by Amanda Winograd
As a new teacher, every day in the classroom feels like a success and a failure. This student asked an insightful question! Another student is snoring, quite loudly. How do you react to that? The idea of being able to engage students and improvise in front of an audience is a lot. At the Lilly Conference this year, I had the opportunity to learn from educators who make teaching look easy, and I came away with a score of techniques to add to my teaching toolbox.
I have yet to encounter a classroom of students who would make me question my chosen career as a librarian as well as my sanity. However, I feel equipped to handle whatever might come my way after attending a workshop at the Lilly Conference that focused on classroom management techniques. Pete Watkins, faculty member from Temple University, led a thoughtful workshop on practicing classroom management techniques that are simple but effective.
Professor Watkins shared a set of of progressive actions you can take to alert students to stop disruptive behavior and pay attention. The first step is proximity control, which brings professors away from the pulpit and physically nearer to the students’ space. Pausing next to a disruptive student can have the magical effect of reinforcing your presence and the dynamic between you and the students. You are there to teach, and the students are reminded of the expectation that this requires their attention.
If students ignores the signal from proximity control and continue being disruptive, a nonverbal cue such as a casual hand gesture to stop is a good next step. It alerts the students that you are telling them to change their behavior without calling excessive attention to the situation. A short but assertive verbal cue directed to the disruptive party comes next.
If all else fails, a deliberate interaction with the students may be necessary. The beauty of the Lilly Conference is that you have access to a wealth of knowledge from educators of all levels of experience, and they had their own suggestions for how to handle this scenario. Some pointed out that if the disruption needs to be addressed immediately, it’s appropriate to release the class for a break in order to talk to the disruptive students.
In another workshop, I learned quick assessment techniques that can be used to enforce strong classroom dynamics. These techniques allow you to check in with students to gauge their understanding of a topic or to keep them engaged by providing opportunities for them to participate in discussion. Craig McCarron and Teresa Partridge from the University of Incarnate Word demonstrated two programs that I am especially looking forward to trying. Poll Everywhere and Kahoot allow you to receive feedback with the use of a student’s electronic device. Both programs let you pose a question which students can respond to with results showing up immediately on your projected screen. The unintended benefit is that students who may otherwise have been using devices as distractions will be using them to stay engaged with the class.
Techniques like this are useful to me as a new educator, but they seem valuable for professors at any point in their careers. The rush of a semester seems to leave little time to focus on self-improvement, and it’s becoming apparent to me how important it is to have opportunities like the Lilly Conference to slow down and reflect on the art of teaching.