24 August 2013

Classroom Expectations: Mission Impossible?

I read 'Teach Like a Champion' over the summer, which made me realise the importance of setting up classroom routines that establish clear guidelines and expectations, leaving more time for learning.

This year, I created a presentation on Google to allow me to set up my expectations for learners to share in the first lesson. I interspersed the guidelines with games to get to know names and personalities.

I called theses guidelines expectations rather than rules, to set up focused routines that place emphasis on why we are there - to learn. I began by explaining that having clear expectations allows us ALL to know where we stand with each other and lets us get on with the important stuff!

I started with contact details - my website, Twitter and email address - so they immediately know how to get in touch if they need to. Later on in the week, we also set up Edmodo accounts as our Learning Portal.

Next we played a name game - to get them listening, focused and learning each others names. Names are so important. To establish great relationships, learners need to know you care - and knowing their name quickly is essential. challenge myself to know almost all my learners' names after the first lesson and to be able to say goodbye to everyone by name after the second lesson. Using games also breaks up the 'rules' by having a bit of fun and getting them on their feet and thinking.

Next I focus on organisation and what I expect them to have each lesson - again to allow them to be able to do the learning. Then I explain what I expect in terms of reading - at the start of every lesson and every day at home - and writing, where I explain our 'Spilling Ink' programme.

Finally I move on to routines, beginning with entering the classroom. I explain what I expect and why (to get learning started straight away) and then we practise, again to get them focused and on their feet.
Once this is established, we move onto behaviour whilst in the room. This is in two parts and both ideas came from the 'Teach Like a Champion' book

The first concerns hand signals for common needs - toilet break, pencils, tissues and moving around. This technique is to avoid interruptions to learning and teaching, and to prevent breaking working-quiet (we all know that if the room is quiet and they are working well, the slightest noise can start off more noise and disrupt learning, so staying quiet helps keep them focused). I also have learners applying to be classroom assistants who will be responsible for distributing work and helping me out - again, to help minimise time wasting and ensure smooth routines that aid maximum learning time. Learners are invited to add to this signal list if any other regular movements arise. Of course, to break things up, I hide the screen and 'test' their use of signals.

Next is STAR - an acronym to describe the behaviour I want to see in the classroom. I will then simply need to ask them to be a STAR, to remind them how they need to behave to learn whilst in my classroom.

Finally, we establish a routine for packing up and leaving the classroom. I have a separate Powerpoint for this that automatically plays the Mission Impossible theme tune whilst displaying reminders about tidying up, collecting all equipment, homework etc. (Google Presentation does not offer this function). Their challenge is to be ready to leave with a classroom that is ready for the next learners by then end of the song - which is about two and a half minutes. The Pavlov in me envisions them eventually responding to the music without my having to say anything. Of course, we practise this too and, as they come back in, practise the 'Entering The Classroom' expectation as we do.

I can see a difference already. My learners have responded amazingly, they enter the room and are reading within seconds. They pack up as a team and leave my classroom perfect for the next class. Our environment is calm, welcoming and relaxed, as we all know what is expected and behave like STARs. Learning is our focus and time is maximised as routines are established. Even after only two weeks, these routines are becoming embedded in our classroom culture. In addition, learners with particular needs in my class feel safe and secure, as they are clear about what is expected and know how things work.

As a bonus, according to some of the learners' dads,  I am also the coolest teacher because I play Mission Impossible :)

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