Saturday, 19 May 2012 17:45

Check the Temperature of Your Classroom (Teaching Tip #71)

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Inevitably, there will be times in our classrooms when things just seem a bit off. During these instances, for example, the typical level of focus and effort with which our students work may not be present or the kids may be having an unusually large number of arguments or problems on the playground with their peers.

In these moments it is important to remember the old adage, “As teachers, we don’t teach content; we teach children.” I always try to keep this idea in my mind, but I’m as guilty as anyone of forgetting it every once in a while. I may be so focused on rehearsing the steps of the math lesson I’m about to teach on a given morning that I am mentally unprepared to address the recess argument that’s still bubbling over when the kids return to class after the bell.

To help myself gauge the overall focus level, morale, and mood of my students, I make it a point to check the group’s “temperature” on a consistent basis.

One strategy for doing this is built into our morning routine. During this time my students and I check in with one another using a brief team-building activity from Jeanne Gibbs’ terrific book Tribes. Using a 1-10 scale, each student states a number expressing how he or she is doing that day. A “10” means life couldn’t be better. I’m happy, energetic, and ready to have a great day. On the other hand, a “1” means that I would rather be anywhere but here. Perhaps I am sick, upset, or troubled by something at home. The kids pick any number between one and ten, fractions and decimals included, to share with the group. Students who do not wish to participate have the right to pass, which is one of the four key components of the Tribes philosophy. Going around the circle takes only a minute or two because the kids are only saying numbers; they aren’t revealing the reasons behind their numbers, thus preserving everyone’s right to privacy.  

I’m always on the lookout for low numbers so that, as the day unfolds, I can offer these students comfort and cheer to boost their spirits. I encourage the kids to do the same.  This activity builds a sense of inclusion and mutual caring; it also strengthens the bonds among team members. In addition, whenever possible, we try to find time at the end of the day to go around the circle again so that we can determine whether there have been any changes from the morning.  

If the difficulties of the class go beyond those of a small number of children, I may need to adjust the pacing, grouping arrangement, or presentation of classroom lessons. I am a huge believer in cooperative learning, and my students work in pairs at least once or twice per day. If my students are having trouble working cooperatively for one reason or another, I will scale back the group work for the time being and schedule more independent work activities. Or, I may switch some partnerships.

Similarly, if some students are having trouble focusing on their work at their current seats because they are distracing or distracted by peers, I will move them to a quieter, more private part of the room.

Fortunately, I do not have to make these types of adjustments frequently, but these pro-active steps are often needed in the short-term until the class finds its focus, regains its momentum, and settles whatever issues it is confronting.

Checking the temperature of your classroom on a regular basis allows you to minimize disruptions, maintain morale, and maximize learning.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.