Monday, March 14, 2011

Classroom management

    I was really struck the other day by how different classroom management is online and face-to-face.  Some of the issues that are constant F2F simply don’t happen online. 

    For one thing, while online at home, students do the work (or not, as they sometimes choose), and then move on to Facebook, games, or whatever else they need/want to do.  F2F – and here I include the computer lab – is a whole ‘nother thing. 

    Whenever the kids are really in front of me, I have to consider the different paces they work at – speedy (but not necessarily well done), focused, highly distractible, and all the places in between.  Some kids finish early and I need to have something constructive for them to do so they don’t distract the rest of the class.  On the other hand, some kids won’t make it through the work by the end of class.  This means that I quickly have students working (or not working) on different things simultaneously. 

    This became so clear to me in my high school tech/computer skills class, where students are simultaneously F2F and on the class moodle.  Unlike in my blended middle school classes, where most of the online work is done outside of school, this class is all in front of me in real time.  Using the moodle to organize and present the work has been a God-send, but I need to plan for a wide variety of both focus and skill. 

    When students are mostly online, keeping them on task is a different equation.  I don’t really care what other things they are doing (and yes, I know they have multiple browser windows open) as long as they are engaged in work for my class.  When finished, they move on and that doesn’t matter to me.  F2F, though, I’ve got to keep the three-ring circus running, which takes extra planning. 

    The extra planning is especially needed because I’ve discovered how useful it is to have a written agenda:  this is what we are doing today, and when you finish, here are your alternatives.  I do find myself tweaking the agenda, and I need to modify it several times a week as we move to new work.  But the agenda is clear.  I get fewer of those annoying “what are we doing again?” questions (you know, the ones that mean the student can’t be bothered to pay attention until the rest of the class has started working). 

    Also, I’ve noticed that students are more on task.  In addition, this makes them less dependent on me, so I can focus on who needs help, not on directing traffic. 

    Kids actually read the agenda online, whereas they ignore the same agenda written on the white board.  Go figure.

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