This post originally appeared on the blog ELA Buffet by Darlene Anne.
My first year teaching middle school was challenging. In my infinite new teacher wisdom, I decided that the best way to prevent another difficult year would be to start off by being tough and putting on my “meaner than a junk-yard dog” face.
How to establish a classroom environment that promotes learning:
1) Show Genuine Interest
This positive message will influence students’ behavior, their desire to learn, and the tone of the entire period. Sometimes we’re busy cleaning up from the previous period or setting up for the next one. When that happens, I have the kids wait outside until I’m ready for them to enter. It is much more important for me to make a connection with them than it is to start right on the dot.
2) Use Students’ Names — Often
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie states that there is “magic contained in a name…” and “a request we are making takes on a special importance when we approach the situation with the name of the individual.”
Use students’ names throughout the period, at every opportunity. Subconsciously, they will be much more likely to listen and comply. Don’t abbreviate a name unless you know for sure that the student approves of the nickname.
3) Use Task-Oriented Language
The next time you speak with your students, count the number of times you use statements like “I think” or “you should.” If the count is high, it might be time to reconsider the language you use.
How about this?
Task-oriented language invites agreement and cooperation by focusing on the step-by-step tasks that lead to the goal and NOT the people involved. It’s not about you, and it’s not about your students. It’s about reaching the goal of learning.
4) Give Students Choices and Input
Studies show that when we give students choices, their motivation soars.
We really don’t need a study to substantiate that, do we? All we have to do is ask our kids. Mine have told me that when they have some say in decorating the room or choosing books and projects, they feel more engaged and focused. They also feel validated.
However, there is a catch. We should only give kids a limited number of choices, especially when they’re in middle school. An experiment done by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper confirmed that more isn’t always better. The researchers assigned college students various extra credit essay assignment choices. Surprisingly, students given fewer choices were more likely to complete the assignment. They even did a better job writing it.
I can’t say I’m really surprised about this. After all, who can go into a paint store and immediately choose a color from the thousands of shades offered? Most of us will take a few paint chips home and begin the daunting process of narrowing down the chips. Some of us even assign someone else the responsibility of choosing because there are just “too many choices.”
Give middle school students two or three choices. When taking notes on new content, I give my students the choice of using folding interactive notes or Cornell notes. They are both guided and include the same information, but the choice gives students the freedom to use what works best for them, creating immediate “buy-in.” (You can see what this looks like here.)
5) Use Humor
Humor can be a powerful communication tool. Just be sure not to confuse it with teasing or sarcasm, which can be seen as patronizing.
6) Normalize Failure
7) Ask Students for Assistance
And they are ALL absolutely correct.
Darlene Anne is a middle school ELA teacher. She knows that teachers work hard to bring meaningful and engaging content to their students, and she is determined to help them do it. Now that her own children are in college, she can’t meddle as much, so she dedicates her time to creating teaching resources that teachers can be proud to use. You can find these resources in her TpT store, Darlene Anne.