A frustrated teacher scrambles through a pile of papers on her desk, searching for a misplaced answer key, while a first-grader stands impatiently in front of the problem he has been assigned at the board. Several other students have scattered to corners of the room, hiding behind bookcases and playing tag.
A teacher’s nightmare? Absolutely. A classroom reality? In some cases, sadly, the answer may also be yes.
Without proper planning, the classroom experience can be confusing, disorderly and unproductive. In order to effectively reach a group of students, an instructor must first determine how to manage and organize the classroom. By focusing on factors such as room environment, daily routine and behavior management, teachers can make the best use of their time for instructional purposes.
One place to begin when organizing a classroom is with the room itself. The classroom setting is more than just walls and furniture. The physical environment can help make or break the learning that is supposed to occur within, so putting forethought into the classroom layout is essential.
Barriers such as shelves or cubbyholes can create blind-spots, which can hamper a teacher’s ability to control the classroom and also can be potentially dangerous, particularly in an elementary school. The desired teaching-learning style should also be considered. Cooperative learning groups will function better at a table or group of desks; independent student work may require more traditional, front-facing rows of desks.
An ideal classroom setup should allow easy access to elements such as reading nooks, computer stations and supply cabinets, while still providing the teacher with the capability to monitor student activity. Websites such as Classroom Architect allow teachers to create and modify a virtual classroom layout before setting up the actual room. This can be a great way to visualize the space and avoid pitfalls.
Once the physical environment is organized, it is critical to set up a classroom routine. Time management not only allows a teacher to effectively plan lessons and activities, it also ensures that students know what to expect each day. When journal writing is the first thing middle school students do when they enter their language arts class, they understand that they should sit down, take out their journals and pencils and watch for the writing prompt on the board.
A comfort level is established when the routine is safe and predictable, and this can encourage students to be more open to learning.
Teachers seeking classroom management tips can visit the website of educational resources company Scholastic to view slideshows of classrooms across the United States to see how other educators creatively manage the school day.
Even with a blueprint for the physical environment and an established classroom routine, discipline problems can still turn what should be a structured, productive day into one of chaos and frustration. Meticulous planning for dealing with such disturbances is crucial.
An age-specific behavior system should be designed and enforced consistently. For elementary grades, that could involve a themed warning system, such as moving a student’s name to a color on a traffic light, with green for good, yellow for a warning and red bringing a consequence. For older students, it may involve filling out a behavior progress report. Various online resources, such as Teaching Heart, offer tips and strategies that instructors have incorporated in their classrooms.
When all aspects of the learning environment are organized effectively, it’s likely that the students and the teacher can focus on content material and instruction. Students will be comfortable with the classroom guidelines and routine, and the room itself will be well-ordered and arranged with centers and supplies easily accessible and in full view of the teacher.