Effective classroom management: getting it right from the start

March 23, 2018
Richard Hart

Richard Hart

Head of Geography at Dixons Trinity Academy

When I started teaching I always greeted students at the door and had a ‘starter’ activity at the ready.

When I started teaching I always greeted students at the door and had a ‘starter’ activity at the ready. I would ask students to sit down in silence and complete the activity, which would be different each day. Some students would sit down and complete it while others would choose any excuse not to and instead try to have a conversation.

This put me in an awkward position. I found I was giving around ten behaviour warnings a week at the start of lessons. This rarely set the tone of the lesson I wanted and before the lesson had truly started I had to work harder than I should have been.

As a result, I have employed three simple classroom management strategies to effectively manage the start of lessons within the geography department.

Three steps towards effective classroom management

1.      Clarity

As Doug Lemov states, the ‘Do Now’ is, ‘…an activity that students can complete without instruction or direction from you to start every day’. Previously each of my ‘Do Now’ activities had been different and this had provided confusion and led to a disrupted start and poor classroom management.

I used the technique of, ‘Engineering Efficiency’ as described by Lemov (and spent 40 minutes practicing how the start of a lesson would take place. I made it clear to students that they would walk into my room and as they did they would take a piece of paper. I then explained that they would sit down in their seat, write the question numbers in the margin and have three minutes to complete the 12 questions.

We then practiced marking the quiz and collecting them. The first time I did this with a class it took 12 minutes. We then practiced again three more times until the whole procedure took seven minutes. This meant that when students next entered my lesson they were focused and knew precisely what they had to do and how long they had for it: there were no excuses. The feedback from students proved its effectiveness, student voice has showed that 95% of students across my teaching group stated that they were calm and knew what to do when entering the lesson.

This technique is now carried out in all geography lessons. Staff were initially concerned that it would take too much time from delivering the lesson content, however, it has proven to be quicker than first anticipated, allowed better classroom management skills and staff now value the extra focused lesson time it allows.

In addition, students have been actively revising interleaved questions meaning more lesson time can be used in practicing applying the knowledge to exam questions.



2.      Consistency

At the start of each lesson students complete a set of 12 questions, displayed on the same whiteboard and in the same slide format. The questions require one-or-two-word answers, relating to different units of work that the students have studied in geography and the students are required to answer this on paper, which as Lemov (2010) states, ‘makes it more rigorous’.

The questions are a mixture of definition questions, placing a series of statements in sequential order using letter codes (for example the formation of a waterfall) or which is the ‘odd one out’, which allows varying topics and processes to be revisited; while maintaining the fast-paced style.

This quiz is completed for two of the three lessons, with the final attempt of the same quiz being a test. Each lesson the questions that students answer incorrectly are tracked to provide interventions to improve learning. By making the activity a written one it has increased rigour, as suggested by Lemov (2010) and student buy-in as they see the link in how it is helping them to learn.

In the first week in my Year 10 class only six (out of 25) students scored greater than 9/12 in their test and only 14 improved their scores from attempt one to attempt three. However, by week four, using exactly the same format of a ‘Do Now’, except the weekly changing of the questions, in the same class 23 of the students had scored greater than nine by the end of the test and all 25 students had improved their scores from the original attempt.

This meant students experience success in geography from the very start and promotes a positive culture in the subject. This proved to me that consistency is vital to embedding classroom management techniques. 


3.      Positivity

It was only on reading, ‘Teach Like a Champion’ (Lemov, 2010) that I started to really understand and start to apply ‘positive framing’ which is defined in Lemov (2010) as, ‘guiding students to do better work while motivating and inspiring them by using a positive tone to deliver constructive feedback’.

During the ‘Do Now’, I narrate the positives, linked to the consistent approach, which in turn helps to provide clarity and highlights good classroom management. I always make sure as students enter the room I am providing positive statements of encouragement such as, ‘thank you for giving 100% having started writing’, ‘I know we are going to beat our scores from last time’ and ‘superb start from…’.

There are many classroom management ideas and each can have profound improvements when implemented well through strong school leaders.

First impressions count for any practitioner and as teachers we are lucky enough to have first impressions of a lesson every time students arrive. If the start is effectively led through clarity of instruction, consistent expectations and activities and in a positively framed way then that will help start to create an effectively managed and positive classroom environment which will allow students to succeed.

Since carrying out the systems above the number of students in the department achieving a higher score at the end of the week than the start is 95% and the number of behaviour warnings given at the start of the lesson has decreased to around one a week, a 90% reduction.

One student who was always disorganised at the start of the lesson, which then manifested into more negative behaviour as the lesson continued has now improved his focus as he knows exactly what is required of him at the start which enables a smooth transition into the main part of the lesson.

There has also been an increased sense of ownership in student work throughout the lessons as we are noticing that students are now more eager to learn the content, which makes recalling the quiz questions when they later appear much easier. 

Richard is a current participant in our 2017 Teaching Leaders Secondary cohort. Teaching Leaders is a leadership development programme for high-potential middle leaders looking to improve pupil outcomes and increase their impact as a leader.

This article first appeared in SecEd and then the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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