iClassroom iManagement – tips for managing an iPad classroom

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So, every school now is rolling out their own BYOD and 1-to-1 programs. Mobile learning (mLearning) is the new black! Whether it is just a fad or not, mobile devices change the way the class runs, and they change the way students learn. Many teachers, from my experience, cite too many problems with using iPads in their classroom, most of them related to classroom management. As an eLearning leader, I get a lot of questions like ‘how do I guarantee the students are on-task?’, or ‘how do I make sure they don’t play games?’, or ‘how do I make sure I can maintain their attention when I need it?’. Reality is, these devices can be very distracting to adults even, let alone school-aged kids and teens. I have gathered a bunch of tricks throughout my teaching experience that I would like to share:

1- Set clear expectations: a lot of classroom management challenges can easily be overcome by setting clear guidelines and expectations for iPad use. Regularly remind your students of the school’s mobile learning policies and ‘acceptable use’ policies. Communicate your expectations about iPad-use at the beginning of every task. Simply saying ‘I expect you to be working on this app until you submit the work and receive my feedback’ will keep most students on-task. Also, talk to them about trust and how you ‘trust’ that they know what they should be doing. I would also advise teaching a clear non-verbal signal that means ‘put your iPads down and give me your full attention’. Ringing a bell three times, for example, is the signal I use.

2- Let go of control: mobile devices can be distracting and they can empower students to do many things, and that challenges the traditional role of the teacher as the centre of the students’ attention and the main source of knowledge and information. Introducing personal learning devices like the iPad can make learning messier and noisier, but that does not mean that the learning is not happening. Fact is, education shouldn’t be about teacher-control anymore, teachers need to embrace their roles as ‘facilitators’ and ‘managers’ more.

3- Differentiate the task: if a student is disengaged from a task and seems to be easily distracted, ask them for reasons. It might be that he/she doesn’t want to type an essay using Pages, but rather prepare a screencast using ShowMe? It might be that they prefer using another app that accomplishes the same thing you requested, not the app you recommended? Give the students options and choices about how they can go about and demonstrate their learning.

4- Explore gaming: see how you can bring gaming into the classroom. Students often feel like school content can be very disconnected from their lives. Lots of teachers talk about gaming as just a waste of time, but fact is there is research that proves the value of bringing gaming into the classroom. Use different characters in games and their voices/body language to get students thinking about characterization in drama, and the elements of a narrative (as a lot of games are based on a story). Think about how ‘Angry Birds’ can be used to teach some concepts in physics. Use scrabble-like games in English classes. Whatever the subject, I’m sure you can find one or two games to relate. Additionally, those games need not take up the whole lesson, they could just be quick warm-ups or even rewards for students who finish early but still produce high-quality work (i.e. whose work is not just rushed so they can play games).

5- Assign group roles: the iPad is meant to encourage collaboration, and I am a big proponent of collaborative learning. When I run a lesson that requires the iPad, I design the task so that only one group member needs their iPad, then I would rotate that group member in consecutive tasks (so that other students also get to use their iPad). For example, in a brainstorm task, I would give the questions to the group and ask them to brainstorm on a poster paper (to be hung up in class) while one group member is responsible for reporting the group’s findings on a typewith.me pad or Google Form. Additionally, you can pick another group member to visualize the brainstorm on a mind-mapping app. It’s easier to manage an iPad classroom when only a few students are holding the iPad at a time, not the whole class.
See if you can design tasks where all group members can work on different stages using their iPads. For example, one group member brainstorms with the group using their iPad. The next group member is responsible for taking photos and documenting rehearsal. The following group member is responsible for shooting video of the performance and uploading it on the class YouTube channel, and so on. Each group member is also responsible for uploading or embedding the evidence they collect onto the group’s shared blog or Evernote shared notebook, or any other form of group portfolio, so that they can all have the same evidence to document their learning. Also, you can design the task so students each work on a part and pass one iPad around, while doing something else when they are not holding the iPad. I have found that it is easier to manage the class and ensure that they are on-task when I can only see five or six iPads around the room at a time (in a class of 25 students).

6- Circulate around the room: I have seen many teachers who like to teach from their desk. I personally believe this cannot be done with iPads in the classroom. I believe the teacher must walk around the classroom and circulate often when students are working individually. That gives the students the idea of ‘teacher-with-it-ness’ and encourages them to be on-task. Also, arrange the classroom in a way that allows all or most devices to be in view.

7- Prepare backup plans: last semester, I designed a really cool rubric using Numbers (the spreadsheet app). The students were to use this rubric to assess themselves. I uploaded the file on Edmodo, shared it with the class and thought everything was under control. However, many students couldn’t open it because it required the latest version of Numbers, which many of them didn’t have (students don’t always regularly update their apps and their iOS software either). Luckily, I had a few printed copies. Technology does let us down sometimes. The most important thing is: don’t panic in front of students and relax, show them that you control the technology, not the other way around.

8- Use games as an incentive: many teachers I meet disagree with this approach, but I still firmly believe in it. We have to teach our students that there is a time for work and and a time for play, and we need to model that in our classrooms. I always tell my students that they can have free-time to spend on their iPad when they finish their work and it is of ‘high quality’. That ‘high quality’ disclaimer is to encourage them not to rush to finish the task, and it reserves room for your judgment on the quality of their work. I often try to find one or two things they can do to improve their work first before allowing them that free time on the iPad, or even nicely asking the student who finished to help another struggling student for a few minutes first before getting free time.

9- Teach responsibility: ultimately, we need to teach students to be responsible for their own learning. Mobile devices empower the students with a lot of tools that can be useful for learning, but at the end of the day, they have to make the choice of learning or not. I constantly remind my students that ‘I’m responsible for my own teaching, you are responsible for your own learning’. Talk to them about making choices and the consequences of these choices. If they allow themselves to get distracted, ask them to give suggestions for helping them stay on-task, so they feel they have more responsibility over the situation.

10- Use ‘Guided Access’: I have never used ‘Guided Access’ in my class because it is the last resort in my arsenal of strategies. Basically, ‘Guided Access’ is a feature that came with the iOS 6 update where you can disable certain hardware buttons on the student’s iPad (like the home button and lock button for example), and also keep the student focused on one app or one part of the screen. I would advise that you only resort to this strategy when all else fails, and only with the most challenging student/s who just can not stay on-task (keep in mind that this strategy does not teach responsibility and trust). You can also disable the touch-screen through ‘Guided Access’ if you just want the student to focus on reading. Remember to always give a warning first to the student before you resort to ‘Guided Access’. A lot of students fear losing full control over their iPad when you warn them that you will resort to ‘Guided Access’ if they do not stay on-task. Here is a screencast explaining how to use ‘Guided Access’:

To conclude, managing a classroom that uses iPads or other mobile devices presents challenges that are different to traditional classroom challenges. I am constantly seeking suggestions, ideas, and practical tips from other teachers, so please feel free to leave a comment. Happy iPad-ing!

To reward or to punish?

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For someone who has had the pleasure of teaching a wide variety of subjects (namely: economics, business studies, statistics, humanities, English/ESL and Drama), I believe classroom management in a drama classroom is a bigger challenge than the others. Firstly, the environment is a lot more open and students are not seated on desks and chairs, which can be an intimidating factor for a lot of teachers. Secondly, drama activities and processes are often noisy and require teachers that are comfortable with noisy classrooms and know how to handle them. Thirdly, drama activities often push students to a level of self-awareness that they do not experience often and this can make a lot of them uncomfortable, which often translates in them playing up in an attempt to hide their self-consciousness.

An added challenge for me is the fact that drama is only timetabled as one double-period for every class per week, and we are expected to assess every criterion at least twice during a semester. When the teacher factors in the periods that will be lost due to excursions or public holidays or school events, or even absences, in the end you are left with approximately 16 double-periods per class per semester (each double-period is about 90 minutes long). Also, assessments should be carried out prior to writing reports which is during the sixth and seventh weeks of the term. Therefore, I often feel like I am racing to teach the content and skills, get the students to practice and apply those skills enough times, and then assess the drama process, and classroom management can often slow that down drastically and makes it more challenging.

Over my teaching experience, I have come to learn, adapt and create a number of classroom rules and procedures to make classroom- (and behavior-) management more ‘manageable’. I have learned to keep the rules simple and easy to remember. I have read that rules should be no more than five. I have come to know that rules should tell students what to do as opposed to what not to do, so instead of saying ‘don’t hit, kick or punch other classmates’, apparently it’s better to say ‘keep hands and feet to yourself’. I took every bit of advice I came across and I tried to adapt it in my classroom. I can say I am pleased with my ability to manage my classroom now, however, it still is a challenge that never ends.

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of classroom management is what behaviors to reward, when and how, and what behaviors to punish, when and how. In a class of 25 students, it is hard to keep track of positive and negative behaviors and to respond to every one of them. Of course, as humans, we tend to notice negative behaviors more than we do the positive ones, so teachers must be conscious and careful of that tendency. I have come to devise a few positive consequences for good behavior, and negative consequences for bad behavior.

Positive consequences for good behavior

1- Verbal Praise: simple, kind words of recognition for a student’s work or behavior go a very long way.
2- Using the Whiteboard: I have found that writing a list of students who are ‘on-task’ or ‘appear to be working well’ on the whiteboard can accomplish a lot. Students notice when others receive this recognition and try to imitate their behavior in order to get their names written up on the whiteboard. I also occasionally review and revise this list throughout the lesson to add more students or remove students who may have started to get distracted or off-task.
3- Merit Points: since I teach middle schoolers now, this system seems to work very well. I always inform my students what sort of behaviors will warrant a merit point at the end of the lesson, and tell them that they will be assigned during the last couple of minutes before the bell.
4- Merit Certificates: I try to keep a track of the upcoming year-level assemblies and prepare some merit certificates for the best students, usually they are the ones that have gathered the most merit points in the classes. These certificates are signed by the year-level coordinator and so that adds more recognition to them.
5- Stickers: sounds cliche, but yes it still works! I had my year 10s begging me for stickers last year.

I generally do not like to give material prizes like candy or stationary because I believe in intrinsic motivation, and I aim to build that in my students. Also, there are so many food allergies now, so one has to be very careful about any food brought into the classroom.

Negative consequences to correct certain behaviors

Behavior regulation chart: I have a poster chart on the whiteboard with six columns: name, warning, time-out, behavior-reflection form, behavior-checklist sent home, detention. It looks something like this:

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This chart is printed, laminated and hung up on the whiteboard top-right corner. The students are taught early on, and constantly reminded of, what sort of behaviors are acceptable and what sort of behaviors are not. The teacher can just write the name of the student and then tick the appropriate column. It’s best to start with a warning, and quietly inform the student what behavior you are warning against (make it short and simple, and so as not to embarrass the student, do it quietly between you two only). If the student does not self-correct, you can then choose the most appropriate consequence depending on the behavior. It’s very important to practice consistency: if talking-out-of-turn warrants a warning followed by a behavior reflection survey, then stick to it with all other students. This can be quite challenging as you will have some days where you might be more anxious or tense, but always try to be consistent and fair.

It is also very important to always have a quiet one-on-one chat with the student at a time when his/her peers are not around, where you can question the student to probe the reasons behind him/her choosing to behave that way. Keep this chat friendly but firm, and do not let it turn into an interrogation. You want the student to know that you have nothing against them personally, but it’s rather their behavior that you want to change or correct.

The behavior-reflection form was an idea I got from lauracandler.com and it looks like this:

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Not all incidents will require getting a parent’s signature. When I need a parent’s signature (which is usually the next step if the behavior continues) I often send home a behavior-checklist that looks like this:

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I still haven’t decided what is the best way to use this behavior regulation chart, is it best to make it progressive, where students take a step up the punishment ladder every time the behavior continues? Or can I reserve the right to choose the consequence to my judgment (after giving the warning of-course)? Richard Curwin wrote a very nice article about how the progressive system isn’t always fair.

What other positive and negative consequences do you use with your classes to reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior? What strategies do you use to stay consistent with your classes and to manage their behaviors?

Looking after your voice?

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When I started teaching, I thought all you needed to be a good teacher is good presentation skills and a loud commanding voice. Obviously, I believed I had both, and I assumed that was enough as the most effective teachers I came across had both. A teacher’s voice is among his/her most important assets. I learned that the hard way.

I used to constantly raise my voice at the beginning of my teaching career. I raised my voice to get the students’ attention. I raised my voice to tell a student off. I raised my voice to ask them to be quiet. I raised my voice to explain and teach concepts. I went by just raising my voice for a good couple of years. After a full day of raising my voice, I’d feel really tired and exhausted, and the last thing I could do is socialize with friends, as that too requires that I use my voice. It didn’t take long before I started to feel pain while speaking, and I developed very serious voice problems.

I couldn’t be more grateful for these voice problems, as they drove me to seriously revise my classroom management procedures and my classroom engagement techniques. I jumped online and browsed many websites about preserving your teacher voice. I believe they have not just helped my voice heal and become stronger, but they also made me a better teacher.

I will share a few of the tips and tricks I learned:

1- Breathe, breathe, breathe…: sounds like common sense, but in actual fact it isn’t. We tend to breathe shallower shorter breaths when we get anxious, and a noisy classroom can definitely make a teacher more anxious. Practice deep breathing and maybe some meditation techniques when you are free. Pretty soon, these techniques will become internalized and you’ll use them unconsciously. Deep breathing before reacting to a situation will also help you calm down and think clearly.
2- Warm-up your voice: there are plenty of vocal warm-ups that actors and singers use before putting on a show. Your voice is like a muscle, the more warmed up it is before a workout (i.e. teaching), the better it will perform and the lower the chances of straining. Here is an example of a website with good vocal warm-ups.
3- Silence…: sometimes when classes got noisy, I used to try to raise my voice over the students’. But I discovered a simple technique through reading and professional learning: SILENCE! When the students are noisy and not attentive, just stand there silently and use body language that expresses disapproval (I tend to cross my arms). It requires a lot of patience, but I noticed most high-school students catch on and realize that you need them to be quiet so you can resume. Also, try to keep your voice level as low as possible, so that the students have to actually pay attention to be able to hear you.
4- Use a variety of non-verbal signals: there are many examples of these online and in many books written about classroom management. Bring a small bell into class maybe, and ring it three times and wait, then two times and wait, until finally the class is quiet. Some teachers raise their hands up in the air, and everyone is expected to follow until they are all quiet. Some teachers put their hands on top of their heads, then touch their ears, noses and so on until all students start copying and return their attention to the teacher. There is also the infamous ‘noise-o-meter‘ to teach students to self-regulate the noise-level. These are just a few examples I came across. Of course, you will need to teach the students those procedures so they understand what is expected of them.
5- Use short and simple vocal cues to signal class: of course, there is the infamous “Stop… Look… Listen…”. Teachers often use this cue/signal with appropriate gestures, such as pointing at your eyes when saying “look” etc… Another one that I use often, especially when students are working in groups and get very loud, and I need to gather their attention back to me (I found this one in ‘The Effective Teacher’s Guide‘) Raise your hand and count off each finger saying, calmly but assertively:

  1. Stop what you are doing
  2. Mouth is quiet
  3. Look at your teacher
  4. Hands are still
  5. Listen for directions

These signals have the advantage of telling students how to behave or what is expected of them, as opposed to telling them not to do something.
6- Using the whiteboard: I often use the whiteboard to show recognition of positive behavior, or as a gentle reminder of what is expected. If I assign a certain task in class, I write two columns on the board: ‘students who appear to be on-task’ and ‘students who appear to be off-task’. Obviously, students want to get their name up on the former column, rather than the latter. Students who end up on the latter column know that this is their warning, and that consequences will follow if the behavior is not self-corrected. Obviously, this strategy needs to be updated regularly, as some students might end up on the ‘on-task’ list and then slack off. Positive rewards can also be put in place for students who are on-task for the whole lesson, though I do not necessarily like material incentives and prefer rewards like free-time or a choice of a game to play at the start of the next lesson.
7- Get students to teach: whenever I can, I try to ask students to research certain topics or concepts and then teach them to the rest of the class. Additionally, when some students are struggling with a certain concept, while some students have fully grasped it, make use of peer-tutoring and get them to teach the struggling ones.
8- Eat and drink the right stuff: I conducted a short informal survey at the school I work in, and most teachers barely drank any water during the school day! Water is very important for looking after your voice. Additionally, these teachers mostly had coffee or tea to keep them awake during the day. Caffeinated beverages dehydrate the body, coupled with insufficient water intake, and teaching all day, that’s a recipe for a strained voice. My reading has also made me realize that excessive intake of dairy products produces a lot of mucus and contributes to voice problems.

Of course, all of these tips and tricks are ones I learned from my reading, research and personal experience. I hope you find them useful! Please feel free to leave comments, as well as more tips and suggestions!

Additional reading:
Keeping Your Voice Healthy
Voice Care
How to look after your voice

The Whiteboard: a marvelous tool!

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I believe one of my strengths as a teacher is how I organize my whiteboard. There is always a section that lists the lesson’s learning objectives and the lesson’s learning activities. I also post all the theoretical content I am presenting for the lesson, and remind students of what will be assessed for the lesson.

Every week I have a different focus for formative assessment, which could be a specific criterion from the subject (this lesson’s was Criterion C – Reflection & Evaluation), but it could also be a specific behavior or attitude such as ability to work with peers, audience etiquette, neatness of developmental workbook/portfolio etc… If the students are performing a challenging task, I also post the step-by-step instructions to successfully complete the task.

I believe organizing the whiteboard plays a huge role in classroom management as it gives students an idea of what to expect. It also saves the teacher the pain of having to answer the question ‘what are we doing today?’ for every student that walks in! The date and title of the lesson also play a huge role in helping students organize their journal reflections.
Here are some visual examples of my whiteboard:

If you have any feedback or suggestions for improvement, please feel free to leave me a comment!
Wishing you all a wonderful weekend 🙂