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Managing Your Classroom to Fight Winter Restlessness

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    April Hattori

How do you reset a classroom grappling with winter restlessness? Professional Development Specialist Kari Horn Lehman shares her experiences and solutions from EL Education’s book Management in the Active Classroom that will be featured in an upcoming webinar.

Walking into a sixth grade classroom in early January, we made eye contact and I caught a look that communicated, “help!”

I smiled and nodded as I walked closer to a pair of students engaged in conversation and started to listen.

The exchange was lively, though off-task, with both students excitedly contributing commentary.  I looked to the front of the room and noticed the learning targets and “Peer Critique Guidelines” clearly posted. On each student’s desk along with their own writing was a note catcher for capturing Stars and Stairs as they listened to one another’s work. The teacher, “Jazmine,” also embedded with a pair of students, looked up and we again met eyes. The slight shake of her head told me she was struggling with what so many classrooms do at this time of year: winter restlessness.

Following winter break in schools across the country, some students return refreshed with new experiences. Many others, however, are out of practice with school routines and structures that they developed in the months before break.  Formerly productive and engaging conversations may be off-task and students may seem unfamiliar with routines.

How can a teacher reset the classroom to return to - and rebuild - a strong culture of engagement and achievement for all students?  EL Education’s Management in the Active Classroom Webinar held on February 13th from 4:30PM - 5:30PM EST and again on February 27th from 3:30PM - 4:30PM EST provides a chance for educators to explore ways  to boost the classroom culture of engagement for students and support all learners. The webinar will cover insights and tips that are included in our appropriately titled book Management in the Active Classroom. Please click here to register for the free interactive webinar.

Here are some tips to help get your classroom on track:

Start with Norms. They’re the foundation for respectful behavior among students, between students and teachers, and among teachers. Crucial to the success of norms is your belief that you can hold students accountable to norms and that your students can hold themselves accountable. At the school year midpoint, kids may be ready for revised classrooms norms and will at the very least need to revisit the norms established earlier on. See a short video of norms in action here.  

Next, polish up your Routines. The end goal in classroom management is for students to independently make good choices and hold themselves accountable for their behavior.  To accomplish this, students benefit from predictable routines that clarify expectations. Establishing routines is an essential part of this process. Entering a classroom, or transitioning within a classroom or lesson, students should know exactly what is expected of them and why.

To prepare, consider exactly what it looks like when students successfully enter and exit the classroom, manage paper and materials, and transition from one activity to the next. Script the moves and carve out time to re-teach the routines using the following steps:

  • Model the routine or transition
  • Ask students what they noticed (create an anchor chart)
  • Summarize the routine and have students repeat the steps
  • Choose students to demonstrate
  • Repeat the noticing and annotate your anchor chart

Have everyone practice until 100% of students have done it correctly. Practice again and again, giving corrective feedback as needed.

Finally, review your expectations for Discussion and Group Work. Productive collaboration allows students to share voices and ideas, listen carefully, critique their own and each other’s thinking, and create a plan to work effectively together. It’s not  easy for students to do this without protocols and practice. Check out our “Collaborative Culture” Professional Learning Pack (PLP) for videos, tips, and tools to use in your classroom.

Got Group Work Roles
Photo courtesy of Michael Mezzancello, Hostos Microsociety School in Yonkers, NY

To rebuild your collaborative culture, take time to co-construct explicit norms for group work, practice them, and ask students to assess how well they upheld them after group work times.  Provide instruction and practice the academic language and phrases used to facilitate discussion, and provide students with tools (e.g. sentence starters, language frames). Finally, utilize protocols that define roles, timing and steps to shape the conversation. For instance, a Michael Mezzancello, a teacher I work with in Yonkers, NY, introduced Group Work Roles to his students that played to his love of “Game of Thrones.” He has a Hand of the King, a Lord Commander, a Knight, and a Maester (see photo above).

Finally, as  you fight through winter restlessness and resetting, remember that  an active curriculum is your friend. Embedded opportunities for students to talk and move keep them energetic and engaged throughout lessons. Just like in August or early September, creating the conditions in which an active classroom is a productive one relies on teachers’ skillful facilitation of essential practices. You and your students can create - and sustain - an active learning environment, and that buzz you hear when students are collaboratively learning will be music to your ears.