Have you ever watched a bunch of students play a game on their own?
If you haven’t, try this experiment.
Get a group of younger elementary students to sit on the floor, put a board game in the middle, and say go.
Now there are exceptions to this. Some groups of kids will pull the game out and play nicely.
If you have those students, count your blessings.
With most groups of students, you will be lucky to retrieve your board game before it is completely destroyed.
Unless they have been trained, kids are good at taking something that is supposed to be fun and completely ruining it.
They end up arguing and fighting with each other. They cheat, skip turns, steal, and do whatever else they feel like doing, sometimes to win, and sometimes just because.
Jim gets offended when someone calls him out for picking up a card, looking at it and then putting it back. Then Jim gets angry with the student next to him for doing the exact same thing.
Instead of good times and laughing and happiness, there is wrath, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Classroom learning is like a board game.
There are rules, and unless someone enforces them, they are discarded and mayhem ensues. Yet, it is also supposed to be fun. If it isn’t fun, then what’s the point of playing?
Finding that balance is the key to classroom management. It is easy to err on one side or the other, to enforce the rules and leave out the joy, or have lots of fun and forget the learning.
The first step is to remind ourselves that learning is supposed to be fun and interesting.
Some people believe that if you are having fun, you are not learning.
I tend to think the opposite is true.
The more fun you are having, the faster you learn.
You can’t really make children learn anything. They have to choose to learn, and they are far more likely to do so if they are interested and enjoying themselves.
Class is usually uninteresting for the following reasons:
- The teacher is talking too much.
- The students are sitting around waiting a lot with nothing to do.
- The activities cater to strong students who usually do the bulk of the participating and/or winning.
- The class activities are confusing, overly difficult or uninteresting.
- The teacher is overly strict, ruling the fun out of the classroom.
- The teacher doesn't connect with the students by building relationships with them.
- Students lack confidence with the material, possibly because they believe the material is too difficult for them, or because the material is actually too difficult for them.
- The material has been presented poorly.
The second step is to remind ourselves that learning is not supposed to be chaotic or stressful, neither for the students, nor for the teacher.
If you are feeling stressed out or frustrated, something is wrong. If you are constantly dealing with behavioral problems and students who are not listening, something needs to change.
Class is usually chaotic for the following reasons:
- See most of the reasons mentioned above for why class is uninteresting. (Other than possibly being too strict. those classes usually feel like an army corps.)
- The teacher hasn't set clear rules or expectations.
- The teacher hasn't set clear consequences or rewards.
- The teacher doesn't follow through on the rules until she is ready to explode.
- The teacher is afraid that if he follows through, the students won't like him.
- The students feel like the teacher is unfair.
There are more things that we could add to these lists.
Classroom management is complicated because teaching is complicated.
There are so many factors involved. It involves much more than just keeping your students in line.
Classroom management goes right to the core of what we believe a classroom should be like, what we believe should be happening in there, and who it is we believe we are teaching.
We won’t go too far wrong though if we think of class like a cooperative board game where learning is interesting and fun, rules are consistently reinforced, and everyone wins together or loses together.
If you are struggling in any or all of these areas, you are not alone. Good teachers, like good students, are always learning.
Stay posted for more on classroom management. Let me know what you think in the comments!