How to have a calm, controlled and effective classroom.

Great blog from @ASTsupportAAli for both new and experienced staff.

Here are our top tips to having a controlled and calm classroom.

I tweeted the below thread out a week or so ago, I wanted to expand on the comments and highlight the work the leadership team has been doing to establish effective T&L and behaviour and culture in our school.

Routines:

Establish a way of doing EVERYTHING.

From entering to leaving the room, to handing out worksheets, books, resources and so on. There should be a procedure. A well practised, set of methods to getting those things done. They should be reminded every time those things are going to be done to ensure they are done smoothly.

We line our students up, outside their classroom, greet them, inform/remind/emphasise the routine on entry and expectations and they enter our classrooms. The first 5 minutes of a lesson are crucial, create the environment where the expectation is to learn.

DNA:

Every lesson should begin with one. A Do Now Activity.

This should usually be a talking or thinking one, as the books are being handed/taken out. Get your students thinking about your learning instantly, give them a challenge as soon as they pass the threshold.

Let them know in your lesson, every second is a learning opportunity.

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My procedure for handing out books is that I always ask 5/6 people to hand out 5/6 books each so the books are handed out quickly. As soon as you get your book, They have a task to do.

This is writing down the title (we call it a Big/Learning Question.) The date. And THUD in the margin.

Title

Handwriting

Underline

Date

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Start your lesson with a THUD. Give the responsibility to the students. Give them the criteria and expect it. I wander round with a red pen. I place a red dot next to anybody’s work that is missing something, or something is not done correctly. Students then instantly correct.

Students should also underline off last lessons work, and start reading what was covered, to aid with their recall check, if they have finished the DNA.

Praise:

Ensure you engage with proximal praise at this point.

Notice who has done what they should be doing rather than who hasn’t. I personally use my VIP method here, and hand out a cushion to students who are doing the right thing! See here.

If a student hasn’t started the DNA or opened their book when they’ve got it, don’t ask

“Why haven’t you done what I have asked!”

Just state the instruction again, with a thank you.

“Sylviana open your book, write in the big question and THUD. Thank you.”

Continue with proximal praise.

DON’T overpraise basic expectations. Well done & thank you for things that are simply required is fine. But only praise formally when students have exceeded (their) expectations.

When you want the classes attention; do it in the same way.

Notice the bright spots!

Attention:

Have a system, be it a countdown or count up!

We use a 5-0 countdown system. The Pivotal way. Include instructions in between each number. For example.

“Right, when you’re ready. 5,

Facing the front 4.

Thanks to those listening 3,

Pens down and looking up 2,

OK, great let’s begin 1…”

Silence should and is always expected at this point.

I use Mary Myatt’s method of ‘When you’re ready’ to alert students attention.

Retrieval- Education is the best therapy:

Start the lesson with a 5 question recall check.

No matter how many times they’ve done it. Remind everybody of the routine or procedure for your recall checks. I will ask students-

How many questions? 5 questions Sir.

How long do you have? 5 minutes sir.

How do you answer the questions? In Full sentences sir.

What does that mean? It means including the question in our answers sir.

What do you do if you can’t remember the answer? If unknown write down question & leave space. Then we will fill in the answers later sir.

Ensure there is at LEAST one answer that EVERY student can answer! This is to enable students to instantly feel like they can participate in the lesson.

Let the students know how long they have by using a timer. I have now phased this out, for some classes, as I want them to practice using the clock to manage their time.

Continue to use the countdown from then onwards. Any time you want the classes attention, use your countdown.

Stand up, be seen, be clear.

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Instructions:

When explaining a task, after you have explained ask at least 2 students to explain back what they’ve been asked to do. Then still go over to any other students who you think may need another round of explanation and re-explain! Don’t get upset by that fact!

  1. Every task should have a sequenced set of instructions.
  2. Every task should have a time frame. Ideally both available, visually.
  3. Every task should have the opportunity for you to check/model/support/reaffirm. That could be sat at your desk.

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All your visuals should be clear. The font should be large enough to read. Avoid confusing backgrounds.

Use bold to emphasise words and keep colour coding consistent.

Organisation:

Here, we do not cut and stick sheets into our books. We hole punch every book and treasury tag the sheets in. This way sheets can be used for multiple lessons, without students flipping backwards and forwards and if a student misses a lesson, there work can be added in, with ease. It also saves time!

 

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Image by Heather Mary James (@LDNHumsTeacher)

 

See here for more details!

Noise Levels:

And be clear about expected noise level from/for each and every task. Spy Talk, Low Flow, Formal Normal. If they can’t differentiate, then revert to silence.

Again proximal praise at this point, but not just for doing the right thing.

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Do not be worried, or afraid or insisting on Zero Noise or Silence for a task.

Anchoring Effect:

Do you give students unconscious opt outs? Instead of saying:

Right here’s an quick, easy, simple task.

or

Here’s a challenging, hard task.

After the quick, easy, simple task, there could be a few students that thought, wow, that was meant to be quick, easy and simple and I could not do it! Or, a few that thought, why am I wasting my time with easy work. Those students could then be put off the next task, which is more challenging and harder.

Instead say:

Here’s task 1 and here’s task 2.

Reduce the chance for students to be anchored out of a task. Avoid using language that may make students feel like a task is unachievable.

Expectations:

Remind students of what you expect, by explaining why it’s beneficial. Be clear about expectations and beliefs. Have high expectations and clear beliefs about students progress and intended goals. Let students know everybody is going to complete all the tasks and you will help WHEN needed.

I expect calm, structure and respect so we can learn as much as possible, so you can concentrate and challenge yourself. So we can all feel the benefits of school. That’s the language I use.

If a student is off task, ask them,

“Eric, are you clear about the task I’ve asked you to get on with?”

“Sebastian have you made a start? Can I give you any suggestions?”

Avoid,

“Why aren’t you working? Doing as I asked.”

If this is repeated.

“Alisha can you come and show me your work pls.”

If noise levels get too high, then knock it down to silence. If people talk whilst the task should be completed in silence, speak to those students individually.

Use mini whiteboards and post it notes to attempt work before writing it down in books. (Sometimes.) Allow students to talk through an answer first too. As Mart Myatt says, writing floats on a sea of talk!

Your seating plan is vital. Another thread about that, another time.

Displays:

What do your displays say about you? Your classroom? Are they too busy? Are they updated? Do they support learning. Here, we all use the same colour background and border colours to not make them too ‘loud.’ We are given dedicated time to update them and encourage them to be used as learning tools. As guides to help with recall checks.

Do not afraid to be you in your classroom. I share a few photos of my baby boy, by my desk. Showing students the diversity of us, might be the only diversity they hear/see/feel.

Being “strict” doesn’t mean you are boring or unliked.

It doesn’t mean you shout all day.

It means you have clear routines, procedures and possibly an assertive tone of voice when need be. Don’t fear breaking off task every one in a while to simply have a little joke/giggle with your class!

You will also notice I have not used the word relationships in the entire blog, this does not mean I feel we can have quiet, calm, controlled, effective classrooms without relationships, I just feel whilst we can achieve the above we are creating and building those relationships. I have written about relationships here too.

Remember, you may be really great with all of the different types of students, but ensuring you follow the schools behaviour policy is vital. Whether it is needed for you or not, it helps the teachers that it is needed for. Consistency in approach is vital. Students should not have to second guess what each teacher will do. It should be clear.

Also, do not feel you have ‘nothing to learn’ from those who have well ordered, controlled classrooms, just because ‘they can do it.’ I feel there are the above characteristics in their rooms which enable the calm and control. Go check it out?

Planning Scripted Instruction: A ‘Sort-Of’ Guide…

Have you ever tried a scripted lesson ?

“There is order in what we wish to teach, just as there is order in the pattern observed in clouds, sea shells, or traffic moving down a freeway. Our task is to discover it and to communicate this order. If we do it properly, the development of the skills will seem so easy that it might strike the naive observer as “cheating”” (Siegfried Engelmann) 

I started experimenting with scripted instruction this year. From the outset, it felt like cheating. Just telling students the answer, testing them on it and then asking them to apply their learning felt like a rebellious act. Yet the evidence before me suggested that it was working. Whilst I do not want to suggest that Direct Instruction could be all things to all people, it has transformed my teaching. In this blog post, I will share some of the principles that underpin the planning of some of the DI inspired scripts that I have used in the classroom.

The most striking difference between a ‘normal’ lesson and a DI lesson is that the latter uses “concise teacher scripts and choral student responses” (Barbash, 2012, p.24). Many teachers may balk at the idea of standing at the front of the room imparting facts and hearing students chant these facts back verbatim. Yet, if it’s good enough for the most effective teaching method ever invented, then it’s more than good enough for me. Yes, it is weird to teach from a script to begin with. Sure, students may be initially hesitant to chant in unison. However, there is something unique about seeing 32 students in a classroom understanding a concept and working hard in silence on a topic that you are sure they are achieving success in.

Engelmann’s scripts had the benefit of 50 years of experience, meticulous design and field testing before they were published. There are some fantastic examples available for Mathematics, English, and the social sciences online. As a caveat to everything I am about to share, my scripts are merely imitations of Engelmann’s work. They cannot, and should not, be held up as an example of his work. Nonetheless, I hope they exemplify the application of some of Engelmann’s principles in a more conventional classroom setting.

Typically I have used scripted instruction in content heavy lessons. For example, teaching about the adaptations of flora and fauna to Arctic environments. Alternatively, teaching about the impacts of deforestation in the rainforest. I have not used scripted instruction for teaching ‘skills’ such as interpreting a bar graph. That is not to say one could not design instruction for teaching skills, Engelmann’s work shows that you can, Instead, the context of my planning is that it is to teach content rich lessons.

Some examples of these scripts are available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1y8l5zY5ZHV0tcAemfBE7pIRzoI6fnws-i7rl9f-_uG8/edit?usp=sharing

1. Start at the end

Every lesson that I have used DI style scripts in have a clear question defining the lesson. For example, ‘why did world population explode?’. The outcome of all of my lessons is for students to produce a extended piece of writing to answer the question for the lesson. The planning process will begin with me writing an exemplary model answer to that question. For example, students will need to know that world population exploded because of the control of death rates. They will also need to know that we have controlled death rates by reducing deaths by war, famine and disease.

Having written a model answer I will identify ten pieces of content that students need to know in order to produce a good quality piece of work. These constitute the objective facts and knowledge that I will design my instructional script around. To return to the quote which began this post, this constitutes giving ”order in what we wish to teach”. There is clearly a debate on which knowledge should be taught. However, my experience with DI is that there is a limit to how much knowledge can be taught in an hour so that the students ‘get it’. Therefore, choices have to be made on which knowledge is the most important to teach. Whilst ten pieces of knowledge sounds arbitrary, I have found it to be enough that students can remember it all and apply it properly in a relevant context.

Below is an example of ten core pieces of information for a science lesson script.

better 10 facts
An example of ten facts to base scripted instruction on

2. Atomise the knowledge and chain it together

Once I have a list of ten pieces of ‘content’ for students to learn, I try and break it down into easily digestible chunks. For example, I may intend to teach that some plants in the rainforest have a waxy surface known as a drip tip to drain water so that they do not die. An example of these chunks would be “one example of a plant in the rainforest is a drip tip. Drip tips have a waxy surface. Drip tips have a waxy surface to drain water. Drip tips drain water to avoid rotting and dying”. These instructions would then have simple expected learner responses. For example, “what type of surface does a drip tip have?” in which the expected response was “waxy”. This ‘atomisation’ draws out each important piece of information for the learner to memorise.

Throughout, the expected student response is kept as simple as possible. As Engelmann states in The Theory of Instruction: “if the statement is too long for the learner to repeat, we present only part of the statement at a time”. Getting students to chant “they are waxy so water drains off of the leaf” is unlikely to be successful. Breaking long statements up aids working memory by reducing the amount of information students have to hold. In addition, it keeps the pace of the lesson high, which is an essential part of DI. As is exemplified below, students are then given the chance to build this chain back up by explaining to their partner how a drip tip is adapted.

Atomised and broken up
Instructional sequence on drip tips

3. Be economical and consistent in your language

The first two of Shepard Barbash’s rules are ‘be clear’ and ‘be efficient’. The atomisation of content aids this process. However, one method of efficiency is the be consistent in your use of wording.

One example of economy of language is using the same phrase to indicate student response. In the case of my scripts, I will always use the phrase “okay, your turn”. Another way of improving efficiency is the phrase questions in a similar way that you have phrased the instruction. For example, if the information is presented as “the drip tips waxy surface helps water to drip off the leaf”. The question is best phrased as “what does the drip tips waxy surface help water to do”. A less optimal phrasing may be “why do drip tips have waxy surfaces”. Whilst the learner response is essentially the same “to drip water”, the latter example requires a deeper level of complex thinking. In my experience, this deeper complexity can come at a later stage in the lesson. In the initial presentation of information, consistency and simplicity is key.

A second way of improving efficiency is by consistently re-emphasising important pieces of information. For example, one way of presenting a drip tip is to point at a picture and say “some leaves have drip tips. These help them to drip water off.” However, there exists an additional opportunity to re-emphasise the name of the plant. Instead, a more optimal instruction would be “Some leaves have drip tips. Drip tips help water to drip off the leaf”. This is a strategy used later in a script. For example, “draining the water stops the leaf rotting. If the leaf rotted then it would die” this is a more optimal example than “draining the water stops rotting. If this happened it would die”.  Alongside the inflection and pacing of instruction, consistently re-emphasising this information can aid student recall.

4. Apply Engelmann’s ‘three level’ strategy 

Engelmann’s three level strategy is very similar to small scale interleaving. Within the instructional sequence, information is constantly re-tested, even after learners have given a positive response.

Three level strategy
Engelmann’s three level strategy

The strategy starts at level 1, which is the easiest, and progresses to level 3, the hardest. In this example, the circled A constitutes an expected student response. For example, each time there is a circled A, students may respond to the question “what percentage of Earth do rainforests cover?” with the answer “7%”.

Level 1 may represent the very first introduction of the piece of content. To progress to Level 2, students have to provide the correct answer to a question straight after the presentation of the information.

Level 2 is the next level of complexity. Students are presented with new information, tested on that new information but then also tested on information that they had previously been exposed to. An example of Level 2 is available below, with students asked to identify the rainforest coverage of Earth and the location of rainforests straight after being tested on other newly presented facts. Throughout the instructional sequence, each set of facts are repeatedly interwoven to aid Level 2 testing.

Level 2 better
Level 2 testing

Level 3 is the final level of complexity. After being exposed to each instruction of atomised information, students are asked to review all of the information at the end. This has given them time to forget the information and places a greater complexity demand by requiring learners to switch between lots of newly learned information.

Reviewed answer
Level 3 testing

If students can answer all of these questions at the end of the instructional sequence, then the lesson can move from scripted instruction and choral response to individual level practice drills and extended writing.

5. Plan the application of learning

Once the instructional sequence has finished, I move my students rapidly into a silent 10-12 question quiz on the content. The vast majority of time, if there has been loud and convincing choral response to all of the recap questions, then at least 90% of the students will achieve 90% on the quiz. If the students haven’t done this, then it is likely that there is a problem in either the planning or delivery of the script.

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Individual written quiz following oral recap

Once students have achieved over 90% in the individual level quiz, then can then apply this new learning into the extended writing that had served as the basis of the planning in the first place.

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An example of a longer extended writing task

6. Remember, it’s just an experiment

In all of this instruction, it is important to remember all of the caveats surrounding scripted instruction. It is a difficult and time consuming process to go through. In addition, as Engelmann himself emphasised repeatedly, it will often go wrong in a myriad of stunning unexpected ways.

However, if you were interested in planning your own script then I hope this can be of some use. Feel free to get in touch and tweet me @s_hall_teach if you wanted to share any thoughts, ideas or scripts.

Examples of some of my scripts are available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1y8l5zY5ZHV0tcAemfBE7pIRzoI6fnws-i7rl9f-_uG8/edit?usp=sharing