The first school I taught in had semester block scheduling – the kind where you taught 4 classes a day, every day for 90 minutes, but got new students in January. My first semester went surprisingly smooth. Why had I been so worried about classroom management? I didn’t need to read all those books that I read. Having my own class was a breeze compared to trying to commandeer my mentor teacher’s during student teaching. Why had I been so worried?
Then 2nd semester rolled around and my new group of students arrived – in walks my 4th period class. It’s like they could smell my naivety and over confidence from the hallway. 32 of the most wild freshman general Biology students I could have ever imagined – seemingly dedicated to making sure I ended each day, not matter how good the first 3 periods went, feeling like an absolute failure. When I think back to that class I only have one word to describe them – humbling.
In the years that followed, I never had a group of students humble me more than that crew. I have faced many challenges with students over the years, but no group as a whole ever got to me as much as that one did. Many an evening I would walk out to my car – the last one in the parking lot, of course – and cry as the sun set over the school, wondering how I would muster up the energy and courage to face another day with them.
I really felt like I had a descent grasp on disciplining and managing a handful of rowdy students in one class. But what was I supposed to do when it felt like 90% of the students were out of control? These kids were brilliant too – they knew exactly how to be sneaky enough that they always managed to keep me from knowing exactly who was doing what so I couldn’t just punish one of them.
I learned MANY important lessons from this group, but one that really stands out to me that I held on to for years after was to ask for help. One afternoon after a particularly rough period I approached a veteran teacher on my hall and she taught me about using Board Points. Over the years her tip has grown to be my favorite whole-class classroom management strategy.
So how does it work?
- Have class periods numbered in the corner of your white board.
- At the start of each new unit put a “5” next to each class period.
- Keep a simple bell on your demo table or desk at the front of the room. The rule is, if you have to ring your bell more than once to get your students’ attention, or you have a small group being disruptive when you turn to write on the board and you don’t know who it is, take away a board point.
- Continue throughout the unit to adjust this number based on student behavior. Use it as an incentive to earn points back when they’ve lost them, such as, “If you all can work efficiently with your partner on this next assignment without me hearing any side conversations, I will give you a board point back,” or, “If we can get through this lab with everyone on task and no horseplay, you will earn a board point back.” I never let the number get greater than 5 or less than 0.
- On the last day of the unit when you give your unit test or other form of summative assessment, include a bonus question on your test that is relevant to the content, but still manageable to answer. The number of board points the students have on this last day represents how much the bonus question on their test will be worth for the entire class.
Honestly, it was amazing to see how effective this strategy was – not just the first semester I used it, but with every group of students I had in the years after that. I have been amazed how the strategy has worked so well on such diverse groups of students, personality types, and class combinations. I also was impressed, particularly with that first rambunctious group, how immediately students grabbed on to it and honestly started to manage each other so I didn’t have to as much. I teach my students at the beginning of the year to listen for the bell since I will use it during labs and group work to get their attention. Combining the use of the bell with board points, I never had to sit at the front of my class and raise my voice or ring the bell over and over again.
Other helpful tips:
- If the class gets down to zero board points on test day, I make the bonus question a required question on the test (they won’t ever let it get to zero again, I promise!)
- The bonus needs to be relevant to the content (so it isn’t just an easy freebie – they need to NOT want a 0 so it doesn’t become a required question) but also something that they can really answer, so that they will be motivated to have board points on the day of the test to earn the bonus. If it is TOO challenging, they won’t care about board points because they won’t seem attainable.
- If you aren’t allowed to include bonus at your school, don’t allow students to earn more than a 100 on the test. Think of it as just a replacement question.
- It is EXTRA helpful when you have a sub. I always tell students before I am out that if the sub leaves any sort of negative notes in their report that the class will get dropped to 0 when I return. On the flip side, if the sub leaves a positive report, I will reset the board points back to 5.
Of course there is a LOT that goes in to an effective classroom management strategy, and I’ve learned over the years the most important way to manage a class is to get to know them, show them you genuinely care about them, and that you seriously care about their education. Holding high standards, maintaining fairness among all students, and loving your students well goes a long way over any one strategy. But if I had to pass along my favorite simple classroom management tip to another teacher, this would be it. And I have my dear very first teacher friend, Jamie (who is now an epic Doctor of Education and high school admin), to thank!
What’s one classroom management tip you have learned from a veteran teacher and used in your classroom successfully? I’d LOVE to hear about it!
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