Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Classroom Management and some new (for me) Whole Brain Teaching methods

I'm a little late to the party, but I'm linking up to Tried It Tuesday with Holly from Fourth Grade Flipper! I DID start this post on Tuesday...

So this week I decided to implement another level of Whole Brain Teaching methods in my classroom. If you're not familiar with it, check it out here. Now for the longest blog post in history! I hope you hang in there and earn the freebies I've included!

I have had a lot of success with the "Class - Yes" method for the last several years. I love using different attention getters that have a choral response. October's was the ever popular "Hocus Pocus - Everybody Focus."

For the last several years I have mentored a yearlong intern from Penn State, and each year I am reminded what it is like to be in a classroom as a brand new teacher with limited classroom management skills. This year I was able to attend a brief training about whole brain teaching and it made me think that there were some things I could put in place to help my intern. I decided to give two of the Whole Brain basics a try in my classroom that I had heard of but never tried. I've been really impressed even after just one day!

The two things I'm trying are "The Rules" and "The Scoreboard."

The Rules are simply a list of 5 expectations. The catch is that kids are expected to learn them, and be able to repeat them AND a motion that matches the rule, on command. I modified two of the rules slightly, so here are my "rules" and motions.

Rule #1: Follow directions quickly and quietly. 
(hand shoots out at quickly and comes back as one finger to lips at quietly) I added the "quietly" part.

Rule #2: Raise your hand for permission to speak.
(hand raises quickly then drops to mouth level and makes talking motion)

Rule #3: Always be in just the right place.
(kids point straight to the ground with both hands over and over)
This takes the place of the more typical "Raise your hand to leave your seat" as that goes against other procedures in my class, ie. getting a tissue, going to the bathroom, getting a sip of water, etc.

Rule #4: Make smart choices.
(kids point to their temples and twist their hands back and forth, like winding gears)

Rule #5: Keep your dear teacher happy.
(kids use their two index fingers to make a heart shape on their chest at dear and then do jazz hands at happy)

Whenever kids are sent off to a situation where one of the rules will be in effect it is good to say something like, "Okay, before you go...Rule #1?" Then the kids say the rule, make the motion, and off they go quickly and quietly to follow the direction!

Now comes The Scoreboard!

This has already been a lot of fun. And it is pretty basic. The teacher simply draws a simple scoreboard on the markerboard. One side has a smiley face (that's where the students' earned points go) and one side has a frownie face (that's where the teacher's earned points go.) Whenever the kids are following the rules flawlessly they are given a point. If they aren't following the rules, or something grievous happens then the teacher earns a point. If the kids have more points than the teacher at the end of the day then they win.

Now, here's another fun part of this. Anytime the kids get a point they get to have a "One Second Party" while I write the point. Anytime I get a point the kids have to let out a "Mighty Groan." When the party/groan is over the kids are focused on the teacher. It is recommended that to use the scoreboard correctly, the students should never be more than 3 points ahead, so a little system manipulation is needed. I think breaking that rule occasionally would be okay though, just to show that it can be done.

Click the image to grab the
tags for free!
In my class we decided to implement a leveling system like in a video game. We're at Level 1, and we need 10 experience points to "level up." Each day any points that the kids have over me go into that pot. When we reach ten points we'll level up, receive a reward, and then start over. Just like in a game, higher levels are more challenging and rewards are greater. Our reward for reaching level 2 are these sweet little brag tags I whipped up using the template from Fifth in the Middle!

I'm really looking forward to seeing how these methods play out, and I'm hoping that they are valuable to my intern when she begins teaching some lessons and being in front of the kids more and more.

Now, to toot my own horn for a second, even before implementing these things I have always thought that classroom management is a strength of mine. Disclaimer: Let me start by saying that it is a HUGE pet peeve of mine when fellow teachers discount my hard work in this area when they say things like, "Well, you're a man so kids must listen better." Aaargh!

Aside from basic attention getters, and the whole brain things I've mentioned, I excel at classroom management because I do these things:

I build a strong classroom community.

We take time at the beginning of the year, and throughout the year to learn about and celebrate each other. Positive reinforcement is the norm. Additionally, I make it a mission to get to know each and every one of my kids. I have a kiddo that is obsessed with Star Wars, so I watched all 6 movies again one Saturday so that I could actually talk to him. Otherwise I'd have had no chance of getting to know him. 

I plan for every part of my school day.

I literally have a plan for every minute of every day. I make that plan a week in advance. I then e-mail that plan to all of the paraprofessionals that work in my classroom throughout the day, and all of the learning support teachers that serve any of my kids. I'm not required to do this. If kids are going to need a material for the next lesson, that material was prepped the day before. Little things like "we need index cards for this and I don't have any" or "hmmm...what are we going to do next?!" are the quickest way to wreck your day in my opinion.

I follow through on everything I say to kids.

If I say it, then it will happen. Conversely, I don't say things or fight battles that don't matter or that I can't win or back up. Empty threats are pointless. I'm always ready to follow through on any claim I make. Usually I don't have to back up a "crazy claim" more than once. Case in point, if my kids are riled up on Halloween and having a hard time lining up quietly for lunch...we'll sit down and line up again until they get it right. Late for lunch? Oh well. I'll tell the next teacher to jump us in line.

I have high expectations for behavior, independence, and academics. I expect respect.

I know all of my kids can learn what I need them to learn. I know they can do a lot of activities independently. I trust them to make good decisions, and I give guidance when they don't. I expect students to treat everyone with respect and I let them know how completely shocked and flabbergasted I am when they don't.

I make consequences match the offense.

We don't use a card pulling system or a clip moving system in my room, though I did for many years. I became disillusioned with it for a couple reasons. They seemed to focus on the negative, and the consequences seemed rather static. I know some teachers have clip charts that go in both directions (kids start in the middle and can move up OR down in level of behavior) and I think that helps a lot. 

My biggest problem is when a kiddo moves two clips and then has to lose 5 minutes of recess. Why? What did she move the clips for? In my room the consequence matches the offense. Kiddo purposefully writes on the board in sharpie? She gets to locate the head custodian and ask for the supplies to clean it. After she cleans it, she sends an e-mail to him (CC:ed to Mom and Dad of course) to thank him for the use of his materials. (This activity may have had to happen during recess or another desirable time of course!)

Obviously there are always some exceptions to the rules. There are always going to be those kiddos who just have a really hard time following rules or being kind to others. Special circumstances may call for special solutions. Good classroom management isn't magic.

But while there are always going to be some cases where nothing I know works, I've found that classroom management mostly takes care of itself when I do the things I do. That makes me a happy teacher! What do you all think about classroom management?

And if you hung in this long and want a copy of my rules...grab yourself a set here by clicking the image of Rule #1 to the left!


  1. I absolutely agree with all you've said! I am pretty flexible and I do think that helps. I know some teachers that are pretty controlling and end up getting into power struggles over things that aren't really important. I plan so that there is absolutely ALWAYS something the students should be doing. I also build routine into my classroom. Students know exactly what to expect when they come into my classroom. I am a firm believer in voicing expectations. I don't think it's fair to students if you have expectations, but haven't stated them clearly. It puts them at a disadvantage. All this being said, respect works both ways. I build meaningful relationships with my students and I genuinely care about them. That makes life in my classroom pretty good.
    Are We There Yet?

  2. We use a card flip system at my school and I HATE it. Unfortunately it's school wide, and part of our policy. I have to send my principal a record of what cards my kids were on each term.
    I do like how you have made punishments that are fitting of the crime! I might see if I can change a few things slightly next year.

    Thanks for sharing! I love WBT - even if I'm only using a few things at a time :)
    The E-Z Class

  3. I'm a big fan of 'the punishment needs to fit the crime" idea... I try to do it too, but I can't always think of an appropriate consequence. What do you do for constant talking/blurting out?

  4. I am just trying out the scoreboard now. How are you going to tweak it to make it harder once they get the 10 points? That is what I am trying to figure out. I know they have some suggestions in the book too, but curious about what you plan on doing.

  5. Nick,
    Excellent post. I really enjoyed hearing what you do and your seasons behind it.
    I can remember when I first started I had a tougher mindset when it came to consequences with kids. I quickly changed my attitude and realized that a conversation about better decisions (and a stiff warning) were (and are) probably the best way because then your teaching kids, but also building relationships and trust with them. I'd say that has worked wonders for me and it makes for a better school environment.

    I'm amazed about you planning. I can't imagine how much time that takes, but bravo to you.

    thanks for sharing
    Digital: Divide & Conquer

  6. Helpful as always, Nick! As a new teacher I could use some more classroom management strategies. I have used some sign language in my class and my students really respond well to it. I will implement the signs with the rules next week!
    Forever A Teacher, Forever A Learner

  7. Your posts are always just what I need. All of your comments about classroom management have been confirmed in my class this year. The weeks that I spend planning each and every minute of my day, and actually over planning my day, those are the weeks that runt he most smoothly. My students actually commented how quickly the days go by when they are hard at work and don't have to wonder what to do next. I am eager to implement WBT methods in my class but haven't done it yet. I am not sure what I am waiting for. Thanks for all you do to invest in other teachers by sharing your wisdom and experience.


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