What if I told you that you could change one thing in your classes and most of your classroom management problems would vanish? Would you believe me? It’s true. Here is the answer to your prayers:
Don’t. Be. Boring.
The number one reason that students misbehave in class is because they are bored. Try, if you can, to remember what it is like to be a student. If something is not interesting, it gets ignored. This is doubly true in today’s culture of instant gratification. You need to engage your students right from the beginning.
It’s actually a lot like writing a good short story. A good story begins with a hook to draw the readers in. Take a look at the beginning of Kafka’s In The Penal Colony:
“’It’s a remarkable apparatus,’ said the Officer to the Explorer and gazed with a certain look of admiration at the device, with which he was, of course, thoroughly familiar.”
When you read that, many questions come to mind: What is this apparatus? What does it do? Why was the Officer familiar with the device? Where are they and why do they need this device? It grabs the readers’ interest and that is what a teacher needs to do with their students.
So, start out with something interesting that is at least somewhat related to the topic at hand. It could be a short video, a demonstration, a question, a joke, a picture, or anything. It just needs to engage the students. It’s also important to know what your students find interesting. One class might find a brainteaser interesting, while another might not care about it. It’s your job to find something that will engage the class.
Once you have the class hooked, you need to keep them engaged and introduce an exciting activity to help them learn. Here’s a hint: textbooks are boring. My personal preference is to have the students work on projects. Besides helping students learn about a given topic, a good project should have three features:
1.) It should be fun and engaging.
2.) It should require some form of creative activity and expression.
3.) If possible, it should involve real-world experiences.
Of course, there are other interesting ways to engage your students, but projects are important for a number of reasons. They usually end in some sort of tangible product that students can take ownership of and be proud of. Projects can help build teamwork. They also are more likely to resemble whatever type of work they will do outside of school when they get a job.
Ken Robinson has a good explanation of the importance of creativity in his TED Talk here. As far as real-world experiences go, students need to see that what they are learning really matters. The way to do that is to connect that to the real world.
Let’s look at a simple example: In one class, my students were learning about George Washington’s Farewell Address. Instead of having my students write an essay, I had them write a letter… to the President of the United States. You would be amazed at how much improvement there is in students’ writing when you tell them they are writing to the President, rather than to their teacher.
Even the students with poor writing ability worked hard to make sure their letters were presentable. The key to this project was to convince students that there was a chance that the President would read their letters. This video made that easy.
There were no behavior problems in this class. Do you know why? Because the students weren’t bored. They were excited and engaged in the material. That’s the number one way to avoid classroom management issues.