Classroom management: Three steps to starting your lessons well

Written by: Richard Hart | Published:
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My effective classroom management initiative – Richard Hart offers three steps towards effective classroom management

When I started teaching I always greeted students at the door and had a “starter” activity ready. I would ask students to sit down in silence and complete the activity, which would be different each day. Some students would do so, while others would choose any excuse not to.

And so I found I was giving around 10 behaviour warnings a week at the start of lessons. This rarely set a good tone for the lesson and I had to work harder than I should have had to. Since then, I have employed three simple classroom management strategies to effectively manage the start of lessons in the geography department.

Clarity

As Lemov (Teach Like a Champion, 2010) states, the “Do Now” is “...an activity that students can complete without instruction or direction from you to start every day”. Previously each of my “Do Now” activities had been different and this had caused confusion and led to a disrupted start and poor classroom management.

So I used the technique of Engineering Efficiency as described by Lemov and spent 40 minutes practising how the start of a lesson would take place with my students.

I made it clear to students that they would walk into my room and as they did they would take a piece of paper. I then explained that they would sit down in their seat, write the question numbers in the margin and have three minutes to complete the 12 questions. We then practised marking the quiz and collecting them.

The first time I did this with a class it took 12 minutes. We then practised again three more times until the whole procedure took seven minutes. This meant that when students next entered my lesson they were focused and knew precisely what they had to do and how long they had: there were no excuses.

The feedback from students proved its effectiveness – student voice has showed that 95 per cent of students across my teaching group stated that they were calm and knew what to do when entering the lesson.

This technique is now carried out in all geography lessons. Staff were initially concerned that it would take too much time from delivering the lesson content. However, it has proven to be quicker than first anticipated, its allows better classroom management, and staff now value the extra focused lesson time.

In addition, students have been actively revising interleaved questions meaning more lesson time can be used in practising applying the knowledge to exam questions.

Consistency

At the start of each lesson students complete a set of 12 questions displayed on the same whiteboard and in the same slide format. The questions require one-or-two-word answers, relating to different units of work that the students have studied in geography. The students are required to answer this on paper, which as Lemov states, “makes it more rigorous”.

The questions are a mixture of definition questions, placing a series of statements in sequential order using letter codes (for example the formation of a waterfall), or which is the “odd one out”, which allows varying topics and processes to be revisited while maintaining the fast-paced style.

The same quiz is completed for two of the three lessons, with the third and final attempt being a test.

Each lesson, the questions that students answer incorrectly are tracked to provide interventions to improve learning. By making the activity a written one it has increased rigour, as suggested by Lemov, and student buy-in as they see the link in how it is helping them to learn.

In the first week in my year 10 class, only six (out of 25) students scored greater than 9/12 in their test and only 14 improved their scores between attempt one and attempt three. However, by week four, in the same class 23 of the students had scored greater than 9/12 by the end of the test and all 25 students had improved their scores from the original attempt. This meant students experience success in geography from the very start and this promotes a positive culture in the subject. This proved to me that consistency is vital to embedding classroom management techniques.

Positivity

It was only on reading Lemov that I started to really understand and start to apply “positive framing”, which is defined as “guiding students to do better work while motivating and inspiring them by using a positive tone to deliver constructive feedback”. During the “Do Now”, I narrate the positives, linked to the consistent approach, which in turn helps to provide clarity and highlights good classroom management.

I always make sure that as students enter the room I am providing positive statements of encouragement such as, “thank you for giving 100 per cent having started writing”, “I know we are going to beat our scores from last time” and “superb start from...”.

Big impact

There are many classroom management ideas and each can have profound improvements when implemented well through strong school leaders.

First impressions count for any practitioner and as teachers we are lucky enough to have first impressions of a lesson every time students arrive. If the start is effectively led through clarity of instruction, consistent expectations and activities and in a positively framed way then that will help start to create an effectively managed and positive classroom environment which will allow students to succeed.

Since carrying out the systems above the number of students in the department achieving a higher score at the end of the week is 95 per cent and the number of behaviour warnings given at the start of the lesson has decreased to around one a week – a huge reduction.

One student who was always disorganised at the start of the lesson (which then manifested into more negative behaviour), has now improved his focus as he knows exactly what is required of him at the start which enables a smooth transition into the main part of the lesson.

There has also been an increased sense of ownership in student work throughout the lessons as we are noticing that students are now more eager to learn the content, which makes recalling the quiz questions when they later appear much easier. 

  • Richard Hart is head of geography at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford and is a member of Ambition School Leadership’s Teaching Leaders programme.

Further information

  • Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that put students on the path to college, Dr Doug Lemov, 2010, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
  • Ambition School Leadership is a charity that runs leadership development programmes in England to help school leaders create more impact in schools that serve disadvantaged children and their communities. Visit www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk


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