Tips for a rewarding teaching journey

Kerri Carr

If you can’t manage your classroom you can’t teach your students, participants at a recent Centre for Professional Learning course heard.

Presenters took teachers on a journey through a selection of effective teaching strategies to help with classroom management.

1. Know your students

The sooner you get to know your students the more successful you will be, presenter and retired head teacher Jane Sherlock said.

“If you don’t know those kids it’s very difficult to try to engage them in something about your particular subject.”

Presenter and instructional leader Kathryn Bellach said without knowing about your students you don’t know how they’re going to react to your learning environment and your teaching.

“You can’t actually program or plan anything until you know your students because there’s no point planning something if you don’t know where they’re at [in terms of their learning outcomes and achievement].”

Presenter and head teacher English Jowen Hillyer recommends you tell your students some things about you and then invite them to write what they wish you knew about them so that you can tap into their interests when programming.

2. Programming

Programming is the key to engaging students, Ms Sherlock said.

“The syllabus is the foundation but you add the engagement and inspiration through your program and your lessons.

“We need to tap into our students’ interest and curiosity. We need to be growing their knowledge and skills and that is the challenge for us.”

3. Student interests

Presenter Dianne Byers said building some of your lessons and teaching around students’ passions will help them engage with their learning.

One year, she had a group of Year 5 students who were completely disengaged from learning but she found out that they were interested in cars. She took car magazines into the classroom, which she allowed them to read during Drop Everything And Read (DEAR), but would ask them about what they had read. “They were hooked,” she said.

Ms Hillyer said she sometimes uses students’ expertise. She said teachers don’t always have to be “the sage on the stage” and can “step aside to give students time to shine too”.

4. Differentiate learning

The more teachers target students at their level, the better behaviour and classroom management will be, Ms Bellach said.

“If you know that there is a group of students that aren’t able to do what they’ve been asked to do, they’re likely to be off-task and they are likely to be the ones who are disengaged and interrupting other students’ learning.”

Differentiating can help disengaged students reconnect with learning.

Presenter, teacher and former teacher mentor Lloyd Bowen said to capture a disengaged student’s interest in a subject you could design a different project compared to the rest of the class, which still teaches the same skills.

“In every subject we can make modifications to try to engage a student,” he said.

5. Mix it up

Have a mixture of directed lessons, collaborative tasks, self-directed learning and opportunities for choice, Ms Sherlock said.

“Try to think of different paths to the same destination, such as quizzes, mind maps, narratives and visual representations. Think about the repertoire of teaching and learning. Think about the techniques that you haven’t used for a while.”

On the matter of choice, Ms Sherlock said that when students are offered choices they take more responsibility for their learning, reduce their reliance on the teacher, time on-task improves, disruptive behaviour declines and there’s more harmony in the classroom.

Ms Bellach said: “You can build choice into every lesson but it takes preparation. Choices can be as simple as which partner they want to work with, what book they want to read, which activity they'd like to do first. “They'll feel they have some ownership over their learning,” she said.

6. Emphasise relevance

Let students know the relevance of what they’re learning.

Teachers shouldn’t assume students can see why what they are learning in the classroom matters beyond the classroom — make it clear to them, Mr Bowen said.

7. Be organised

Like any terrific road trip, effective teaching requires good planning, Ms Sherlock said.

“You want to make the journey as enriching and interesting as possible because the bottom line is, just like any road trip, you want everybody to be in a good mood by the time you get to the destination,” she said.

8. Work unit plan

“What is the expected end point? How will students demonstrate their understanding? Work backwards from there,” Ms Sherlock said.

She posed a range of questions for you to consider: Where do you intend to go to? What route do you want to take? Have you identified the kinds of problems or difficulties that that route might involve because some of the issues in your classroom or some of the issues with your students? Is the destination appropriate for your kids who are in the car with you? Is the destination that you are taking them to going to work for them?

“Before the journey starts, go back to your intention: what do you really want to happen in this unit of work? Does your unit of work fulfil that intention? Have you got a variety of tasks and teaching strategies? Have you got a range of resources to tap into the diversity of the children in your class?”

"Let the students know where they are headed." Ms Sherlock said she likes to give students an outline of the unit as a table and they tick off where they’ve been.

9. Map individual lessons

Consider how each lesson will start, Ms Sherlock said. “This will affect classroom management and effective teaching for the rest of the lesson.”

She said it was a good idea to put an agenda for the lesson on the board. “I think it’s really important that the kids know where the lesson is going.”

Course participants were issued with a range of written materials with advice on strategies for reducing problem behaviours with good academic management, suggestions for individual and whole class reward systems, managing workload, how to make students quiet and paying attention and how to teach when the class includes many students with learning difficulties.

The Classroom Management through Effective Teaching course is offered fee-free to early career teachers. Visit the Centre for Professional Learning’s website here to view the courses on offer.

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