Teaching Secrets: Taking My Students on a Classroom Tour
Hitting the second week of school means getting down some of the routines and procedures that make your classes run more like a well-oiled machine than a smoking jalopy. This can also create a surprising amount of extra time for teaching and learning. Here’s how I do it in my middle grades' classroom.
Midway through the first month of school, I offer my tween students a tour of the user-friendly features of my room. And I try to work in bits of humor because, by the second week, they have been talked “at” so much, I think their eyes are permanently rolled up into their heads.
The first tour stop is the “Start of Class Procedure and Class Agenda,” projected on my interactive whiteboard. I use the SmartNotebook software and create a master copy that I can use and re-use everyday. I just change the date at the top. Immediately after the date, I have the three or four step routine that helps the students get everything ready to go before the class starts.
Step 1 is always checking to see if the desks have to be re-configured in some way. I organize students in pairs, triads, and groups of four, depending on the instructional activity. That means they have to become proficient at moving desks around in a short amount of time (<45 seconds), so I have the most common configurations saved as .jpeg pictures and project them as needed.
Step 2 is to check the Homework Board and write down what they see. Honestly, students are pretty good about writing down assignments. What they struggle with is writing down “No Homework.” I try to instill the need to always put something in their planner just so they know they looked at the board and don’t wonder later if the space is blank because they forgot.
Step 3 requires them to get out the standard materials (spiral, book, and pencil), plus anything extra that I’ve listed in the agenda. Here’s where I send them to “my table” to pick up handouts so that I don’t waste time during class passing out papers.
Step 4 sends them to the Homework Center where they put their homework into the proper basket. I put a sign up by the Homework Center that reminds them to check to be sure their name is on the paper before it goes in the basket.
It’s also super easy to convert the SmartNotebook files into PDF documents, which can be uploaded onto our class webpage. Not in the second week of school, but definitely later on, students will start to ask me to save them to the site so they can download them once they get home. I usually teach a small cadre of students how to prep the files and when we’re packing up at the end of class, they just go to my desk and perform this task. I upload the files after school.
The next step is the Supply Center. This is where I keep everything to which students have immediate access all the time. On the first day of school, I collect their supplies and put them in communal bins. This makes having all the needed supplies much easier for them than having to remember to bring them from their lockers.
The other key component to the Supply Center is having two trays that store all the extra copies of handouts that I provide. I teach students to use several strategies if they lose a handout (which almost 10 percent of them do at one time or another). First check the Lost and Found box. If it’s not there, try the Extra Handouts Box in the Supply Center. If there aren’t any extra copies, students can go to the library, download and print another copy from our class webpage. This is huge timesaver because it puts the burden on them to take care of lost papers, and I think it empowers them to realize they can solve their own problems.
After supplies, we move onto the Homework Board. It’s in the front of the room. I list several words on it that give hints about what we’ll do in class and it also describes the homework. This saves me answering the question, “What are we going to do in class today?” a million times when I’m out at hall duty or at the start of class. Students like the board because they can quickly glance at it and know what they need to do. I’ve also seen the occasional student sprint into my room after school, quickly look at the board, and yell “thanks” on their way back out of the room. I think that says it all about how useful they find the Homework Board!
At the same time, I wonder how long my Homework Board will continue? This year, I’ve added a subscribe button to my class homework webpage. Almost 85 percent of my students and/or their parents have subscribed and get an e-mail when I update the page. I think many students don’t use the paper planner because they prefer to go home, look on the website and use it for their homework planner. Teachers used to object to such a strategy on the basis that they wouldn’t have the needed materials at home. Again I see the web as changing all that. I post almost all of the handouts, notes, and worksheets on my class webpage and all our textbooks are available online.
Next we visit my own work area. I use a desk and a table. My desk is mine and I don’t share with anyone. I explain that anything on my desk is off-limits. Next to my desk is my table─and that is communal property. It’s where I put handouts students may need to pick up, and it’s also a place to sit (because I store two stools under the table) if they need a little extra help. Basically, it’s where I conduct all class business.
Last stop is the word walls. This is where students find the words we’ve determined are key to understanding the “technical” jargon of a particular unit. In the beginning I’m the one adding the words, but later they take ownership of the whole thing. I even keep the posters up during quizzes and tests. I just think everyone can benefit from a word bank when they’re learning how to use a specialized vocabulary appropriately.
Maximizing Learning Time
Using these classroom routines and structures allows me to create a classroom environment where every student knows what to do and how to do it. It helps me scaffold all the procedures in such a way that students can help themselves and take on the responsibility of their own learning. I won’t guarantee that 10 percent will achieve that goal. And in the second week of school, I’d say I’m lucky if 50 percent do it well every day. But by the end of the first month of class, I’ll bet 95 percent will be able to do most of this procedure pretty well.
My latest goal is to video students explaining each stop on the tour. I’d like to splice the clips together and upload the video on our class page. The next time I have new classes, I’ll show the video several times and add in any extras that aren’t covered. I think the tour might be even more effective coming from another student. We’ll see!
I’m not sure the procedures and routines of Room 66 are worth much, monetarily speaking. But collectively they maximize our learning time together by allowing us to accomplish the administrative tasks quickly, efficiently, and without trauma to students. I estimate that they give me an extra 4-5 minutes of class time every day – which means I’m able to squeeze out an extra day of instruction every 10 days. Since we are in school for 10 months, that means I’m creating nearly 18 extra class periods of instruction versus someone who doesn’t use these kinds of tricks. That’s almost a month of extra instructional time in each class.
Not everyone’s class procedures will look like the ones on my tour. Good routines will reflect the personality of the students and the teacher. They are easy enough to develop over time if you make sure they are simple, repetitive (so the kids can develop a sense of what is coming and a groove to what they do) and hardly ever vary.
What would your classroom’s tour look like?