Subtle ways to help redirect your students.
Literacy & Special Education Specialist
I recently met with a colleague who had just returned from visiting a science teacher’s classroom, and when I asked her about her visit, she replied, “I love being in his classroom. I mean, he’s such a natural teacher.” I nodded, because I know just what she means. In this particular teacher’s classroom, the students produce thoughtful work and always seem engaged, even cheerful, which is no small feat for high schoolers. He has a gentle, relaxed way about him and when students start to act a little silly or get off task, he swiftly ushers them to their seat or nudges them to refocus.
I kept thinking about that phrase “he’s such a natural,” and what it means to be a “natural” at teaching. Or anything, really. I thought about the teachers I’ve worked with whom I consider to be “naturals,” and how they seem to teach effortlessly, how they bring humor into the classroom and make students feel safe and welcome so they can focus on learning and engaging with the content.
Professor and mentor Ruth Vinz always pushes educators to name the verbs we use in teaching. In other words, what does it mean to “teach?” In this case, what are those moves this “natural” teacher makes to keep his class running smoothly, so class time is spent on learning?
Our classroom management resource can help you encourage students in your class who may need some redirecting, and proactively stop flare-ups before they start. The goal is to maximize class time with your students, and this resource may provide fresh ideas. As you look at the list, notice which strategies you are already doing and which you can try.
Below are some non-confrontational strategies from this resource that I use all the time.
Please note: if anyone in class is in danger of hurting themselves or others, the teacher needs to reach out for help immediately.
To the class aloud, “I want to say thank you to x, y and z for working quietly on their assignment.” Or “Everyone is working so well, keep up the good work!”
This strategy notices and names students who are on task, or working towards the right direction. Naming students who are doing the “right thing” is a great teacher trick, as it allows students to hear their name in a positive way. This acknowledgement can even sound like, “I love how you are partnering together and sharing your ideas,” as this feedback names the specific ways students are working in your class. When teachers use positive narration, they are creating a positive cycle that other students will want to engage in.
Teacher stands close to students who are talking or disruptive. The teacher continues to stand there until the students have stopped their disruptions.
This is such a classic teacher move that so many of us practice without even knowing it! When a student begins to get a bit distracted, walking over to the student and standing near their seat is often enough of a gesture to refocus the distracted student, instead of elevating the situation by saying their name in a disciplinary way.
Along this same trajectory, it often helps to walk farther away from students who are speaking too softly for classmates to hear. Students tend to speak loud enough for their teacher to hear, but if the teacher is moving to the far side of the classroom, they will have to raise their voice to become more understandable. This is another non-confrontational way of nudging students to project their voices instead of asking students to “speak louder.”
Teacher is speaking to the class when talking begins. The teacher freezes mid-sentence — doesn’t speak or move — and doesn’t speak again until the room is quiet.
We can all remember that teacher who could silence a class with just a look. Perhaps by widening their eyes, or a slight tilt of their head. Before you knew it, students were shushing each other and sitting up a bit straighter.
While there may be a touch of teacher magic happening in these scenarios, the “Wait” strategy is an effective way to redirect your class without raising your voice! Sometimes it takes a minute for students to get quiet. This strategy is a reminder that teachers don’t have to talk louder or speak over students; on the contrary, it is more powerful to pause and wait for class to quiet down.
It’s also a good reminder that sometimes silence or “wait time” in the classroom is necessary — particularly during discussions or after the teacher or a student poses a question.
There are some teachers who may appear as “naturals” in the classroom, but if you start to notice and name their teaching moves, you will find that they are practicing non-confrontational strategies with their students. These small moves are ones that all of us can employ, and with some consistency and a bit of teacher swagger, perhaps we can all be “naturals” as well.
Seamlessly navigate the pacing of your lessons.
Elementary & Project-Based Learning Specialist
When I was in college, I waitressed at a French bistro on the Upper West side of Manhattan. During my first couple of shifts, I made all of the quintessential mistakes — forgetting to put in orders, getting orders wrong, not being able to greet all of my tables, not knowing if and when to ask for their order or when to drop the check. I found myself overwhelmed! Over time, however, I learned that to be a really good waitress is a skill, an art, something that you can improve. As one of my favorite managers once told me: you’ll know you’re a good waitress when your patrons don’t even know you’re there, when you seamlessly navigate the pacing of their food and drinks.
It’s all about the pacing!
Foundations of timing
In my time as an educator, I have leaned on many of my waitressing experiences. Like waitressing, teaching is an art, and so much success depends on successful pacing! How you pace your lessons, the order and flow of your instruction, how much time you dedicate to each task, and how you transition to each segment of a lesson are challenging yet crucial pieces of being a teacher. These actions have such important implications for student learning.
How can you tighten up your lessons?
Get started with our Foundations of Timing Instruction resource, which highlights helpful considerations and rules of thumb for timing and transitioning your instruction, including:
Whether you are just starting out, or are a seasoned teacher, your pacing can always be improved so that you are better able to serve your students.
Productively engaging students is a real challenge — but the solution may not be too far out of reach.
How can we create a classroom situation where all our students are productively engaged?
Engaging a class of students in a lesson can feel like a daunting task, with constant disruptions and more students off-task than on-task. It can be overwhelming!
Setting up predictable routines and rituals for our students is key, and staying in touch with each of our students to help them engage with a meaningful task is a crucial element of creating a productive, positive work environment. The challenge is real — but the solution may not be too far out of reach. Our Three Sweeps resource (download here) provides a practical approach to getting all students on track and working.
The First Sweep
First, start students on an independent task like a warm up or “do now” prompt. The most effective opening activities are tasks that engage students in the topic or theme of the lesson using prior knowledge. As students enter the class, we can point them to the prompt and activate our first “sweep” by circulating through the entire class and “touching base” with each student using a light touch and offering an affirmation or posing a question, such as:
This first sweep is designed to acknowledge the students who are cooperative and on task (early adopters) and offer those who are not yet settled a calming and supportive first “touch.”
Let’s be real: students enter the classroom space in all different mindsets. We want to quickly and quietly acknowledge all of the students who are ready to work, and also have a personal and positive first contact with those who need more support to transition into their classwork. The first sweep communicates the expectation that you are recognizing each student in a supportive way, and it necessitates a personal exchange with each student.
After we’ve made contact with each student and either affirmed their engagement or redirected them to the task, we begin our second sweep.
The Second Sweep
Our second sweep is a second opportunity to touch base with all students, with a focus on supporting off-task or unsettled students settle into their work.
To start Sweep 2, quickly scan of the room and identify students who have not yet begun the activity. Maybe they’re talking or walking around the room, or maybe they’re distracted. Prioritize a second check-in with these students.
Now, the contact and questions with students can include slightly more pointed questions to pinpoint what may help each individual student engage in the task at hand. Depending on the specific situation with each student, and the prior exchange, these questions and comments may include:
Students in Sweep 2 will benefit from a next step action:
Often, we lean on negative interventions with students who exhibit off-task behaviors, calling out students’ names in front of the class, asserting the rules or expectations, or publicly demanding a change in action. Unfortunately, these tactics are more likely to antagonize students who are struggling to connect with the work and can escalate tensions and increase students’ insecurities.
The second sweep more deeply acknowledges each student’s specific needs and offers them advice or a tool to get to work. It should be done as calmly as possible with the expectation that students will respond productively. As much as this sweep is about positive reinforcements, it’s also about accountability. If a student says there are no barriers to begin their work, then there are no more excuses, either. If there are barriers to beginning, we want to know so we can remove them and work with kids so they can fully access the assignment.
Now, it’s time for Sweep 3.
The Third Sweep
In Sweep 3, we return to a touch point for every student in the class. For students who have been working well for the duration, this is the time to check for understanding, affirm their progress, clarify any questions, and identify any obvious misunderstandings in their work so far. For students who are still struggling to engage in the task, we restate our purpose and return to our redirection questions. Restating the purpose is an important moment to communicate a shared expectation and explicitly outline the value of the task, and the community expectations.
Notice that in these questions, we’re really focusing on asking the student to provide the solutions. When students choose to engage, or offer a suggestion for what would help them work better, they are more likely to implement the strategy they suggest, even if it doesn’t seem genuine to us in the moment. This is a key factor, because when we respond defensively to students who may show up distracted or disengaged, we can fall into exchanges that are more about power and control than they are about learning.
We want to remember that — especially when we’re striving to develop a culture of high expectations in a positive work environment — it's critical that we find the path to engage all students in meaningful work. That might mean setting aside our personal feelings, and staying laser focused on helping every student to engage in the task.
Making the most of each sweep
Getting used to the three sweeps may take a little time and a little practice, but we’ve found that this is a highly effective strategy throughout the class period. Each sweep ensures that every student has at least two personal interactions with their teacher(s), and that students struggling to engage in the content have at least three positive and proactive exchanges with their teacher(s) — each serving as an opportunity to engage. To maximize the use of Three Sweeps, consider these quick tips:
Three Sweeps can be a shortcut to student engagement and creating a culture of learning. When we get everyone involved and engaged, we can focus on the learning and build momentum towards deepening our students' content knowledge and skills on a daily basis.
Recognize the motivations behind behaviors that block success and explore how to respond appropriately.
G. FAITH LITTLE
21st Century Learning & SEL Specialist
A social media post ignites a tiny fire, and the fire blazes as people pour fuel in the form of dislikes and comments accusing one another of being wholly disrespectful to a person, people group, larger community, or an entire country. From social media to the dinner table to the holiday family gathering, we hear words and actions that offend us, and we attribute disrespect or out and out defiance to the person across the table. So much disagreement, so many approaches.
The same goes for our classrooms, right? We’re teaching and a student rolls their eyes or puts their head down – but wait, before we even got to this teaching moment, we spent hours in backwards planning for our unit and prepared an essential lesson to our topic — and now, we’re getting disrespect in return? It’s easy to give up, but what if we approached what we’re seeing in a different way? What if we get curious about what it is we’re noticing in student behavior?
Responding vs. reacting
Our resource for tackling off-task behaviors — Behaviors that Block Success — helps us respond rather than react. We consider that there are four types of behavior that have a negative impact on the classroom environment, and it’s important to be able to recognize what each behavior type looks like, as well as the motivations behind it. This is what will allow us to act responsively.
We can use this resource as a tool to interpret student behavior in a constructive way, cultivating curiosity in ourselves. In order to interpret behavior, we must challenge ourselves to see beneath the surface and identify why the behavior is happening. When encountering inappropriate student behavior, our goal is to respectfully communicate the expectations, de-escalate the conflict, and maintain teacher authority.
We can review the behaviors, make connections between what we are seeing and what we already know about our student as a whole person, and ask the student what they’re experiencing as well. This will open up communication by demonstrating respect for the student and asking questions instead of jumping to conclusions.
Imagine having this resource out on your desk during class, picking it up when you’re struggling with what you think might be defiant behavior and considering all the possibilities. Put it up as a poster, and share with your students that you’re trying something new or adding to your toolbox.
You’re all learning together, and no one is on the “other side” of anything in the classroom, so why not make it clear to both yourself and your students?
By G. FAITH LITTLE
By the time you’ve cultivated a course curriculum, it’s easy to run out of steam as you move into building a unit plan, the detailed guide that will support your lesson planning. One way to make the most of your time and energy is to plan using a batching strategy. We can think of this like grocery shopping for the week.
If I walk down the aisles (online or in real life), filling my basket with ingredients for Monday (breakfast, lunch, dinner) then Tuesday (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and so on, the trip will take a while. If I shop by meal type, like breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I cut down on the time and effort I spend. Of course, it’s even faster when I identify ingredients that can be used for more than one meal type. I pick up eggs to scramble for my breakfast sandwich and hard boil for my evening salads. I grab apples to go in my lunch box and morning smoothie.
Like grocery shopping, when we identify areas in our unit plan that we can create or gather in batches, we cut down on the time we need to design that part of our plan. For instance, if we want to include transition tools for teachers to use in their lesson planning, we could develop our list in a batch starting with our own ideas and incorporating others:
Batch your transitions depending on what you and your students need in the classroom — is it about needing time? Do you want students to read, write, or talk to one another, or should they quietly move from one activity to the next? Do your transitions depend on whether students are individually working or in groups? Batch them in a way that works best for you, and drop the transitions you’ve collected into the batch that makes most sense:
One you have your lists together, it’s simple to drop transition tools, one at a time, into logical places in each unit plan. Even quicker, and possibly more empowering for other teachers, is to turn the list into a menu of options teachers can use to find what works best for their teaching style, content area, and students.
Here’s a menu we developed for educators at Jewish Home Lifecare who were teaching students how to provide services that support health, individuality, and dignity to elders. This menu allowed novice teachers to review a number of options and find transitions that were a match for their teaching style and their students for that session. Even the simplest of menus can be a good jumping off point for generating new ideas!
Writing out a simple agenda is helpful for easing transitions — it makes it clear where we are and what's to come. Write agenda on the whiteboard (sample below):
Check items off the list as you complete each activity/task so students know where they are in the plan for the day. Invite a student to read off what’s next as you go through the day and/or to reiterate what they’ve already accomplished.
Bonus tip: Have a very chatty/active student? Make them Agenda Leader for the day. They should help you stay on schedule by recounting what has been done and reading what should happen next.
Time to learn!
Play this as a little game that will result in a call & response. The more you practice this, the more the students will come to experience it as a cue to look up and engage. It takes a bit of time, so be bold and power through until this becomes a ritual.
This also works to get them back on their current task if they get distracted. Play around with ways to use this method, modifying it to fit what works for you and your students.
Organizing student groups
One of the hardest transitions to make is moving from individual work to group work. An effective way to guide grouping is to use post-it notes with a number or a letter, colored paper, or even playing cards. Using one of these items helps students organize themselves in their groups all at once, rather than calling out every student's name individually or having students wander around the room "looking" for a group.
Two minutes before one activity ends and another begins, make announcements about how much time is left and what students will be doing next (including what they need to have to move forward).
You're ready to move on to the next instruction!