Classroom flow

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(A post for new teachers and others.)

I wrote about transitions a few days ago. For that matter, a reader who digs back into the archives will find other posts that include transitions. The flow of a classroom is linked by transitions and I regard them as critical to keeping a classroom in easy, fluid motion. Each activity ought to flow seamlessly into the next activity. (If that’s actually working for you all the time, feel free to quit reading this post. You should start your own blog!)

Here are some other tips to help your classroom keep moving forward, rather than sideways or even backward:

♦ Try to select the best sequence for your chosen activities for the day. You might go by content. Social studies teachers naturally work in chronological order on a regular basis. Science teachers sometimes do, or may end up following a process from the beginning to the end. If you teach math, you may be bouncing between new and old ideas. Going simpler to harder often works. If your day’s content varies widely, picking your sequence may prove complicated. I suggest trying to put yourself in your students’ shoes. Putting fun activities in between longer, more serious blocks helps keep students engaged.

♦ Ignore minor behaviors (and even misbehaviors) that do not affect your lesson. You might perfect a look or a desk tap to remind students to get back on task, but sometimes teachers just have to let a little nose-picking go. Deliberate misbehaviors are more complicated, but second chances can work out well. If George is shooting rubber bands, consider demanding his rubber bands and moving on, at least if he hasn’t shot anyone yet. Less excitement here will lead to more learning.

♦ Check with students for understanding. Sometimes we overteach and sometimes we underteach. No perfect solution exists to help teachers know exactly when to move forward and when to slow down, but the best technique I know has to be checking with students.

I recommend asking for degrees of understanding. If you simply ask a class if they understand, you can get fooled by the smiling nods and yesses. I’d try a fist of five instead. Here are the details for readers who are not teachers:

A closed fist means “I don’t get it.”
One finger means, “I am still pretty lost.”
Two fingers mean, “I am beginning to get the idea.”
Three fingers mean, “I kind of understand.”
Four fingers mean, “I pretty much have this figured out.”
Five fingers mean, “I completely understand this lesson.”

You can’t wait for all fives, though. That’s lesson overkill. If most all the class has raised three or more fingers, you may be ready to move on to your reinforcement activity where you can provide individual help.

Eduhonesty: This post captures a sliver of the art of teaching. Pacing and flow are learned with practice. We learn as we go. Each class reacts differently to instruction and learns at a different rate. That fist of five helps. But in the end, teachers learn what works for them.