All the problems that the long-term substitute in the preceding anecdote experienced could have been solved with a single seating chart. There are, naturally, some non-research based techniques that teachers use all the time to help manipulate the flow of information and behavior in their classroom. They can be summarized by two fundamental choices. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to these choices, and there are an infinite number of factors that can contribute to which choice makes more sense in your classroom.
Fundamental Choice #1: Do you want more control, or more interaction?
If you are primarily a teacher-centered educator, and you primarily want students’ attention on you, then it is imperative that you set up your classroom for control. Control is great for beginning teachers who have only a tenuous grasp of classroom management, or for veteran teachers who have never really mastered classroom management and want the last fifteen years of their career to run more smoothly than the first fifteen. Control isn’t just for weak managers though, control works very well if you have many learners with special needs, a particularly challenging unit where students need to focus very closely on the content, or a particularly unruly class after lunch that need the reins pulled in a bit.
If you’re a competent classroom manager and want to run a student-centered classroom and you want students to interact with one another and find solutions together, it is equally important that you design your classroom map to foster interaction. Never expect an interactive classroom setting to yield 100% on task behavior. Such an expectation is what kills group work for many teachers. Students, teachers, lawyers, families, friends, and lovers never spend 100% of their time on task doing anything. My wife and I usually start our weekends with very long breakfasting together, a little television, sometimes she’ll go on the internet and I’ll reread a book I’ve read a million times before. We’re not 100% productive. It’s silly to expect students to achieve such an impossibly high standard of productivity in an interactive classroom. As with all things classroom management, the most important facet of an interactive classroom is creating several concrete rules linked to several concrete consequences that limit off-task behavior to acceptable levels. There’s no reason, with concrete expectations and concrete consequences, why students can’t be 90% productive 90% of the time.
Fundamental Choice #2: Do you want more academic structure or more social creativity
Academic structure historically works well in math, science, social studies, English, technology, and any subject where there are many concepts that require close thought and careful study. Social creativity works well in art, music, band, and oddly, it seems like foreign language teachers make it work great despite the close thought and careful study needed to acquire a language.
These are by no means rules to live by. They are even less research based than the rest of the recommendations in this book. Even I would never pretend they hold true everywhere, or even in most places. They’re just broad generalizations that seem to hold true in enough classrooms to make mention of them. The trick to choosing between structure and creativity is identifying the kind of content and skills you teach, the kind of teaching persona you have, the kind of classroom you want to work in your entire life, and of course, what will be best for your students.
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So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.