Monday, February 27, 2012

Fostering Independent Learners:

One of the biggest issues I have subbing is keeping kids on task while they work.  Students aren't necessarily playing, but they sometimes have a hard time FOCUSING just after they get an assignment.  One of my pet peeves is when students wait to ask a question before they even try to tackle an assignment. Several times, I see a swarm of hands and bodies asking me questions about 5 seconds after the papers are handed out.  I can stand helping one student and look up to see several others at their seat, staring off into space with their hand raised limply over their heads.  They won't even try unless I'm next to them "helping" (or coaxing).  I can't stand it because it wastes so much time and reinforces their laziness.

That's why I was intrigued by a classroom management technique I found in Every Teacher's Guide To Class Management .  It refers to a "sweeping" process we all know as circulating around the room while students work.  But the book's idea of "sweeping" helps students know exactly what you want to see them doing, and it helps train them to persevere while they wait for you to help them.

As the book describes, "sweeping" should go like this:  when you assign seatwork, let them know exactly what you want to see as soon as they get started.  For instance,  "I am passing out your worksheet now.  I need to see three things as I come around:  a sharpened pencil, your history book opened to page 74, and you silently reading."  For some classrooms, it may be a good idea to write the "initial sweep tasks" on the board so they can see it, or have them repeat them.

Let them know that's all you want to see.  There shouldn't be movement or noise beyond accomplishing those three things, and that including hand-raising or getting up to ask you a question.  Your initial "sweep" or rotation around the room should praise students who followed directions.  Anyone who is up asking questions or has their hand up should be ignored.

Your next sweep should check for them to have accomplished small, manageable tasks.  They've gotten started, but now you want to see them in a productive, thinking mode.  For instance,  "I now want to come around and see your worksheet with your name and the date on it, and to see that you've attempted to answer the first question."  This sweep is designed to get them on task, focused on working and not relying on you or others for help or answers.  The first few questions are usually easiest, so they can at least attempt to answer them.  You're not looking for accuracy, so just make a mental note to come back to students who appear to be having trouble.  But even a kid who has no idea what they're doing should be able to get their name on their paper.  If anyone has a question with the first problem, or any subsequent problems, your explicit instruction should be to tell them to keep going.  Skip it and come back.  Move on.  Don't stop.  (You may also want to tell them you want to see evidence that they've made an attempt themselves, depending on the assignment.  Have they written out a problem and parts of a solution for a math question?  Have they highlighted important information in a text?  Have they at least located key words or made a guess?  You may have to tell them, "I'll only help once I see ____ for this problem."  It's helpful to have prompt questions posted around the room to help students work autonomously when they run into a question, so they can learn to think through their difficulties themselves.)  Students who are sitting with their hands raised waiting for you to approach their desk are not following directions and should, again, be ignored.

After this second sweep, you can then make it known that you are coming to now respond to questions.  Make it a point to first follow-up with students you noted following directions during your initial sweeps.  The book recommends prompting the students who have questions, helping them by pointing them in the right direction, and then moving on to the next person.  No lingering with one student.  Again, the goal is to get them focused and autonomous, not dependent upon the teacher's help.

I really like this method and I will try to implement it myself.  This will keep students seated and focused on working, which will do wonders for classroom management.  More importantly, I think it will help make students true problem solvers.

image:  microsoft


  1. GREAT suggestions! I learned it the hard way. It really works wonders to spell out for the kids what you want to see them doing. Also pointing out who is doing a good job following directions, "Thank you Ella, for following directions. I see you have a sharp pencil, your book is open to the right page and your name is on your paper!" And then maybe give them a small reward. The other kids see this, and try to emulate.

    MY pet peeve is in the upper grades. I tell them literally what their teacher wrote to me for them to do. I tell them what I expect to see, and I pass out the assignment. Without fail, there will be a student who comes up to me and says, "I didn't bring a pencil." Yesterday I was in a social studies class and they were having a chapter test. Before the test we were to correct their study guide. This was 11th grade. As I was about to start giving the answers to the study guide, one young man came up and asked if he could go to his locker to get a pencil, his book and his assignment. What? Why would you come to class without that stuff? When he came back we were half way done correcting the study guide. He wanted me to tell him all the answers he missed while he was getting the materials he should have brought in the first place. I said no.

  2. Hi, Sarah! Yikes! I hate when kids aren't prepared, and I think you made the right move by not giving him the answer. If he's not prepared for class, he obviously isn't prepared to make a good grade on the test, so tough luck.