curriculum.

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