Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 50: “Creating a Classroom Management Plan to Increase Student Engagement”
One topic that always comes up when discussing the student-centered model in the classroom is classroom management. A lot of days it is a work in progress, but over time your students really do understand what is expected of them and how to behave in that type of class. Creating a classroom management plan that not only encourages student engagement but propels it, is not difficult with the right guidance.
Many teachers wonder if there are any successful strategies for getting students’ attention in this environment. One of the biggest reasons why teachers will drop the student-centered model without giving it a chance is because the first or second time they try it, and the students aren’t fully aware of the expectations of behavior, it is a little bit overwhelming.
That doesn’t mean it stays like this forever, and the students just need to be trained on the proper way of engaging in this methodology with the correct classroom management plan. There are a few things that can help with student behavior, namely keeping everyone on track and listening. As I mentioned before students in a learner-centered classroom can get very loud with everybody engaging in the activities that they are working on.
However, short of having to yell, wave your arms, and jump up and down, there are ways to get everybody’s attention when you need to without losing your voice.
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One of the biggest benefits of having a solid classroom management plan is to help the students concentrate. There are many different schools of thought when it comes to finding the most beneficial ways of helping children concentrate. When it comes to student attention span, so much of it is developmental, but that is something that can be worked with given the proper tools and mindset. Most people do agree that it is harder to captivate the audience of younger children as opposed to those who are older. Simply stated, the younger a child is, the less of an attention span they have. However, it is possible to help foster concentration in young children if the proper steps are taken.
Establishing Classroom Procedures
So often teachers become derailed on a lesson due to classroom management issues. No matter how strong your classroom management game might be, there will always be off days…we are dealing with young humans, for goodness sake.
However, having established classroom procedures will help keep these disruptions to a minimum…and will make it easier to get everyone back on track.
By establishing classroom procedures, the ability to thwart issues and problems in the classroom become both commonplace and anticipatory. Your students will thrive with the consistency and routine in knowing exactly what the expectations are for them every day.
The curriculum of the day will still be a surprise, but the classroom procedures will be understood and, once grasped fully, will help the lessons flow and improve the success of creativity.
What might this look like in your own classroom? There are a few different ways you can establish classroom procedures for your students.
Ideas for Creating Classroom Procedures
When I first began teaching, I was under the impression that I needed to develop classroom procedures before school started and then hammer them home on the first day of school.
Talk about a way to turn some kids off right away.
Think about it. It’s the first day of school. Kids are probably nervous for a number of reasons. They might be tired due to waking up early for the first time in weeks. They’re trying to figure out the social dynamics of their new class and they’re trying to figure you out, too.
The last thing they want is to have to sit there and listen to you rattle off a big list of what they should and shouldn’t do.
So what are your options then? We know those classroom procedures need to be implemented as soon as possible to keep classroom habits appropriate from the get-go.
1. Have your students develop the procedures with you
This is a great way to give some student choice from the very first day. It also helps students to feel like they have a say in the bureaucracy of the classroom.
There are a few different ways you can do this. I have used it as a small group activity and a whole class one as well. It really depends on the grade level you’re working with.
When I taught high school, I found the most successful way of doing this was to give each student their own graphic organizer but have a number of stations set up around the room with different scenarios. For instance, one station had the school late policy set up and the students needed to determine how to set up expectations and consequences for that within the classroom.
While you’re certainly going to have one or two knuckleheads that will give you answers like, “Make class optional” and “Everyone gets an A!”, for the most part, the kids are actually pretty tough with the rules that they come up with.
I would take home their ideas and then create the class expectations from that. Of course, if there is something they missed or were collectively off the mark with, you can “adjust” as you see fit. They will be none the wiser.
This sets up a little bit of anticipation for day 2 of school, too. You already hooked them without even trying.
2. Show it in Action
Another angle I’ve taken, especially when dealing with procedures like putting away computers that are non-negotiable, is to show that particular procedure in action and then leave something behind as a reminder.
For instance, instead of innovating students with the procedures and processes all at once, show them when it is relevant.
In the case above, I would show the students at once how to sign out an iPad, how to return it when completed and then would leave a sign on top of the cart as a reminder on how to do that.
The key with a procedure like this is to always find a way to categorize the students to the devices. So if Johnny doesn’t put his laptop away properly, you can speak to Johnny individually and reiterate the procedures instead of getting frustrated and blanket explaining to the entire class..again…
The key is repetition in explanation when it is relevant to the student. You show them the procedure when it is about to happen, and then the next few times you say something like, “Don’t forget how we use our class library. The sign to remind you is on the wall and you can come to ask me any questions you still have”.
Those first few times, also keep an eye to make sure there aren’t any glaring issues (but also, give grace as they’re figuring it out and don’t micromanage the process!). Then once you’re confident everyone understands, you can begin to trust the process and not spend your own time and energy on making sure it’s being executed appropriately.
Another tip is to revisit the procedure every once in a while to see if anyone has gotten a little lazy with the intended protocol. A few quick reminders will let the students know that you’re still paying attention to make sure they’re doing things properly.
Classroom Procedures to Cover
At the end of the day, it’s important to make sure that you cover all the bases of what may happen over the course of a day. Obviously procedures such as fire drills or lockdowns are beyond your control to plan and should be handled in an age-appropriate manner.
Here’s a list of procedures you will want to consider:
- Coming to class
- Lining up
- Classroom Supplies
- Unfinished Work
- Quick Finishers
- Bathroom, water fountain, nurse, etc.
- Sharpening Pencils
- Class Jobs
- Flexible Seating
- Eating in Class
- Interactions with Classmates, Adults Entering, etc.
- Returning from an Absence
- Leaving the Classroom
You may also have other items that need to be addressed depending on the age of your students or the dynamic of your classroom. Make sure you consider all areas when deciding what needs an official procedure.
Remember, having established classroom procedures will be the difference between calm and chaos in any grade level.
Helping Children Concentrate: A How-To Guide
Part 1: Begin with the End in Mind
One of my favorite sayings is “Begin with the End in Mind.” What I mean by this is that the best way to start any project – big or small – is with a clear picture of the end goal. And, educating kids is definitely a big project!
Before we dive into tips and techniques for helping kids focus, let’s talk about the end goal. We all want similar things for our children:
- We want them to be happy and healthy.
- We want them to grow, learn and mature into capable adults that are equipped to achieve their goals.
- We want them to be ethical, decent and productive.
- We want their hearts to be full of contentment and peace.
In sum, we want our kids to develop an honorable character and to be successful in their well-chosen pursuits. A proper classroom management plan will help teach them how to facilitate this.
What does that have to do with developing their ability to concentrate?
“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. It lays the whole basis for his character and social behaviour.”
– Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind.
If Dr. Montessori is right, and I’d bet a shiny nickel that she is, fostering this ability to concentrate in our kids helps us give our children the gifts we most want them to have. With some simple teaching techniques and a solid classroom management plan, it is much easier helping children concentrate than trying to fight nature.
Part 2: The Link Between Concentration and Success
Concentration is the ability to focus the mind on one subject, object or thought while simultaneously excluding from the mind all unrelated thoughts, ideas, feelings, and sensations. Achieving any goal requires this ability to focus.
Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method (ad), was born over 100 years ago and knew this based on her observations of young children in Italy. She said:
“An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child’s energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self-mastery.”
“Concentration is the key that opens up to the child the latent treasures within him.”
Interestingly, much newer research from Angela Duckworth on a topic called GRIT reinforces what Montessori already knew. Here’s the Cliff Notes version (but you can check out her book here (ad):
- Grit is defined as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” (Kind of sounds like Grit and Concentration go hand in hand, huh?)
- When it comes to high achievement, grit may be as essential as intelligence.
- Grit is a particularly helpful trait when it comes to challenging experiences.
So, Montessori and Duckworth are saying a lot of the same things: kids who can intensely focus on achieving goals, and do so over the long haul are the most likely to tap into their innate talents and to be successful. Our classroom management plans should reflect this.
Did you hear that?!? This means that: Kids who can concentrate, and do so for long periods of time, are the most likely to succeed! It is only natural that we, as educators, should foster in attempts of helping children concentrate as much as we can.
Part 3: What is a Normal Attention Span?
The average attention span is known to increase with age. This is so predictable that experts agree on using the following formula to determine what a normal attention span is in a young child:
AGE x (2-5 MINUTES) = AVERAGE ATTENTION SPAN
Here’s how that plays out in terms of what is reasonable to expect from our young children:
- Age 1: 2 – 5 Minute Attention Span
- Age 2: 4 – 10 Minute Attention Span
- Age 3: 6 – 15 Minute Attention Span
- Age 4: 8 – 20 Minute Attention Span
- Age 5: 10 – 25 Minute Attention Span
So, what does this mean?
Well, first and foremost, this takes some pressure off of us. Reality Check: no matter what we do, simply allowing our kids to mature along the normal course of development will lengthen their attention spans, no matter how much we actively intend on helping children concentrate.
Second, this puts things into perspective for us. Regardless of how laudable our goals are, it is simply not reasonable for us to expect small children to focus for extended periods of time, even if they’re REALLY interested in the task.
Third – and finally – it tells us what to aim for as we move along this path of developing their concentration.
I urge you to keep in mind that every child is uniquely gifted – our job as educators is to help them discover and develop their gifts. As Einstein said: “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its’ whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Part 4: A Roadmap for Success
Here, I lay out a practical and easy to follow classroom management plan designed to lengthen the young child’s attention span and helping children concentrate.
Observe the child until you can answer these questions without hesitation:
- What does the child enjoy doing most?
- What does the child continually come back to, over and over again, as if it’s on repeat in his mind?
- What currently holds the child’s attention the longest?
PLEASE start with observation!
Why? Think about it… when do you concentrate for long periods of time? For me, it’s when I’m passionate about something. And, study after study says it’s the same for all people, big and small. So, what? This means that we MUST find out what interests and entices the child in order to cultivate his ability to focus. Kind of sounds like this whole student-centered learning idea, eh?
Second: Prepare the Environment
Make sure you have everything you need, including some tools or manipulatives the child has not yet seen, but that you feel confident he or she will enjoy. Also, make sure there is enough time for the child to fully engage and focus. Interruption is the enemy.
For example, if the child most enjoys pouring, research some pouring activities and then collect what you already have in your home to facilitate — likely, this would include measuring spoons, measuring cups, different sizes of bowls, cups, and ladles, etc… Then, go to the Dollar Store and get what you don’t have. For pouring, you might buy some inexpensive rice, beads, funnels, and food coloring.
Preparing the environment is CRUCIAL.
Your goal is to encourage longer and longer periods of focus. So, you MUST have what you need on hand and immediately available. This will enable you to extend the activity as the child nears the end of his current attention span.
When you set up the pouring station, be sure to make it orderly and attractive. After all, you want the child to WANT to work there!
Third: Provide a Student-Centered Choice
Let the child lead.
Let’s continue with the pouring example. Ask the child “I see that you’re enjoying pouring. Would you like to pour sand or water today?” (Be sure you have a bowl of each at the ready to whip out and add to your prepared station!) In reality, the child’s response to your question doesn’t matter, because you already know he loves the activity, and all of the materials you offer him will be on hand should he change his mind or begin to lose focus.
Fourth: Don’t Interrupt
Resist the urge to interrupt or comment, even if it is to praise. Just supervise and be the purveyor of tools, always respecting the child’s need to learn and discover independently.
Fifth: Extend the Lesson
As the child begins to tire of the activity, provide a new tool or strategy to refocus his attention on the original task.
Back to pouring: if the child chose to pour with water, and he was getting tired, I might offer food coloring in a dropper so that by pouring, he would get to do some color mixing. In this way, the child continues being focused on pouring (the original task) for a longer period of time. Be sure to keep it student-centered by asking: “Would you like to pour with colorful water next?” Make it exciting and interactive: for example, “Would you like to start with blue or green?”
Sixth: Praise Upon Completion
When the child finishes his work, praise him or her for achieving the goal and minimize the importance of the work product. Likely, there will be a mess. Who cares? If you really did use water and food coloring, you will likely have nothing but black water. So what? The goal was for the child to concentrate. Praise for what he was able to do: “I like the way you worked hard and focused on your pouring.”
Seventh: Celebrate and Rest
Give the child some unstructured play (which is so important, anyway!) and give yourself a pat on the back. Nothing about this is easy. But, as they say, difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations, and the right classroom management plan will lead there naturally.
Quick Strategies for a solid classroom management plan
The first two items below are two of my favorite to use in the classroom and are easily implemented as strategies for getting students’ attention as part of a good classroom management plan. It is up to you to determine which one your students might respond to better. I have seen them both work in different classrooms with different groups of students with great results.
Only you know what will work best in your classroom and what you can implement with the most consistency. They are not necessarily one-size-fits-all, but I have seen them used from preschool all the way up to seniors in high school, so there is no age requirement for either.
So without further ado, here are the two items that are absolute must-have’s in your classroom to keep order.
This chime is hand-activated and creates a nice tone that will help students adjust their focus. There is a soft hum that resonates after it is used, which helps bring together the silence of the room. I have seen some teachers create a system for the number of chimes the students hear and others create a procedure such as all students putting their hands on their heads when they hear the bell.
It is not overpowering and does create a sense of calm. Below is a clip of what it sounds like.
They can be found here on Amazon (ad). Below I have a video of a teacher in an art class with 35 students in it showing the effectiveness of the chime method, as she has called it. One ding and her protocol is for everyone to raise their hands.
Check out how well they do with it (and how loud the chime actually is in a noisy classroom) as part of their understood classroom management plan:
This thing is LIFE.CHANGING and will have you wondering both “Why didn’t I think of that?!” AND “How did I survive without it?!” This wireless doorbell has the “noise” piece that plugs into an outlet in your classroom and then a button that attaches to your lanyard (or is in a place that you have easy access to…maybe a clipboard you carry around, etc.).
This particular one has 50 different songs that can be played. It is the same idea as the chime method from above, but it is movable, a little louder, and can be changed up by season, activity, etc. Look at this group of students reacting to their teacher ringing his doorbell.
They understand the classroom management plan and it is executed flawlessly by all stakeholders.
The wireless doorbell can be found here on Amazon (ad). This doorbell phenomenon is really becoming the next “big thing” in classroom management and is one of the up-and-coming strategies for getting students’ attention.
The company that produces this particular one, SadoTech, has a great “how-to” video that also shows the excitement of the educators giving it a try.
Again, why didn’t we think of that, right?!
Non-Techy Strategies for Getting Students Attention in your Classroom Management Plan
There are, of course, other strategies for getting students’ attention that do not cost anything but are still very effective to a well-run classroom management plan. These may be a bit old school and will certainly require some student buy-in, but when executed properly, they are also tried and true.
The first idea is asking students in a normal tone of voice, “raise your hand if you can hear me”. You will have to do this a few times, but as hands go up, more students will notice and will do the same. This takes a bit longer to accomplish as it turns into the trickle effect, but it does get quicker as time passes and students are used to the routine (at the same time, if they are extremely engaged in an activity, it will still take longer to notice).
A second easy idea is to simply turn off the lights. Some teachers flicker them, but that, in theory, could trigger someone with Epilepsy, so I would shy away from that. With this, students will notice that the lights have gone out and that is their sign to quiet down.
The only downfall to this is that the light switch does not travel with you and you will have to make your way to the wall where it is housed each time you wish to get their attention. This may or may not work for you, depending on how your classroom is set up.
Another way to keep your students cognizant of their time is of course by using timers. I love these from Online Stopwatch. There are a ton of different scenarios to set up and the kids pay attention to them because many of them are contests and they, without fail, all want to see if the one they pick ends up winning.
These simple devices and ideas are great strategies for getting students’ attention in the student-centered classroom. While they may be simple, they’re effective when you need to get the attention of everyone in the classroom without the need to lose your voice (or sanity) in the process.
Classroom Management Plans for Student-Centered Classrooms
Effective classroom management in the 21st century demands a shift from teacher-led to student-centered models in the classroom. Successful classroom management in a student-centered classroom should shift the control from teacher enforcement to student independence.
This may go against what so many people believe in education and what so many of us have been taught. It changes the true purpose of our classrooms, but the science behind it makes sense. It all comes down to specific classroom management strategies.
Students who can manage their own behavior are able to take responsibility for their actions and their learning. It is in teaching these soft skills that classroom discipline issues naturally start to fade and the students begin to learn at a more intense level (without trying to force them like so many other models ultimately require).
Teachers can guide this process by showing students how to take ownership of their learning. There are very specific strategies that can be done to make this transition work quickly and seamlessly. With these strategies, you will be able to transform your classroom into a more student-centered environment that fosters a deeper understanding of content AND helps get classroom management under control.
1. Foster Meaningful Relationships and Build Community
This is a big one for me and it is easy to make into a routine. One of my favorite ways to build relationships in the classroom is to start every morning with a morning meeting. I’m a big advocate of morning meetings. There are four parts to a morning meeting. This is one of the books that transformed my teaching and my classroom. Click here to check it out! (ad)
- Greeting. Every student greets one another by name. There are tons of fun ways to do this.
- Sharing. Students share something about themselves and others actively listen. Other students can ask questions and show interest as well. You can determine what they share each day or leave it open.
- Group activity. Make it fun and interesting. It can be academic or not. Regardless of what game it is, students are building connections and relationships.
- Morning message. Give students a message to help them get their day started on the right foot. Make it interactive.
- For more ideas on morning meeting activities, check out 80 Morning Meeting Ideas for Grades K – 2 or 80 Morning Meeting Ideas for Grades 3 – 6 (ad). Both are wonderful and I highly recommend them!
Having a routine like this every day really helps with classroom management in general. Not only will your students enjoy their morning meeting time, but they’ll also be building strong relationships in the classroom and beyond.
2. Student-Led Discussions
If you want students to take ownership of their learning, give back some of the control to them in your classroom management plan. Student-centered learning environments promote independence by requiring students to reflect metacognitively. In a student-centered classroom, students rely more on their peers for answers to their questions than on the teacher.
One activity I like to use in my classroom is a mystery game. In this game, students rely solely on their classmates to solve the mystery of who stole the Mona Lisa from La Louvre museum in Paris. Read more about it here!
It is amazing to see students engaged in their learning. They are so focused throughout the entire lesson, they barely even know I’m in the classroom. The whole group discussion at the end of the lesson is very powerful and an excellent way to get students collaborating. Student-led discussions will help students feel more empowered and responsible for their learning.
3. Inquiry-Based Learning
We want our students to be interested in what they’re learning. Inquiry-based learning is an excellent strategy to get students involved in the learning process and develop a strong classroom management plan. Inquiry-based learning is more than just asking what students want to learn; it’s about activating interest and curiosity.
The first step in successful inquiry-based learning is to get students to develop questions they want answers to. We want our students to ask and answer higher-order thinking questions. By peaking their individual interests, they will have more of a desire to answer these questions. The biggest hang-up with inquiry-based learning often is how to make sure each student is getting the content material they need to fulfill curriculum requirements while allowing them to pursue their interests.
4. Classroom Jobs
Giving students classroom jobs not only holds them accountable and makes them feel responsible for their classroom, but it can also take a few things off your plate. Think about little tasks around your classroom that you can designate to your students. A few examples might be; messenger, trash collector, pencil monitor, attendance taker. The list goes on.
Assign whatever jobs make sense in your classroom. There are so many ways to go about doing this. You can personally assign tasks based on what you think each student may excel at or a type of structure they need. Some educators choose to make it a whole application process for students to try and get the jobs they want.
This method adds more buy-in, which helps with the classroom management plan of all of it since you are certain that the jobs each student has are something they have a driven desire to participate with. You need to figure out what works best for your students and go from there.
5. Having Students Set Goals for Themselves
Teaching students how to set goals can help motivate students to take responsibility for their learning. Setting achievable and realistic goals is a great way to increase student engagement and academic success. As teachers, we’re constantly thinking about how our students can improve. Showing instead of telling students how to set goals is a great way to shift the classroom dynamic.
When students take ownership of their learning, they feel empowered. This empowerment is crucial for successful classroom management in a student-centered classroom. Student-Centered World’s Teachers Pay Teachers page has a great product that sets up goal setting and growth mindset for the entire school year. Check it out here. Make sure to follow the page while you’re there.
Again these are some simple ideas that make a HUGE difference when it comes to a classroom management plan in a student-centered classroom. It puts the students in charge of so many aspects of their day-to-day experiences in the classroom and truly does make a difference in their engagement and interactions throughout the school day.
Mandi J. Zielinski is an attorney and professional entrepreneur who runs several small businesses. She homeschools her two children with a multilingual, Montessori-inspired approach. She is the founder of Multisori, the simple but powerful idea that optimal learning occurs when education is customized to the unique needs of each child. Mandi dreams of a student-centered world full of successful, happy kids that love to learn. You can connect and collaborate with her via her Facebook Community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Montessori.Inspired.Homeschooling/
Sydney from Laugh Love Teach currently teaches kindergarten but has experience with 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade. She loves to promote critical thinking in the classroom by engaging and exciting resources. She loves to share ideas and resources on her blog and TpT store. Connect with her on social media: Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, TpT, Blog.