Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Frontloading Classroom Management: How to Plan for the First Class

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Frontloading Classroom Management: How to Plan for the First Class

Article excerpt


When we started teaching science, the first few weeks of school were chaotic. As new teachers, we were overwhelmed with unfamiliar administrative duties, such as reporting attendance, distributing materials, collecting fees, and "surprise" duties that no one had told us about. We had trouble getting our classes started, getting students into their seats, and gaining their attention. Disruptions were constant--students shouted out comments and did not complete their assigned tasks.

By the end of the first week, we both felt like we were drowning. At night, we experienced regular "teachermares"--nightmares about being late or unprepared, not being able to find our classrooms, or losing control of our classes. Years later, we have learned to plan every last detail for those first days of school. We still have occasional teachermares, but now our initial classes run smoothly and lay the foundation for an enjoyable and successful year ahead.

As science educators at the university and high school level, we have learned how to establish a safe and positive learning environment at the beginning of the school year. In this article, we describe a systematic approach to planning for the first days of school that is appropriate for today's demanding high school science classrooms. These strategies apply to any science subject and benefit student teachers, new teachers, and those teachers wishing to improve their classroom management skills.

Managing today's science classroom

Nowadays, science teachers face increasing challenges in the classroom--changing communities and values, burgeoning communication technologies, diverse learner needs and characteristics, and complex inquiry-based science programs. Teachers need classroom management strategies that not only address these issues, but also promote scientific literacy and productive learning environments.

There is growing consensus around a preventive problemsolving approach to classroom management (Alberta Education 2008; Belvel and Jordan 2003; DiGuilio 2000; McLeod, Fisher, and Hoover 2003; Nelsen, Lott, and Glenn 2000; Tate 2007; Wong and Wong 2009). In this approach, the emphasis is on using a variety of strategies to prevent negative behavior and promote positive behavior. When a student does misbehave, the teacher intervenes using problem-solving strategies, such as helping the student accept responsibility for his or her inappropriate behavior and working with him or her to come up with a nonpunitive solution that is directly related to the problem and focuses on the situation, not the student. Examples include low-key interventions (e.g., the pause, the teacher look, proximity), limited choices (e.g., "You can work quietly with your group, or work quietly next to my desk--you decide"), and individual student problem-solving conferences.


A useful preventive strategy

In our first years of teaching, we learned by trial and error that concentrating preventive classroom management efforts early in the school year pays huge dividends in improved student behavior and learning later on. We call this frontloading. Frontloading involves bringing together several elements of classroom management to design and manage an effective environment for learning science; these include

* organization of the physical environment,

* positive relationships,

* behavioral expectations,

* classroom procedures,

* effective instruction, and

* intervention (Figure 1).

All but one of these elements--intervention--are aimed at preventing inappropriate behavior and promoting appropriate behavior. Both research (Emmer, Evertson, and Worsham 2008) and personal experience confirm that establishing these key elements of classroom management in the first few classes significantly reduces misbehavior later in the school year. …

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