Friday, August 11, 2017

7 Ways to Organize Entry into Your Classroom

How do you start each day or each block with your students?  Is there a bit of chaos? Does the amount of time you give your students to come in and do what they need to do vary, simply because you are doing last minute preparation right before school or in between classes?  (Been there!) This variance of time, and the location of some of the systems you have in place, may be hindering a smooth start to the day.

I have some ideas to start your class that may help.

I teach 5th grade.  In any given day, 6 different classes of students come through my door (reminiscent of a middle school schedule), one each hour.  Teaching elementary school in Florida for 17 years, I never had that.  The max I ever had was an AM & PM class, or maybe my team shifted 5 or so kiddos for reading groups.  When I moved to Virginia, and started this whole block schedule thing right from the get go, I had to learn how to have smooth and efficient transitions from class to class.  If not, we were starting at a point of chaos, and that, my friends, is not a good way to start.

Here are some easy to implement ideas to make the start of your class or your block run more smoothly and efficiently.

If you think putting the pencil sharpener near the door is a good idea, think again.  In your head, you may imagine the kids coming in, pencils in hand, stopping at the sharpener, and then moving on into the room.  In reality, you create a bottle neck.  Some students are filing in one way, and then other students are moving right back toward the door (after they have put their stuff down) to sharpen their pencils.  Then, they all seem to stop and congregate, impeding any flow of traffic into the room or toward the sharpener.  Move the sharpener towards the back of the room if you can, away from the entry point.  Bonus points to you if you can find a somewhat open place away from desks where a line for the sharpener can form.

For the same reasons above.  Your hope is that they turn in the paper(s) as they walk in.  Reality says, however, they go to their seats to unpack their binder or backpack and then return toward the door area to turn in that paper.  And then, *whoosh* you've got bottle neck, conversations where no one can fit in the door way and no one can get past to turn in the paper(s).  Consider moving your turn in box to another corner of the room away from the incoming students.

This one is my favorite.  I got the idea from my teammates, and then changed it around a little.  Many teachers like to have a Do Now posted up front.  My Do Now screen is multi-faceted and helps with an effective and efficient transition into class.  There are many for sale online, but you can make your own. Let's take a look at one of my screens.  I have one for each class that I teach.  The screen shot is from a SMART board, but I used to use PowerPoint. 
  • At the top is the title of the class (I have one for each subject I teach).
  • Next is what I want them to do.
  • I have 2 timers.  1 set for kids to sharpen pencils.  I give 3 minutes once most students are in the room. (I don't allow pencils sharpening during class. I allow before or after, but not during.  I do provide sharpened old pencils, ones I find on the floor while they last.) The other one is a timer for their Do Now.  Some days are longer, but at least they know how much time they have.  The timer especially helps students who need that kind of reinforcement.
  • A meme.  For some reason, my kids really latched on to Chuck Norris when we talked about hyperbole.  We had Chuck Norris Fridays- a very exciting day!  Some teachers might do a Google search for inspirational memes or inspirational quotes for kids.  My personality dictates that we have a funny and punny meme, or a current event meme.  When we went on a trip to a Colonial farm, I looked up farm memes. The memes get them looking at the board, and may even provide a fun side conversation while kids are filing in.
The timers are an easy thing to add.  In SMART Notebook, click on the little picture with the frame.  Search timer.  Click the "button" that says "Interactive and Multimedia".  Just click and drag to your screen.
Even younger, responsible students can help you by setting the timer (click the arrows up to 3:00) or starting the timer.  Responsible, early students can help collect homework.  Whatever 2 minutes they do for you, that is 2 more minutes you have to your day.

Make their Do Now predictable and as much the same every-single-day.  Like muscle memory, they'll just come in and do it without it feeling like a laborious job.

You running around hair-brained at the beginning of school or class, sets that tone for the rest of class, or the rest of the morning.  Set yourself up for success by having the Welcome Screen or Do Now already written on the board.  Have the homework written on the board already.  Have the Essential Questions or Flow of the Day on the board already. Have the calendar piece flipped and the date already written on the board.  If mornings don't work for you, do this right after school before you leave.  It also helps so much if you are unexpectedly out the next day.  Hooray!  Your homework is written and the classroom board is prepared for the day.

Changing classes every that time just flies by.  I've used an old iPhone, a Fitbit I loaded up with vibrating alarms, and a timer I downloaded on my SMARTboard (note-bad idea, I had to keep resetting it whenever it went off).  Whatever works for you.  I also set mine for 3 minutes before the kids leave.  If it was a timer they could hear, they knew that we still had 3 minutes left and time to pack up.

I hope that you can implement at least one of these ideas to help make student entry into your class a smooth and efficient one.  What other ideas do you have to help start everyone's day more smoothly?