Effective middle school classroom management can take on many forms. One of the best ways beyond creating solid routines for your students is to create a classroom space that has interactive components that engage students. I am not talking about transforming your class classroom into a giant Lego wall – middle school classroom management is about intentional lesson planning.
Middle school teachers are often plagued with classroom management issues. This can be attributed to a number of different, and valid reasons, but one of the most effective ways to deal with disruptive behaviours is to have a well-defined classroom goal. In simplest terms, or in the least professional language – keep them busy.
Unfortunately, many teachers and administrators over the years have interpreted “keep them busy” as “give them busy work” to not allow them time for interaction with their classmates. This is a drastic measure and one that is sure to backfire in the average classroom.
The real secret to middle school classroom management is about creating a space where students are engaged in effective and engaging instruction and are focused on learning. These students do not get in trouble. Even better, if they like what they are doing in the classroom, they are more productive, more collaborative, and more cooperative.
An interactive classroom is a specific classroom design that focuses on the implementation of varied strategies to reach and engage all learners. It utilizes activities that will have your students up and moving around the room, talking with one another, exchanging information, and thinking for themselves. Not only does this type of classroom keep students out of trouble, but it also addresses current shifts in the education world to push inquiry and critical thinking.
Interactive Classroom Lesson Structures
- Walking Tours or Gallery Walks – These content-filled activities require students to move around your classroom to collect data on a specific topic, theme, or era. Most of the time, guiding questions may lead students in the desired direction, or full-inquiry teaching may allow students to develop and answer their own questions as they engage with the resources provided. Allowing students to work in pairs or small groups increases the value and also reinforces collaborative skills.
- Centers, Stations, or Labs – Skill-based locations set up around a classroom or that is passed from group settings can engage students while allowing them to practice much-needed skills in the classroom. These activities offer artifacts, primary sources, or other hands-on materials for investigation and evaluation, fostering higher-order thinking skills in the learning process.
- Think-Pair-Share Activities – Often students are behaviour problems because they do not understand the content or the activity requirements. Using collaboration in stages helps students to share what they know with others, and encourages student participation in a safer setting. However, this strategy can get old if you utilize it on a daily basis, so switch it up! Check out these great variations on the traditional Think Pair Share to make the process more fun and more engaging.
- Whole-Class Discussions, Debates, or Analysis Activities – Sometimes it is best to work as a whole class, but that work can still be interactive. Analyze images using spiral questioning strategies to bring everyone confidently into the process. Schedule discussions or debates on topics that will keep students excited and motivated to participate. Even lecture, when turned into a student-centred discussion, can be interactive and effective.
- Play Games, Do Scavenger Hunts or Simply Compete – Competition can create an incredibly interactive classroom setting. Whether you offer a reward or not, students will be energized and more willing to learn for the sake of winning. More importantly, students may find that learning can be fun!
Misconceptions About Interactive Classrooms
- It is a tech-centred classroom – This is a huge fallacy and can be one of the worst classroom settings for effective classroom management. Students that are required to only interact with the computer screen are far more likely to become bored and then act out inappropriately.
- There is no focus on content – interactive classrooms can be very heavily content-focused with the right choice of resources that are utilized in the strategies. Creating interactivity is not about the level, it is about the movement and collaboration in the delivery of the content.
- Chaos will rule – quite the contrary, interactive classrooms tend to have more student focus, and when set up the right way with valuable resources, it can keep students working toward a common goal.
- It takes too much time to set up – in reality, interactive classrooms require no more time than developing a lecture or creating a worksheet. They simply require a different type of preparation.
- It will be too hard to grade – grading should be the last area of concern for an interactive classroom. When students are engaged in the process, they will learn and retain more information and will be practicing skills in greater depth. Grades are not the end-goal: Learning is! But if you are in a classroom where grades are required, the grading can be easy. Take a look at this blog post for ideas on making it easier for you and your students.
Example Interactive Lesson
Check out this Columbian Exchange Trade Route Centers Activity. Take your students back to the Age of Exploration to experience the Columbian Exchange with a centers activity. Allow students to travel from Europe to Africa to the Americas as they draw items from each center that were traded between Europeans and the locals on each continent. Set up in your classroom as centers or move location materials in a folder for student groups to analyze at their desks. I printed the trade cards on card stock, laminated them, and placed them in covered containers for students to draw out and add to their handout as they visited each location. The wrap-up discussion at the end of the lesson is always filled with great student inquiry and empathy for those involved in the exchange at that time in history.
An Important Note on Creating Interactivity
Interactive Classrooms work well because the learning strategies are varied. These are strategies that have students up and moving, engaging with one another, with well-designed resources, and with the teacher in a meaningful way.
But, even an interactive classroom can become ineffective if resources and strategies are not varied. Repetition of one strategy over and over, even an interactive strategy, will lead to a lack of interest and engagement in students. While the repetition of skills and reinforcement of content is vital for learning, strategies should be ever-changing for the greatest effectiveness. Creating effective middle school classroom management through the use of interactive classrooms will not only decrease classroom management issues, but it will also increase learning and an interest in academics for many students. Beyond standard classroom content, students will also be practicing collaboration, focus, and self-motivation skills, all of which will help them in other classrooms, in the workplace, and in their futures.
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