A Teaching Aside
For those new to reading this blog, I am a teacher in an elementary school life skills classroom that focuses specifically on meeting the educational needs of children with autism and other developmental disorders. As such, aside from my goal of providing high quality instruction in math, language arts, and science, I spend a vast amount of time providing instruction in adaptive function and social skills. I also have to be particularly cognizant to how the classroom is running and the amount of structure I am providing for my students. What I am going to cover in this post is a realization I had regarding my classroom presence and how I run my classroom (i.e., classroom management). Rather than cover a single manuscript, I am actually covering a larger body of work from Brandi Simonsen and colleagues that I have found very useful over the last month.
In the two months that I have been teaching, I have come to something of a realization on how I am to best manage my classroom. To cut straight to the point, I have decided I am going to grade my classroom management on a daily basis. What brought me to this conclusion was an experience I had with a job coach providing me the raw data they were collecting regarding my teaching. This job coach sat in my classroom collecting data on positive to negative interactions with students as well as time-sample data on student engagement (30 second intervals) using Basic 5 Observation forms (Example from the internet). Looking at the raw data provided me sufficient rationale that I needed to make a few changes in my teaching.
Embracing my scientific past, I went on the internet that night and started reading every research paper I could find on effective classroom management. About 8 or 9 papers in and a headache later I found what, for me, was gold. I stumbled across Brandi Simonsen’s work in classroom management, particularly her self-evaluation checklists (Here)
What struck me with the checklists was that it was a way that I will be able to collect data on myself. I can take each of the questions and give myself a simple, Yes/No/Partial rating every day. I can then pull out my favorite graphing programs and actually look at my progress across days, weeks, and the school year. In this way, I can see very readily if my management starts to slip (low scores) or if my efforts in being a better classroom manager turn into better teaching habits (high scores) on my part. I think this is important, particularly in my case, because it is far too easy for us all to feel like we are making good progress when we are standing still. It is also very easy for me to forget important classroom procedures when I am focusing on teaching. Since I am something of a data junkie, I think the opportunity to collect data on myself and then analyze it will do nothing but good things for my growth as a teacher.
I have just set up my form for my evaluation, but I have noticed a good number of changes in my classroom resulting from my deliberations on how to improve my teaching. I no longer forget to give sufficient warnings to students about a transition that is going to happen (e.g., 2 min and 1 min warnings of free time ending and the need to clean up), I remember to turn on visual timers on a SMARTBoard so we all know how much time is left in an activity. I proactively cut off inappropriate behaviors before they escalate. I remember to go through procedures in excruciating detail, not leaving out a single step to avoid confusion on the part of students that need that level of guidance. I have removed distracting books (i.e., not challenging enough) and replaced them with age-appropriate alternatives. I have provided explicit menus on the tables as to what activities the students are allowed to engage in during free time so as to eliminate any guesswork on their part or inconsistency in implementing my own classroom policies on my part.
My students have started to flourish in the structure, and so am I. I thought I had come into the classroom ready to overload the students on structure. What I had not realized was that I was capable of doing so much more!. I hope at this point everything I am working regarding structure and management on can become habitual to both myself as well as the students. As an important aside, I have noticed a side effect to the improved management is students are much more receptive to academic curriculum and have a much higher tolerance for the duration of lessons. I interpret this as a comfort on their part in the general structure and a feeling of fairness and equity in how I run my class. As such, I feel we will be able to work much more effectively as a group toward our math, writing, reading, and science goals! I, for one, am looking forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead!.
I hope to keep everyone updated on my challenges and successes in the classroom! Please feel free to share your own experiences or provide me sagely advice in the comments below!