Do My Classroom Rules Help or Hurt Learning?
A MiddleWeb Blog
I’m not sure why that annoys me, but it does. Often I’m silently thinking, instead of asking for extra credit, why don’t you do the assignments that have already been assigned that you haven’t done yet?
Changing my Mind
Recently I wanted students to look at two different learning platforms, IXL and Delta Math, and give me some honest feedback (I wrote about the results here).
Well, since I was asking for their help, I thought I would offer them bonus points in return; they had recently asked for an opportunity to earn “extra credit.” I gave them five points for working a few assignments on both platforms and giving me their honest opinion.
You would have thought I was giving away a million dollars. The assignment was optional, but every student did the assignment and gave me good, honest evaluations. The bonus points turned out to be very effective motivators.
I started thinking, if this works, then why not? It suddenly dawned me that by sticking to an old and mostly unfounded bias against bonus points I was making my job harder and not listening to what my students were telling me.
Over time I had created a self-imposed rule against giving extra credit or bonus assignments. However, once I decided to make an exception, it actually worked well. This made me wonder if I had other practices or self-imposed rules there were not helpful or even worse, harmful.
In my mind, classroom rules and teacher practices should exist in order to encourage and facilitate learning – not something I do “just because.” I realized I needed to revisit my other classroom practices to see if they had merit or were just something that I had gotten in the habit of doing.
Revisiting Other Class Practices
Retakes on Tests
Until recently, I have resisted giving retakes in my Algebra 2 classes, because I thought I would be unable to keep up with the workload and I wasn’t sure students would take advantage of the opportunity. After the last test, I allowed students to take a retest for full credit. About five students took advantage of the opportunity; all five did much better and I am satisfied that they learned more as a result. I will classify that as a success.
I was worried about the time factor and truthfully making a parallel test did take some time (but not as much as I thought). Grading the retakes was a quick process. So, the things that I had feared would happen just didn’t materialize. I realized that never allowing retests was a practice that had outlived its usefulness.
Help During Tests
Another rule in my classroom that I began to reevaluate also relates to testing. I have made it a practice to not answer any questions during a test. My stock response is, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” The reason I implemented this practice was because I did not want to start a free for all while students were testing by answering one question after another.
Recently, during our final test of this calendar year, for some reason I relented. A student in my last class of the day asked me a question, and I was so confused as to what they were confused about that I let them explain what they were thinking. I’d already noticed when looking at student test results from earlier classes that this particular question was being missed a lot and I couldn’t figure out why.
Well, letting that student ask the question gave me insight into why students were missing the question, and in reply to the student, I think I said two or three words and the student immediately understood where the problem was. (It was related to a minor error with signs).
I probably would never have known what the misunderstanding was if I hadn’t relented on my “no questions during testing” rule. So this is another practice that needs to be revised. I had just become too rigid. But although I plan to be more flexible, it’s going to have to be something I can live with. I’m still not going to give hints, but if a student has a definite question perhaps I can answer it. I’m still thinking about this one!
I have always thought classroom management is much easier with assigned seating. This year my students started out with assigned seating as usual. I started noticing in one period that when working in groups there wasn’t much conversation. When I would ask students to “turn and talk” with their neighbor, it seemed awkward.
Typically, in my classroom when doing group work students will work in groups of two or three, and will work with other students in their general vicinity. Although I would like to have students work with different random groups each day, we operate under an eight period day, which only allows us about 45 minutes after attendance is taken. Given our time restraints, it is often more efficient time-wise for them to work with students sitting nearby.
So the reality is that “nearby” most often means “next to them.” In too many cases, my seating chart was working against my best efforts to get them to talk with each other.
Finally, after another failed attempt to foster some math talk, I told my students to move and sit next to someone they felt comfortable working with and talking to. The students moved around as they liked, and after they all settled in where they wanted, not a lot had changed as far as my seating chart. There were about five or six students who had moved out of a class of 22. But the “math talk” results were dramatic. There was more small group discussion and more asking each other for help. The students seemed more comfortable.
In one case a student who moved became too comfortable and began wanting to talk and socialize when it was not appropriate to do so. The temptation to cut up was too great. The student and I had a private talk about the need to show maturity and stay on task. So there was a minor issue, but the overall breakdown in classroom management that I had feared did not occur.
The Value of Classroom Rules
Classroom rules and practices are good. They were absolutely necessary for me as a new teacher. But with experience comes the luxury of not having to be so rigid. I have begun to realize that just because something worked at one time doesn’t mean it will always be necessary.
Questions I’ll Be Asking Myself
I need to continue to reexamine my practices. Fortunately, with the holiday break I have the next two weeks to think and reflect. These are the questions I plan to ask myself regarding my classroom procedures:
- Does this practice benefit my students?
- Does it motivate and encourage learning?
- Does it make my classroom run more efficiently?
- Do my students see the benefit of this practice?
- Does this practice make sense for today’s students?
- Is this one of those practices that I needed in place as an inexperienced teacher but don’t need now?
I hope that I will be able to fine-tune more of my classroom practices. I’ve already seen an improvement in my classroom as a result of being a little less rigid and a little more willing to listen to my students.
If you have any practices or rules that you realize just don’t work anymore or some practices that help promote more flexibility, please share in the comments below.