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How-To: Manage Your Classroom
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How To: Manage Your Classroom
NYC Helpline: Manage Your Classroom

Managing Your Classroom Using Environmental Cues Benna Golubtchik

The National Education Association says that 82% of all teaching communication is non-verbal. Thus, we have a powerful tool to guide our students' behavior and learning.

In our lives, we use certain cues to associate concepts or ideas non-verbally. For example, when we hear certain music or phrases in a commercial, we have been trained to think of a particular product. When we hear "our song," we are apt to recall the warm feelings it evokes. These appeal to our right brain, or non-verbal side.

Teachers can use these hooks to effectively appeal to their right brain students. Research shows that when there is an incongruity between verbal and non-verbal communication, it is the non-verbal to which we overwhelmingly respond. We can therefore use this model to bring students to positive learning experiences.

Teachers can communicate to their students through the logistics of the physical classroom. For example, if the teacher always uses the board at the front of the room to write important information, the students are anchored to being quiet and copying. If the teacher wants to begin a discussion, she can move to another part of the room. When the discussion needs to end, the teacher can return to her original spot and begin writing on the board. The students sense that discussion time has shifted to quiet working time.

As the teacher walks around the room, his/her proximity to certain students serves to keep them on task. Even a glance across the room or stopping in mid-sentence to wait for quiet will get students to focus back on their classwork.

It is useful to identify different areas in your classroom to be used for different types of activities. Instruction should be in front of a board. Routines such as attendance might be done from your desk. Counseling and individual guidance might take place in a private corner or at the door. Motivational activities should have their own distinct areas. These identified locations serve as physical anchors that can help to establish the routines.

A special corner of your room could be reserved for students who need time alone. You can join the student there later, if necessary.

Directions, such as opening activities or pages to do in a book, should be written down so that students can refer to them. When, inevitably, someone asks what she is supposed to do, after you have explained it three times, you can simply point. That will work on most occasions. Students will get used to looking for the posted answer to, "What am I supposed to do now?", and become more self-reliant.

Disciplining can be accomplished using anchors, too. An advantage of having a separate location associated with discipline is that it separates the students' overall classroom experience from discipline and allows them to easily return their focus to instruction when the teacher changes locations. When an 8th grade class became unruly, the teacher carried a chair to a corner of the room, climbed his "soap box," and proceeded to preach to his students about their adolescent behavior. They were shocked, stunned, and gave him complete attention. When finished, he climbed down from the chair, counted three seconds silently to break the mental state, and walked to the front, where he resumed his lesson. Weeks later, when the negative behavior returned, he picked up the chair, moved to the back, and before he could continue, the class was silent. An effectively established anchor can be re-accessed and used again, without repeating the entire experience.

This technique is also useful when one teacher must cover the class of a popular teacher. If the covering teacher observes the behavior and subtly adapts the absent teacher's mannerisms, she can transfer his/her credibility to herself, which allows her to quickly establish a positive relationship. This also works when transferring a class from one subject teacher to another.

Anchors can be used to promote classroom routines, maintain discipline, or reinforce academic concepts. Subtle anchors such as the ones mentioned above empower students to be more in control of their behaviors. We are allowing our cues to help them figure out what we want. Everyone benefits.


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