What Is Classroom Management?

What do you think of when you hear the words, “classroom management?” Do visions of misbehaving students come to mind? Or do you picture a well-stocked, well-organized classroom? Or something all together different? I’d been grappling with the term, and then I came across The Glossary of Education Reform which has a definition that makes sense to me. No wonder I was uncertain what was meant by classroom management. It refers to the wide variety of skills and techniques that teachers use to keep students organized, orderly, focused, attentive, on task, and academically productive during a class. When classroom-management strategies are executed effectively, teachers minimize the behaviors that impede learning for both individual students and groups of students, while maximizing the behaviors that facilitate or enhance learning. Student behaviour is part of classroom management but if all elements of classroom management are addressed, behaviour should not be an issue, generally. An important part of classroom management is student engagement. What types of things can we do to engage our students? Faculty Focus (July 2012) outlines 10 Ways to Promote Student Engagement. These are not typically what you might think of as student engagement techniques. The article sites autonomy as a way to promote student engagement, and interestingly, autonomy is also what employees want from their workplace. The ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) works on the premise that employees can do whatever they want as long as the work gets done. Findings show that the ROWE work environment increases productivity and employee satisfaction. I know that I would like that kind of autonomy. More and more I am considering pursuing teaching online because I want the flexibility of working from home, and deciding my schedule for myself. I can see how teaching students to be self-directed prepares them for the ROWE business model. I think one of the biggest challenges of the model is getting people to shift their mindset about work, and for some people the autonomy might be too much to handle.

Altering Instruction On The Fly

By synthesizing over 50,000 studies related to achievement in school-aged students, Hattie conducted the biggest ever evidence based research project in education, and has provided us with a much more solid foundation of scientific research than we have ever had in the field of education. Based on his research, Hattie developed 8 mind frames for teachers, which have a key role in successful teaching and learning, and the teacher’s view of his or her role. Hattie’s first mind frame for teachers is: My fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on my students’ learning and achievement. Hattie says it is critical that teachers see themselves as evaluators of their effects on students, and that seeking interventions and actions that have positive effects on student learning should be a constant goal for teachers.

Whoa, whoa, whoa…..I thought my fundamental tasks included things like designing the learning, delivering the material, and assessing the students?!?! I do believe that how well my students do (or not) is a reflection upon my teaching. If I want my students to do well, Hattie says that teachers need to be actively engaged throughout the learning process, continually collecting feedback from students and altering instruction on the fly.” Altering instruction on the fly? This sounds like a superhero power to me. How do you alter instruction on the fly? Why bother having a lesson plan if you are going to alter it on the fly? My teacher training stressed the importance of preparing ahead of time and having a well thought out lesson plan, with carefully chosen learning activities. Nobody said anything about doing anything on the fly……sheesh.

Drama aside, I do know what Hattie is getting at. Evaluation is an inherent part of good teaching. Doing good evaluation is like doing good research. In both cases, you are trying to answer some important questions about an important topic. The key to doing both activities well is (a) identifying the right questions to ask and (b) figuring out how to answer them. Richard J. Shavelson of the Stanford Education Assessment Laboratory, has distinguished three kinds of formative assessment, which include (a) “on-the-fly,” formative assessment (b) planned-for-interaction formative assessment, and (c) formal and embedded in the curriculum formative assessment. On-the-fly formative assessment occurs when “teachable moments” unexpectedly arise in the classroom.   Identification of these moments is initially intuitive and then later based on experience and practice. Personally, I feel as though, even if a teacher is able to identify the moment, she may not have the necessary pedagogical techniques or content knowledge to sufficiently challenge and respond to the students. In contrast to on-the-fly opportunities, planned-for-interaction formative assessment is deliberate. Recognizing the value of information that can close students’ learning gaps, teachers plan in advance the kinds of questions that will maximize their acquisition of information needed to close the gap. That is, teachers come to realize in applying newly acquired formative-assessment techniques the value of good questions (and other pedagogical actions for eliciting information) and spend time planning these pedagogical moves prior to class (Black, Harrison, et al., 2002). In Formal Embedded-in-the-Curriculum Formative Assessment, teachers may embed assessments in the ongoing curriculum to intentionally create “teachable moments.” In its simplest form, assessments might be embedded after every 3 or so lessons to make clear the progression of sub goals of the topic, and thereby provide opportunities to teach to the students’ problem areas. In its more sophisticated design, these assessments are based on a “theory of knowledge in a domain,” embedded at critical junctures, and crafted so feedback on performance to students is immediate and pedagogical actions are immediately taken to close the learning gap. Formative assessment is so important for teacher effectiveness and student achievement. By incorporating formative assessment into our teaching, we are “checking in” to ensure our students acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes to prepare them for their future endeavors.

For the future, I plan to make a conscious effort to evaluate the effect of my teaching. How will I do this? I like the idea of using planned-for-interaction formative assessment. Recently I started tutoring an ESL student, and I can see applying this type of assessment in the work we are doing together. Lately we’ve been working on the past tenses. When we are working together I can incorporate questions such as, “How would you explain a trip to the grocery store you took yesterday?” By asking this question, I am intentionally finding out if my student knows how to use the past tense. This is an opportunity to take a moment to use corrective instruction, give the student a chance to try again, experience success, and “fill-in the gaps.” Developing useful formative assessment, using corrective instruction, and giving students a second chance to practice skills can increase student achievement. Eventually, with experience I think I will be able to get to a place in my teaching where I can alter instruction on the fly, like a super hero!



David-Lang, J. (n.d.). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Retrieved from The Main Idea: Current Education Book Summaries: http://www.themainidea.net/

Reynolds, C. (2013, September 25). Hattie’s 8 Mind Frames. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xpcXobZF1k

Shavelson, R. J. (n.d.). On The Integration Of Formative Assessment In Teaching And Learning with Implications for Teacher Education.

Waack, S. (n.d.). Hattie Ranking: Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement. Retrieved from Visible Learning: http://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/



Using Divergent Questions To Promote Higher Level Thinking

What is a divergent question? A divergent question is a question with no specific answer. The purpose of a divergent question is to exercise one’s ability to think broadly, and creatively. Divergent questions are more analytical, testing the students’ ability to synthesize information, offer educated opinions or create hypotheses based on their knowledge. These types of questions are always open-ended, allowing the students to express themselves as they demonstrate their ability to reason in the subject.

These types of questioning fit very nicely with the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of the cognitive domain, as shown below:

Analysis Breaking something down into its parts. Divergent: Critical thinking; identifying reasons and motives; making inferences based on specific data; analyzing conclusions to see if supported by evidence.
Synthesis Creating something new by combining different ideas. Divergent: Original thinking; original plan, proposal, design or story.
Evaluation Judging the value of materials
or methods as they might be applied in a particular situation.
Divergent: Judging the merits of ideas, offering opinions, applying standards

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Plenty according to Tyler Hester. Love is his number one tip for better classroom management. Of his middle school students, he says, “Love them — and stand firmly against behavior that doesn’t meet your expectations or reflect their inner greatness. Too many students have internalized a profound sense of their own inadequacy, and it is incumbent upon us to remind them of their infinite value and counteract the many messages that they receive to the contrary. By loving our students unconditionally, we remind them of their true worth.”

Those feelings of inadequacy carry into adulthood and can be pervasive, preventing people from reaching their true potential, having rewarding  careers, productive relationships, and making positive contributions to their communities. As adult educators, it is important to love your students as well. Assume the best about each person, but also have high expectations for what they can achieve, coupled with a clear, well thought out plan on how to get them there. And, don’t forget to be encouraging along the way.

For the rest of Hester’s tips check out his article, 7 Tips for Better Classroom Management in Edutopia.


Using Minecraft in the Classroom

If you have a young person in your home, chances are you’ve heard of, or are familiar with Minecraft. Minecraft has over 100 million users across various platforms, and educators are increasingly using the game as a teaching tool.

Minecraft is about placing and mining blocks. The game world consists of 3D objects—mainly cubes—that represent materials such as dirt, stone, various ores, water and tree trunks. Players gather these material blocks and use them to form various constructions. When the game begins, players must work quickly, with friends or by themselves, to build shelter to survive the night (when all the monsters of the world come out). Once they finish a day (20 minutes in real time), users repeat the cycle, building more complex shelters and stocking up on vital resources in order to survive. MinecraftEdu, is a spin-off of Mine craft, designed to make the game more classroom-friendly. It allows educators to incorporate their own curricular content and run a custom server for each of their classes. Some of the benefits of using Minecraft in the classroom are that it:

  •  gives students the freedom to create, pushing their imaginations to the limit and allowing them to be creative in ways not possible in the real world.
  • is inherently about problem-solving, the game can inspire students’ higher-level and critical thinking.
  • is also a very social game, where students can rely on other players for help in the sometimes-unforgiving Minecraft world. When students work together, it builds positive classroom climate, teaches the benefits of collaboration and facilitates teamwork in a way that’s more organic than, say, being assigned to work together on a project.

Check out this video for a glimpse of Minecraft. The possibilities are endless.

Motivational Benefits of Playing Video Games

Game designers are wizards of engagement. They have mastered the art of pulling people of all ages into virtual environments, having them work toward meaningful goals, persevere in the face of multiple failures, and celebrate the rare moments of triumph after successfully completing challenging tasks. But do these skills transfer to the classroom and the workplace, or is it situational?

Decades of research in developmental and educational psychology suggest that motivational styles characterized by persistence and continuous effortful engagement are key contributors to success and achievement. According to Dweck and her colleagues (Dweck & Molden, 2005), children develop beliefs about their intelligence and abilities, beliefs that underlie specific motivational styles and directly affect achievement. Children who are praised for their traits rather than their efforts develop an entity theory of intelligence, which maintains that intelligence is an innate trait, something that is fixed and cannot be improved. In contrast, children who are praised for their effort develop an incremental theory of intelligence; they believe intelligence is malleable, something that can be cultivated through effort and time. Research has shown that the extent to which individuals endorse an incremental, versus entity theory of intelligence reliably predicts whether individuals in challenging circumstances will persist or give up. These implicit theories of intelligence also have implications for how failure is processed and dealt with. If one believes that intelligence or ability is fixed, failure induces feelings of worthlessness. But if intelligence or ability is presumed to be a mark of effortful engagement, failure signals the need to remain engaged and bolster one’s efforts. In turn, this positive attitude towards failure predicts better academic performance. Some believe that video games are an ideal training ground for acquiring an incremental theory of intelligence because they provide players with concrete, immediate feedback regarding specific efforts players have made.

In reality, almost no empirical studies have directly tested the relation between playing video games, persistence in the face of failure, and subsequent “real-world” success. However, one recent study indicates that these relations may indeed exist. Ventura and colleagues (2013) used an anagram-riddle task and demonstrated that the extent of video game use predicted how long participants would (outside of a gaming context) persistently attempt to solve difficult anagrams. A great deal more research is required to establish causal relations between regular gaming and persistence in the face of failure, however, it’s hard to ignore that playing video games is more than a frivolous pastime and may actually cultivate a persistent, optimistic motivational style, which in turn may generalize to school and work contexts.

Is There Any Such Thing As A STUPID Question?

“Stupid” is such a harsh word, it somehow infers that the person asking the question is stupid as well. In the words of Carl Sagan:

“There are naïve questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

I agree with Sagan that questions help us clarify and understand our world. I asked my nine year old son if he thought there was any such thing as a stupid question, and he said, “Yes, there are dumb questions-the ones you already know the answers to.” wink

How do we get students to ask better questions? What if we start by asking them the kinds of questions we hope they will ask us? The Art of Asking Questions provides several suggestions to help us model what good questions are and demonstrate how instrumental they can be in promoting thinking, understanding, and learning.

I particularly like the idea of asking questions you can’t answer, questions currently being debated, but as of this moment, the answers are unknown. This type of question is far more interesting than one that can be answered. Are there theories or research findings that suggest answers? Are some of those more likely than others? Could the answer be something totally unexpected? With this type of question, the opportunity for creative and critical thinking is vast, and in some ways it is freeing when there is no particular right answer. I could see using this strategy in a variety of settings to spark conversation and as a springboard for other learning activities, such as journal writing.


Group Work: Does Anyone Like It???

I find it funny that most of us do not like group work… yet we do see the value in it. I am guilty of having students do plenty of it, and they probably hated it too. It makes me wonder whether I have sufficiently prepared students with the appropriate strategies for working in a group, or is the struggle part of the learning experience? I can’t help but think there is something more I should be doing to facilitate the process.

I found this video on the 1-3-6 strategy for group work. I like that it starts off with individual work and then progressively moves to larger group work to expand and deepen understanding. I might give this a try next time I have the urge to have students do group work.

Visible Learning: John Hatties’ 8 Mind Frames

“The greatest effects on student learning occur when the teachers become learners of their own teaching and ….when students become their own teachers” (John Hattie, 2009)


According to John Hattie (2009), a key part of successful teaching and learning has to do with the teacher’s mind frame – the teacher’s view of his or her role. He says that:

“It is critical that teachers see themselves as evaluators of their effects on students. Seeking interventions and actions that have positive effects on student learning should be a constant goal for teachers. Teachers should be vigilant to see what is working and what is not working in the classroom. Then teachers must use this evidence to inform their actions and their use of every possible resource (especially peers) to move students from where they are now to where the teacher thinks they should be. It is when a teacher has an appropriate mind frame combined with appropriate actions that these two work together to achieve a positive learning effect.”

What particularly stood out for me, is that Hattie points out the role of the teacher as evaluator of their effects on students. This is very different from the role I’ve been familiar with – the teacher as evaluator of students. This statement started me thinking about my teaching in a new light. What effect have I had on my students in the past? Has it been good? Has it been bad? I’d like to say it’s been “all good,” but in reality it’s been a bit of both, with some neutrality sprinkled in. Expert teachers view students progress as feedback that the teacher is having on learning. This requires regularly gathering information through various means – questions, observations, and quizzes to know who is not understanding, and to make teaching adjustments to bring them along. Know better. Do better.