Bringing Fun into Organization, by Paula Milligan
At the start of the school year, staying organized is at the top of everyone's to-do list - here's how to add some fun to the mix
A new school year brings many challenges, much excitement and usually several changes. Around this time every year, I find myself mentally revisiting the previous year. How can I take the pushing and shoving out of lining up? How can I simplify taking attendance and lunch count? How can I keep the noise level low during "silent" reading time? I've discovered that there's extra time created each day with the simplification of these and other daily tasks. Here are some easy classroom management techniques that have worked for me.
It's a secret. To keep my students in a straight line, I like to remind them to stay in their "secret square." It's secret, I tell them, because only our class knows about it. We walk in the third square from the wall. Knowing which square to walk in helps to keep our line straight and it also gives the student a visual. Even when walking outside with no squares available, my students have the concept of where they need to be in relation to the other students. When I see a line that's beginning to look like a slithering snake, all that is needed is my whispered reminder, "Secret square!" and my line straightens out.
Switch it up. I change seating arrangements every Monday. This gives my students a chance to work with different classmates on a regular basis and it's also a great way to get the kids to clean out their desks weekly! My students sit in groups and I let them self-select where in the group they will sit. Students draw a numbered craft stick from a cup on my desk. They then select the desk that will be their "home" for the week in that group. Once students are in their new seats, I always make the statement to the class, "If you're in a place that you feel is not a good choice for you, please let me know and we'll find a better place." This allows students to still have some choice in their seating arrangement and it allows them to also maintain responsibility for their behavior. "You made me sit by Johnny!" is no excuse for misbehavior; the student made the choice.
Today's menu. Students in my classroom are responsible for making their lunch choice each day. I write the lunch choices on the board and assign each a number. In our school, there are three lunch selections and I assign "lunch from home" as choice number four. Part of the morning routine is making a lunch choice. I have a box lid with sides that stand up at least one inch and I partition the lid into four numbered sections. Students have a clothespin on which their name is written clipped to a small box next to the lunch count lid. They read the choices and put their clothespin on the section of the lid they choose for lunch.
When I'm ready to send the lunch count and attendance to the office, I pick up any clothespins that have not been moved for the day and say, "I'm sorry that Sarah is absent today." If Sarah is present, she quickly announces herself. This reminds Sarah that she has to make her lunch choice tomorrow. Students have assumed responsibility for their lunch choices and attendance in a quick, accurate fashion.
Visual reminders. Uninterrupted small group or individual student conference time is necessary on a daily basis in my classroom. To help students remember not to interrupt, I wear a headband with decorative animal ears or antennae. This serves as a visual reminder that I am busy listening to the person or group in front of me. Even though I am busy, students are not expected to sit alone at their desks for an extended period pondering an assignment they do not understand. Three students who finish their work quickly and accurately are appointed as student helpers. The helpers wear decorated plastic visors so they are readily visible as the designated helpers. The visors also allow me to tell at a glance if the people talking and out of their seats are my helpers or if they are students who are not following class rules.
A call for comprehension. Students read material silently at various times during the day. Some children are not developmentally ready for this. I have had some students who don't comprehend what they read when they read silently. To allow for student learning differences, I use cell phones in my classroom. No, I don't allow students to bring cell phones from home and call their friends and families for reading activities! I make "cell phones" from PVC elbows. Two 90-degree PVC elbows connected to one another are just the right size for a "cell phone" for students to read into. They read quietly into the mouthpiece of the phone and are able to hear their voice amplified in their ear. The classroom is a soft hum of students reading at their own pace and comprehending what they are reading. This is an excellent tool for students to use to read their own writing.
These are just a few ideas that help save time and provide opportunities to have fun with your students. I've found that my students are motivated to learn and do their best when learning is fun. With all of the testing that's required, we sometimes tend to cut out the fun in order to teach the ever-expanding curriculum. As professionals, we need to reflect on how to teach our curriculum, yet make learning a lot of fun for our students.
Topic: Classroom Organization
Paula Milligan teaches fourth grade at Adams Hill Elementary in San Antonio, TX.