“The First Days of School” and Classroom Management

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot on classroom management.  For whatever reason, I feel like it’s taboo when teachers discuss this as a point of interest.  Teachers are supposed to be interested in making CONTENT fun!  Neither my college nor grad school even offered a classroom management course (never mind required it).  I figured that we were supposed to learn that during student teaching.  With my practicum just over a month away, going into student teaching without any background on classroom management seems like a foolish idea.  The only experience I have has been observing other teachers.  Although not entirely unprepared, I feel a bit lost.

I decided to start reading up classroom management theories.  It’s actually amazing how many different ideas there are, and how many seem to work well.  I just finished the classroom management unit in The First Days of School (Wong & Wong).  They preach the importance of proactive teachers who use procedures (rather than rules) to prevent misbehavior.  I think this is the most useful thing I got from this book.  They stress that procedures are a part of classroom management; rules are a part of discipline.  Rules have consequences: penalties and rewards.  Procedures are simply how something is done (e.g., how homework is passed in).

I do respect their research and ideas, but I think that this model is too behavior-based for a constructivist-minded teacher.  There is one section where they liberally use behaviorist terms (i.e., rewards, punishment, reinforcement).  Ick.  I’m not trying to transform students into robots.  Yes, procedures are crucial, but are they everything?  No.  This book basically guarantees that if you can teach procedures, you will be an “effective teacher” (the Holy Grail in this book).

I think the Wongs mean well.  Harry Wong is probably a great teacher.  But the book is incredibly condescending, and seems to implicitly encourage blind compliance of students as the only way to manage a classroom.  A “well-oiled machine” of a classroom does have known, practiced procedures.  But what about creativity?!  Students cannot discover things on their own if they are constantly focused on following procedures.  Overall, I will use their procedure plans for more administrative tasks, like using bellwork and establishing routines for passing in papers.  However, I think it would be detrimental to my students if I implemented all of the procedures that they suggest (a procedure for “saying ‘thank you'”?).

Now I’m concurrently reading Fay & Funk’s Teaching with Love and Logic and Discipline With Dignity (Curwin, Mendler, & Mendler).  Fay & Funk’s main idea is that children should internalize discipline, or exhibit self-discipline.  It emphasizes responsibility of all members of the classroom, not just the teacher (Wong & Wong would claim this as well, but they also explicitly state that behavior problems are always the result of a teacher’s failure to implement procedures).  Curwin, Mendler, & Mendler emphasize relationship building as a means of discipline.  I’ve heard mixed reviews on Discipline with Dignity, so I’m interested to see how I like it.

Does anyone have suggestions for further reading, resources, or their own classroom management techniques?  Any help would be appreciated!

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6 Responses to ““The First Days of School” and Classroom Management”
  1. Hi Shauna, Here’s my blog post on a constructivist article I read recently called, “What to Look For in a Classroom” by Alfie Kohn. You might find it useful. Good luck on your student teaching! ~Mindy

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    • Hey Mindy, thanks! I found your review helpful, I think I’ll check out the original article too. I’ve also started reading the book “In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms” (Brooks & Brooks), which seems to have a great theoretical base with practical application ideas.

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  2. Marina Carstens says:

    This is a short video on classroom management that I watched yesterday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CNeaFhLMXw

    I teach English at a private kindergarten in Korea. My students are younger than the students in the video, but it still helped. I don’t have a degree in education so I’m attempting to educate myself with online resources. The part about playing games to make boring content interesting inspired me to bring more games into class yesterday. We’ve been doing a lot of test preparation lately and I could feel my students getting antsy. When I said that we were going to play Simon Says, you should’ve seen the look on their faces as they cheered! They were SO happy. I guess I’ve fallen into a fun rut lately & haven’t been giving them as many games as I used to (I call everything a game if it can be turned into one). One boy, who I was specifically thinking of with the games because he really appreciates movement and lively interaction, came up to me very seriously, bowed and said, with such a serious look on his little face, “Thank you, Marina Teacher, thank you.”

    I had the best day yesterday. My students could tell that I was inspired and excited about class. They were excited, happy and laughing all day. It was amazing. I know that not every day will be like this, but I am aiming for as many days like this as possible. We were even able to do more studious work between the fun activities. I stayed after school to work on some cleaning projects and when two of my students walked by to catch their bus, the way they looked at me and said goodbye (so excited and happy still!) warmed my heart.

    I don’t know much about actual classroom management methods, but I’m learning. I have heard a lot that just having a good, engaging, well-organized lesson is a big part of it. As someone who has gone to school for education, if you have any advice or online resources for me, please let me know! I plan on going back to school for elementary education in a few years when I’m done in Korea and would like to be as prepared as possible.

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  3. Hey Marina. Thank you so much for sharing that video! It was very helpful, without being too long. I’m definitely going to check out more videos on the YouTube Teaching Channel.

    I think it’s awesome that you’re educating yourself with online resources. I’ve found myself in somewhat of a similar position, even being in graduate school for elementary education. My program emphasizes content-area teaching, without focusing on classroom management. I’m starting student teaching in a month, and definitely want to know about classroom management.

    In my prepracticum, I definitely noticed that having a well-thought out, engaging lesson was a huge factor in how the students behaved. The difference between presenting a PowerPoint and having students play a game is crazy! It sounds like you’ve had similar experiences. I’m wondering – what were you teaching with Simon Says? I’ve never seen that in a lesson and it sounds fun!

    There are 3 books I’m focusing on this summer to learn more about classroom management. The first one is “The First Days of School” by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong (which is what I was reviewing in my post). It has some helpful ideas, but like I wrote above, it’s too behaviorist for me. I don’t think it’s entirely useless though – the concept of establishing consistent procedures and routines is definitely important in elementary classrooms. If you don’t want to buy the book, there is a companion website: https://www.effectiveteaching.com/pages.php?pageid=6. This has everything from sample classroom management “action plans” to PDFs of forms (e.g., behavior contracts) teacher can use.

    I’m also reading “Teaching with Love and Logic” by Jim Fay and David Funk. I am already in love with their philosophy! I’m only finished with the first section, but it emphasizes giving responsibility to the student (to save the teacher time and aggravation, and teach the student problem-solving and self-discipline). This also has a companion website with some free resources (http://www.loveandlogic.com/t-Free-Articles-and-Handouts-for-educators.aspx).

    If you look at my web resources page (https://elementarythoughts.wordpress.com/web-resources/), I have a few links to sites I’ve used. Specifically for classroom management, I like
    http://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/
    http://www.theorganizedclassroomblog.com/index.php/home
    http://www.schrockguide.net/
    http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/classroom-solutions/2013/06/best-blogs-classroom-management .

    Hope you find these helpful and thanks for commenting! I love talking with teachers 🙂

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    • Marina Carstens says:

      Thanks! One of the articles I read (I’m not sure if I found it or if someone posted it) even mentioned Simon Says to teach kids how to self-regulate. My students are still learning the basics of English even though they can hold short conversations, so Simon Says helps their listening skills. It’s also good for body vocabulary. Sometimes I make it a little more interesting and say: Vacuum the carpet. Play baseball. Drink water. Brush your hair. Brush your teeth. etc. It’s also just a good way to get them moving and interested in English right away. I want them to associate English with fun as much as possible. They always seem more able to do the work in their books with a few games thrown in.

      They even go crazy for asking and answering questions while walking around the room! I think it’s just a natural need for movement and it’s also giving them some independence and showing them that they can actually use what they’re learning. My co-worker teaches them math on Fridays. During his class they had to do a survey. He was really surprised at how excited they were about it and how much initiative they took. I was happy to hear that such a simple thing as teaching them to ask and answer questions carried over into another class in a positive way. 🙂

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