Teaching Opinion

Controlling Classroom Traffic Without Patrolling It

By David Ginsburg — September 03, 2011 4 min read
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In previous posts I gave suggestions for managing your daily supplies and documents. But there’s one “thing” you manage that can’t be stuffed into a tool belt or stowed in a bin: students. And since there are lots of them and only one of you, it’s imperative that you control student traffic before you’re sidetracked, if not steamrolled, by it.

Of course, with your supplies and documents in order, you can be more vigilant, and deter students from leaving their seats unless they have valid reasons for doing so. On the other hand, even when students get up for valid reasons, they can disturb class, be it intentional or not. You must still therefore regulate traffic, which you might be tempted to do by reverting to a longstanding classroom rule: “Students can’t leave their seats without permission.” Yet even if your students were to follow this rule, do you really want them checking with you every time they need to sharpen their pencils, blow their noses, or pitch their trash?

A more practical solution is to let students leave their desks freely, but restrict where they go. Not through formal boundaries, but a classroom layout that compels students to choose the least disruptive routes between their desks and destinations. In other words, arrange your classroom strategically rather than randomly. I previously suggested, for example, that you set up in-trays for students’ papers along the side wall near the entrance to your room. Why there in particular? It’s the most logical place, since for the most part students should turn work in only as they enter or exit class. Here are some other ways to promote traffic patterns that let students take care of business without causing a ruckus:

  1. Steer tardy students directly to their seats. You would think that students entering class late wouldn’t want to draw attention to themselves. Wishful thinking, since many kids see tardiness as their ticket to attention, and thus strut--rather than sneak--to their seats. And even if you ignore them, some of their classmates may indulge them, greeting their belated buddies with a high-five or “What’s up?” To prevent this, assign frequent latecomers seat locations such that the paths from the door to their desks take them past few, if any, of their classmates. (Exactly how you do this will depend on your overall seating arrangement.)
  2. Keep your desk out of the way. The least obstructive location for your desk is where I kept mine: in a storage room. If, however, you’re unwilling to part with your desk, you want to at least position it so that it doesn’t interfere with students or you. Where that is depends on traffic patterns you wish to establish, as well as the instructional strategies you use. In most cases, though, the back of the room is a good place to start.
  3. Leave your stapler out. Let students staple assignments without going out of their way--or getting in the way--and without having to ask you for a stapler. Do this by keeping your stapler where students need it: on the table where you keep in-trays. Or, better yet, bolt your stapler onto the wall alongside those trays so that students won’t misplace or mishandle it.
  4. Move your wastebasket to the rear. It’s disruptive when students parade to and from the wastebasket, especially when they wave their hands in front of the projector or play basketball with their trash. You can put an end to such “garbage” by requiring students to hold onto their trash until class ends. But if you do this, expect as much trash on the floor, or crammed into students’ desks, as in the wastebasket. A better alternative is to move your wastebasket from the front or side of the room to the rear. Now let students throw their trash away when they want to, a privilege they’re less likely to abuse, since trash trips will no longer afford a chance to get attention by blocking the projector or practicing slam dunks. In turn, you’ll have less disruptive trash traffic, and a tidier room.
  5. Keep a box of tissues out. Unless you want students running to you, each other, or the restroom every time they sniffle or sneeze, keep a box of tissues on your desk or a table near the wastebasket in the rear of the room, where students can blow their noses and throw away their tissues without disrupting class. And to keep the box of tissues from “walking” away, affix it to the table using Velcro.
  6. Mount your pencil sharpener on the rear wall. Trips to the pencil sharpener, if located in the front or side of the room, give students the same chance to disturb class as trips to the wastebasket do. Move your sharpener to the rear and, once again, you’ll deny students that opportunity.

Just a few suggestions that can help you control student traffic without having to patrol it--and help maximize teaching and learning time as a result.

Image by Drotar, provided by Dreamstime license

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