Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Transform your Classroom with Intentional Strategies

 (Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes)

Have you noticed over the years that managing classroom behaviour isn’t getting any easier? It’s time to up your game with these strategies... 

My role as a pedagogical coach was very diverse, and I was called on to assist teachers in many different ways. One reason I am asked for assistance is when a teacher is having issues with classroom management. 

How can teachers

  • minimise undesirable off-task behaviours?

  • maximise desirable on-task behaviours?

Most teachers have the answers, they just need the time and space to come up with their own solutions. The best behaviour management strategies occur well before there are problems, they require teachers to be proactive, intentional and explicit. Highly accomplished teachers do this so effortlessly that an observer may dismiss the calm in the class as “a good class”. 

I was called in to assist a pre-service teacher with classroom management strategies. The first step was to observe their class. The teacher was teaching a middle years science class, and after explaining the instructions of the science lab the teacher said “Okay kids - you can start the practical now.”

Kids pooled around the trolley, grabbing equipment. The vibe was definitely excited - but chaotic. It was evident that not all students had listened to the instructions. Some students were off task and disengaged. When all was done there was a trolley full of haphazardly replaced equipment, some sinks had paper towel and other debris in them, tables were not cleaned. The lab coat cupboard looked a mess, some lab coats were just thrown on the ground. The bell went and the students fled, leaving the lab in chaos. The teacher was increasingly frustrated during the lab and towards the end they were raising their voice to be heard.

In the debrief, the teacher was despairing - “They don’t listen, they are such a bad class!” The teacher had given no thought to how they wanted the students to behave before the class started, only after the crime. I asked

“How do you want the lab to look after the practical? Do you want everything put back on the trolley the way it came in?” 


“How could you ensure all students listened to the instructions and are working safely?”

We workshopped and rehearsed some strategies such as verbalising expectations. “Look at the trolley carefully, that is how I want it to be left when you pack up, exactly as you found it.” “I have checked all the sinks and they are clean, please make sure they are clean at the end of the lab, and wipe down the benches for the next class coming in.” A shift from “don’t do <this>” to “I would like to see <this> because...”

When the teacher was explaining the experiment they were to check if all students had a clear understanding. In starting the explanation the teacher was not to speak over the students to command attention, they were to use a non-verbal cue of being silent and raising their hand. The teacher was to just wait until all students were quiet and attending.  If a student stopped listening they were to stop talking and use their gaze as a non-verbal cue. The teacher was to wait until the student was back engaged. If that didn’t work, the teacher was to move closer to the student until they realised the class had stopped due to their talking.

Another strategy was to assign responsibilities to the students. The teacher rehearsed:

“In your lab group, appoint one person who is in charge of safety. Appoint one person to ensure all the steps are being followed. Appoint one person to be in charge of ensuring the bench is clean and everything put away neatly”. They also wrote these responsibilities on the board.

As the teacher was to move around the classroom they were to chat with the students to focus them on the learning intentions and success criteria, as well as ask questions to promote critical thinking. As for those pesky lab coats that needed to be folded and placed in the cupboard, two students were appointed lab coat managers, one for the folding and another for the placement in the cupboard.

We also looked at time management, making sure students had enough time to complete all the assigned tasks.

We also had a plan for what would happen if things started to go wrong. The teacher was to stop the class and reiterate any instructions or any new information that had been forgotten, employing wait time and checking for understanding. Most importantly the teacher was to remain calm and consistent. Every time a student strayed from the clear expectation the teacher was to be patient and understanding that every moment was a teachable moment, and that they were teaching the students how to conduct themselves as much as they were teaching them science.

I observed the next lab session and the flow of the lesson was radically different from the previous lesson I had observed. The teacher told the class what a great job they all did, they singled out the lab coat managers for their oversight of a difficult job. The teacher’s next step was to make sure that they continued the intentional approach. 

Intentional classroom management strategies include checking for understanding, Being intentional and explicit, Assign responsibilities to students, Verbally cue students for behavioural expectation, Be calm and consistent, Employ wait time, Use non-verbal cues.

What other strategies might you have suggested to the teacher? Have your say in the comments.

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