Please raise your hand if you’ve ever felt totally exhausted after a lesson. You flop into your chair (or onto the floor) and you try to make sense of what just happened. You know the type of lesson I’m talking about – the kids just don’t, or won’t listen, they continually disrupt you when you are trying to give an instruction, they make noise on the instruments before permission and somehow you cannot pinpoint any one student that seemed to cause the problem!
I know I have had these lessons, and even recently. I have been teaching for over 16 years, in a music classroom, and I still have a Year 7 class this year that I walk out at the end of the lesson and just scratch my head asking, “what on earth just happened?” It is at this point that I go back to my old bag of tricks and use the strategy that I am going to share with you in this post. This is my number one “go to” for managing difficult classes, and the reason it is, is simple – it works. You can download the FREE resource to use in your classes, right now by heading on over to my TPT store where you will find it ready and waiting for you.
So, what is my number one strategy? L E A R N I N G. Yep it’s that simple. Well sort of, but it is all based around this word LEARNING. Now, before we get too far, this is a strategy to be used with a whole class of disruptive students, it is meant to help manage the whole class using a very visual and extrinsic method. If you don’t like this type of management strategy, then this may not work for you, but if you have tried everything else, then give this a go – you have nothing to lose! You will find that after a while, the students move onto more intrinsic motivation, but that cannot be achieved without you being able to actually teach them in the first place.
The method is very simple, and it is not my brain child, I had a great mentor early on in my career who helped me through a lot of teaching issues. This classroom management strategy has its origins in a David Langford tool. I must admit, I cannot find where my original information came from so I apologise now for not giving any more details than this. The first step is simple either write or use the download and display prominently in your room the word – LEARNING. I currently use my whiteboard, but in the past, I have used a classroom cupboard and even the back of a piano!
Next you need to explain to the students what the letters mean. Now this is the most difficult part, I suggest that if the class is “that difficult” then ask a colleague or even your head teacher/deputy/principal to be present while you tell the class what the new strategy means. What I tell me class goes something like this….
OK, who would agree, by raising their hands and not speaking, that this class, as a whole, has not been on their best behaviour of late? (most of the hands will go up) So, if we choose, because it is a choice, to not listen to the teacher, what is not happening? (I am looking for the answer that they are not learning) Alright then we agree, that if I cannot teach, then you cannot learn? I don’t know if you realise this, but, I did not go to University to become a “disciplinarian”, I went to University to become a “teacher” and often with this class I feel that I cannot actually teach. And that is very sad, my job is to teach, and your job is to learn. Who agrees that your job is to learn? Good. (Now you might have to discuss this a bit further, but you get the idea).
On the board behind me, what do these letters spell? – LEARNING. So why do you think they might be there? (collect answers and discuss as needed) Well those are all great ideas, but here is what these letters mean for both you as a class, and myself as a teacher. Each time the class chooses to not listen to my instructions, whatever that instruction might be, I will raise my hand with five fingers held high. When you see and hear me count backwards from 5, you will have until number 1 to be quiet. If you choose to continue talking/playing/not following instructions at that point, then I will remove a letter from the LEARNING. I will continue to do this until you are quiet and follow my instructions. Now there’s a catch, each time a letter is removed, that means a whole class punishment. This could be a detention, or less time on the instruments, or whatever is appropriate for the lesson.
You might, sometimes, be able as a class to earn those letters back, but we will cross that bridge when it comes time.
Can someone please repeat back to me what is going to happen when the class chooses to be disruptive and not follow my instructions? (check for understanding)
Now let’s practice this and see if we all can choose to do the right thing, otherwise you will see by the letters if we are actually LEARNING, or not in the lesson.
These instructions can take up to a whole lesson, depending on how difficult the students want to be! Now be warned, this is not a magic set of letters and all you must do is display them, you must follow through and be consistent every single lesson. Eventually you will find that as soon as you put up your hand and start counting backwards, you will only get to number 3! The strategy usually works fairly quickly, but students will have to be reminded from time to time, you will still have some “off” lessons and that will be because of lots of external factors – you are dealing with multiple children after all.
I have used this strategy with all my classes, both young and old, and it does work. I have only had one class in all my years of teaching and using this strategy who got to the second N. Not one class has ever got to the G! I think that this is because I tell them that if we do, I start doubling the time, and they don’t like that idea and they will naturally reign themselves in.
If you find that the above strategy is taking a little longer than you would like to take effect, try discussing this “truth” that I use below. You will find that you may have to adjust it for your situation, but I am sure you can work it out. This little bit of math shocks them quite a bit, and I must admit that I use this truth mainly with my Year 7 classes as it has the most impact on them. Before I tell you the story, my last two schools have had 5 60-minute lessons a day, and my state has 4 terms a year of approximately 10 weeks each – so the numbers are in my favour for this truth. So, it goes something like this…
Lately, I have not been very happy with the amount of time wasted during our lessons. Last lesson I secretly tallied up how much time was lost because of the behaviour of a few people who chose not to follow instructions. Guess how much time was wasted?
It was about 15 minutes. Now last lesson was fairly normal for this class, agree? So, as a fraction, how much is 15 minutes from our 60-minute lesson?
It’s a quarter of our lesson time. So, let’s be honest, is this happening nearly every single lesson? (hands will go up and they will start to nod their heads in agreement) I thought so.
Let’s do a little maths then. (the eyes roll at this stage) So, if you as a class wasted, 15 minutes of every lesson every day for the whole school year, how much time do you think that equates to? (lots of guesses here that will not be even close to the answer) it actually equals to ONE whole terms worth of work. That is 10 weeks of 25 lessons, or 250 hours wasted. (They will be shocked by this – which is what you want)
Now, imagine if you did that in Year7,8,9 and 10. How much time is now wasted over those four years?
A whole year’s worth of work has not been completed. What this means for you is that you might only be at a Year 9 standard when you are going into senior school – Years 11 and 12. Is this setting you up for success? Does this mean that you have a great chance of doing well in Years 11 and 12? Well, what can you choose to do about this?
At this stage, we discuss what a good student looks like, how they can choose to be a better student, and how making good choices now effects their chances of a good job when they leave school. Please adjust and use as needed with your classes. I only teach from Years 7 – 12, and I don’t think this would have as great an impact on students that may be too young to really understand the concept of time.
In the FREE download, there are TWO different versions of the LEARNING letters, you can choose which set will suit your room. Here’s a handy hint for you. When you print them out, laminate them, then use magnets on the back (those sticky one you find in craft shops) this way they will stay on the board easier. OR if you are going to use a non-magnet friendly surface, try using the Velcro sticky dots at the top and bottom – this way when you move the letter, you still have Velcro dots to hold it up!
Until next time
Julia from Jooya