Monday, April 04, 2005

Tip (or suggestion) #4: Getting started

Spring Break was wonderful. I ate, shopped, and visited with family. My middle sister, who is five months pregnant, finally feels better and it was good to see her so happy. I had lunch with my niece at her primary school. Hanging out at an elementary school is so neat and somewhat weird. Everything's so small! And the kids look just like miniature people!

I was dreading returning to school, but the day turned out to go very smoothly. The kids were in good spirits and very cooperative. I hope this feeling lasts for a while. One small hang-up in the day: Our school is finally having the tv/vcr/dvd combos put in every room. These are the kind that attach to the wall. For whatever logistical reason, the tv's were all installed in the BACK of the classrooms. My room posed a special challenge for them because it is a special room. It used to be part of a larger room and has a temporary, very flimsy, wall down one side. (It is also the only room in the entire non-air-conditioned school with no windows.) Anyway, they placed my tv in the back of the room, right by my desk, and about five feet off the ground. If I make it through the week without a bloodied head it will be a miracle. The vcr/dvd cord is actually too short to reach the outlet so we will have to get an extension cord. And it is placed about 15 feet from the cable outlet, so I've got to get a longer coaxial cable, too. But I should be thankful right?

Anyway, I do have a tip today. It's really more of a suggestion because I know plenty of very successful teachers that do not follow this procedure.

I like to start my class with a drill. Some people call it a warm-up or a mind jog or something else. Basically, it is a couple of questions on an overhead that the students are supposed to answer at the very beginning of class. I absolutely hated them when I was a student, but I don't think they were done right.

I like using a drill because it gives me an opportunity to review the factual details from the previous day. Our history curriculum calls for lots of experiential lessons, discussion, creative work, etc. We focus mainly on themes and so sometimes the details of people's names, places, dates, etc get squeezed out. The drill is a great way to make sure they are picking up on those things as well. In fact, I encourage my students to review their drills when studying for an exam.

The drill has a large behavioral benefit for me. Students know that they have to answer the drill and will be graded on it (see below). This means when the bell rings the students are in their seats, with their materials out, and they are working. I certainly don't mean 100% all the time. But the majority of them are ready to go and that is significant. It also means that if students are goofing off even before the bell rings, I have something to direct them to because the drill is on the overhead as soon as they walk in.

The students take the drills seriously because they know they will be held accountable. With my standard students, I collect drills every Friday. They get points for writing the entire question and for having the correct answer. They are responsible for getting the drill from someone else if they are absent. I call on random students to answer the drill after a few minutes.

If I feel like students aren't taking the drill seriously, I do a couple of things. First, I actually set a timer as soon as the bell rings. I give them 3 or 4 minutes and then time is absolutely up. I also wil collect the drill every single day (which means lots of grading). Or, I will stop going over the correct answer so that I know every person has to be looking up the drill on their own.

On a final note, the drill allows me to take care of logistics. Once everyone is busy on the drill, I can take attendance, pass out papers, pass out textbooks, pass around the stapler for homework assignments, or anything else that would normally just waste time.

If you have trouble getting your class calmed down at the beginning, I highly recommend using something like this consistently. Your students will resist at first, but if you follow through it will establish a productive and calm routine.