Cooperative Learning Meets Classroom Management

Classroom management is arguably one of the most important things about being a teacher. This is not my strongest suit, as I tend to be stronger in creativity/innovation and making whatever I am teaching the most fun! When I taught high school I was naturally good at establishing a good rapport with students, which in turn trickled into classroom management. If the kids like you (or the clothes you’re wearing) and respect you, they don’t typically act like jerks in class. There are some exceptions to this, of course, but overall I’d say this is a pretty good rule. It helped me survive those crucial first three years, anyway. Probably not a great long term strategy, but it worked for young, fun, fresh outta college Sra. C!

This strategy absolutely does not work well with elementary kids. They need and respond way better to structure, and predictability of routine. Not your witty, sarcastic jokes. Actually, if you make a joke in front of K-2 students, be prepared for them to actually lose their minds. They begin to bounce up and down (while sitting on their butts somehow) while making undeniable monkey noises while shooting snot out of their teeny tiny noses. And also, probably taking their shoes off, while asking for a tissue so they can eat hand sanitizer and show you their wiggly tooth. And while their shoes are off, they are tying the laces together/to another kids shoe laces/ to your desk. So, just steer clear of jokes. That awesome joke on your Laffy Taffy? Save it for someone at home. Not workplace appropriate when you teach elementary school.

So anyway, in all seriousness, procedures and routine are essential. The older I get the more I like having “systems” for things at home to make things easier and more predictable (so when the baby doesn’t sleep, and other stressful things I’m not wondering what’s for dinner or searching around for clean pants to wear…), and I have found the same to be true for the way I run my classroom. Am I an adult now? Maybe. Do other people just come out of college this way? Probably. Do I tend to learn things the long and hard way? Usually.

There were a few things that were floating around in my head when putting my system for classroom procedures together:

  • Repeating directions. Lord, have mercy. I was repeating myself at least five times for every direction. I was absolutely hoarse by the end of every week, usually by the end of the day on Wednesday. I needed kids to know procedures well so I did not have to repeat them 10+ times during a class period (or 150+ time a week! LORD).  
  • Supplies. I took for granted that my high school kids could (mostly) be trusted with scissors and gluesticks, so the first time I taught a lesson with glue in K-2 it was complete and utter chaos. I needed to be able to pass out supplies quickly and efficiently so that it did not take the entire class period. Also, on the opposite end, if I pre-set the materials, I spent the whole beginning part of the lesson reprimanding kids for touching supplies. Needed something better. 
  • Selection of who has the “job”. I spent a lot of class/transitions waiting for kids to get quiet and picking the kid or table that was the “quietest” to do whatever job needed to be done. What happened if kids weren’t quiet? Time was wasted / I just passed whatever it was out anyway. 
  • Substitute teachers. The end of my first year I was pregnant and I was anticipating being large and in charge toward the middle of my second year and having a substitute for part of the year. I wanted procedures to be down pat, predictable and easy/obvious for whoever would be in my room teaching my class while I was on leave and any days in between that I was out for doctor appointments. 
  • Target language! I teach Spanish, so I wanted to incorporate the target language into the core of the class other than just when introducing vocabulary. 
  • Partners. Ideally the groups would be set up in a way that allow for easy partner assignment and variety of partner if needed. 

So, that’s the why? and here’s the how!

Separate class into groups. I have my class separated currently into 5 color groups: red, orange, yellow, green and blue. Our max class size is 25 so I have five groups of five. Since I am a language class it was super easy to refer to these colors in Spanish only. Our first week of school Spanish lesson in each grade is introduction or review of these colors. I think it would be awesome for a general ed classroom to refer to color groups in a different language, would be a fun quirky way to teach kids some foreign vocabulary.

Within groups, separate into different roles.  Each color group has five shapes: square, rectangle, triangle, circle and hexagon. This was a little tricky for kindergarteners, as some of them weren’t totally sure what the difference between a square and a rectangle was, but I would like to think that us discussing and reinforcing those shapes in Spanish helped them with math (cross-curricular tie, huzzah!).

Assign each role a job and make jobs clearly visible/identifiable. Jobs! Oh the things you can trick little kids into thinking is a job. You think you feel strongly about the caps being put back on the markers? Charge a first grader with being responsible task and it will get done. Here are what I currently have laminated little pictures of in my jobs pocket. We usually refer to this person as “Whatever the thing is Captain” because, why not. Who doesn’t love being a captain? Glue Captain? Awesome. Headphones Captain? Amazing. My one regret is that I did not call them “el capitan de ______” when I had the chance.

  • paper: pass out and/or collect papers/ bring the extra one that I miscounted back to me
  • pencils: retrieves pencil cup and enough erasers for group members and if I am having a good day and am not totally maxed out on external stimuli, I might even let them sharpen the pencils
  • workbooks: my second graders have Spanish workbooks, they are stacked by class. The captain takes the top five and passes them out to whomever they belong to, regardless of table and then collects their tables’ at the end. 
  • headphones: for iPads we have headphones that are sorted (individually bagged in snack bags) in a sandwich size bag labeled by color tables, that are then placed in a gallon sized bag labeled with teacher’s name. Phew! That’s a lot of bags. 
  • crayons: I have big buckets with crayons, one for each table; they get/pass out/collect
  • trash person: they check the floor for trash or supplies that should have been put away.
  • sanitizer: this person gets a thing of hand sanitizer and gives each person at their table a ‘little squirt’
  • red pens & blue pens: this is how are kids are accustomed to checking their work
  • gluesticks: they get/pass out glue to their table/collect
  • scissors: they get/pass out/collect
  • the possibilities are endless!

Have supplies out and clearly labeled at kindergartener height with word/picture.  I have a shelf with all the goodies labeled with the Spanish word and a picture.

Rotate jobs each week.  My shapes on the board are where jobs are posted so kids can easily look and see when they come into class what their job will be that day.

    All in all, there is always room for improvement. There is no “one size fits all” for classroom management, but I have found that this system really helps and alleviates a lot of potential behavior issues with all of the fifteen classes I teach. I really enjoy being able to incorporate Spanish into the system and that all kids have a job and take them seriously. The kids feel like they have ownership and really do a great job of keeping my classroom in good running shape. Happy managing!

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