Tia Butts has a Master's degree in Secondary Teacher Education. She has been teaching English for seven years at the high school level.
What happened to traditional classroom practices?
With technology and student-led learning becoming such major trends in education, it’s not surprising that some teachers avoid anything traditional in the classroom because of the fear that they are not offering enough technology or they aren’t giving students enough choice.
Yes, technology is so much more helpful in the classroom and can be used to assess and grade students quickly. And it’s true that students should have ownership embedded in the curriculum regularly to make learning relevant.
However, there are some instructional practices that have been used for decades that worked effectively 50 years ago and still are effective today. Consider using the following practices in your classroom to embrace the educational traditions that have helped teachers gain control of their classroom while still building a rapport with their students.
Parent Phone Calls
Parent phone calls (not emails or texts) are still the most effective form of contact when you are dealing with kids. When I first started teaching and didn’t have children, I had time to go home and call as many parents as I wanted. Nine times out of ten, I had full support from the parents and they were glad to hear that I cared enough to call.
Once I had my son, however, I didn’t have much time at home to devote to grading and making parent contacts while at home, so I had to adjust how I made parent calls. I would make them during my planning or early in the mornings when I got to work.
Parent phone calls are almost always effective. The parents get a chance to hear the voice of the adult who spends time with their precious baby every day in the classroom. You also get a chance to talk to the parent (which may not be easy or commonplace depending on the school district) and tell them about any problematic issues or overall good behavior you have had from the student. It’s a win-win.
Prizes and Incentives
There are many people who argue that students should not get extrinsic awards for their behavior or grades because it makes them entitled and they will come to expect a prize or reward for everything appropriate that they do. I think that’s a radical viewpoint. No, I don’t think that everything a student does well or appropriately should be rewarded, but I think in all life everyone has been rewarded for doing the right thing, and when it’s done the right way (not gratuitously), it helps keep us motivated and we want to continue to do the right thing.
People always assume that after middle school, students don’t want rewards or prizes anymore and they think it’s “kid stuff.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Even at the high school level, students still appreciate candy, goody bags, and especially homework passes – if you are a teacher that gives homework.
These incentives can be used for behavior as well as grades. I usually start off the school year by giving candy to my first student that volunteers to read something small (like a section of the syllabus) out loud. This sets the tone that yes, I will ask for students to read out loud in class but ultimately, I appreciate participation and risk-taking in my classroom and that I’m not afraid to show a little appreciation for their effort.
It is a proven, research-based fact that when students read out loud, they can strengthen their comprehension, speaking skills, and fluency. However, many people still think it’s “babying” to allow secondary students to read text out loud in class. Reading text out loud – whether the teacher reads to the students or the students read out loud to their peers – is an effective literacy strategy at any stage and any age.
With there being such advanced technology available (and some teacher’s obsession with having a quiet room), many students are instructed to read silently or listen to an audio of the text on their headphones. Audio has its place as well as silent reading, but when students are diverse learners and their reading comprehension levels vary from fifth grade to eleventh grade all in one class (the teachers of urban public schools know exactly what I’m talking about), read aloud tends to help bring the classroom together in a unique way.
Although reading out loud in class is daunting for many students, if the task is approached in a less intimidating way, it’s simple to get students to reading around their peers. If you start in small doses in the beginning and continue to ask students to read (even if it’s just a small part for those that really don’t like to read out loud) it will become a regular routine as the school year passes by and when you do ask, they won’t act like it’s the end of the world.
Make Connections At The Door
Greet Students At The Door
One great way to set the tone for the class period is to be outside of the door when students are coming into class. This is an easy way to do multiple things at one time – take roll, have a conversation with students, and have an easy view of the students that are already in class.
What’s fun about greetings students at the door is that you can use this time to get a few minutes to have small conversation with them and build your rapport with them. Ask them how they’re doing, maybe ask them something about them that you’re curious about (like do they have siblings), and you can give them quick updates on assignments or ask them about missing assignments if you need to. Sometimes, it’s hard to just have conversations with students that are not related to schoolwork, so this would be a great time to sneak in some time to casually chat with students.
You can also multitask while you greet students at the door. Once you know students well, you can keep a mental note of who is in class once the bell rings so that you can mark it for attendance and you can keep an eye out for who is using their time wisely and getting started on the bell ringer or opening
Those that aren’t in the classroom may be thinking that it sounds silly to call whole class instruction “old school,” but it is at this time. Many school districts are using learning and curriculum strategies surrounding personalized learning. Personalized learning can be an excellent tool for helping students work at their own preferred pace, but if it not utilized in the right way, it can allow students to take their full course online with very little teacher and peer interaction.
The best thing to do is to always allow some portion of the class to be devoted to instruction. It doesn’t have to be long or drawn out, and it can simply reteach concepts from a previous day.
Whole class instruction allows the teachers to assess students informally and sometimes quickly identify whole class struggles. Students that are little more vocal have a chance to speak up and ask questions and teachers can gauge the comprehension of some quieter students and maybe follow up with them privately to see if they have any difficulties.
There still needs to be some level of whole-class instruction to guide student learning, support the soft skills that we want them to build, and assess what students know and need to know.
TIP: If you are a teacher who does work at a school that embraces personalized learning or project-based learning and discourages whole class instruction, you can still be creative and sneak it in. Make your openings in class revolve around an activity or concept that the class can work on together - if your evaluator asks you about it, remind them that all daily instructional plans need an opening activity, and you choose to have the class do it together.