Wednesday, February 22, 2017

TOP TIPS for Classroom Management in the Digital Age

Classroom Management in the Digital Age: Effective Practices for Technology-Rich Learning Spaces (2016) by Heather Dowd and Patrick Green

Cross-posted from Learning Light Bulbs by Nate Gildart


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Classroom Management
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Something I really enjoyed about this book is the emphasis that it’s not about classroom discipline, and acknowledges that student behaviour hasn’t really changed all that much. The nature of classrooms has. The focus is teaching in the 1:1 environment, or in environments where kids are connected. The book is broken down into four general parts: Classroom Procedures, Classroom Rules and Expectations, Teaching Tips & Strategies, and Partnering with Parents - and it tends to lend itself as a reference. The authors do suggest it be placed on the shelf and pulled out from time to time. The table of contents is thoughtfully written in clear topics. I’m not going to repeat all of these, but rather highlight some of what I feel are interesting points from each. My personal thoughts are in italics.

I. Classroom Procedures

Students juggle a variety of procedures. (in my mind, we tend to forget that as adults - our students see several of us in one day, and we all have varying expectations and approaches to teaching)

  • Well defined procedures use time efficiently = more learning time
  • Teach the procedure, practice it, monitor / correct / reinforce, and review when necessary

Calling students to attention is something done with or without devices.
  • Begin when eye contact with everyone has been made
  • Students have their hands off devices, not visible to the student (or as I do, they are closed or faced down)
  • No earbuds
  • Adopt a signal, practice it, use it consistently. I tend to use the same expression, such as “Alright, let’s go for it”, which means “begin the task”. (see p.5 of the book for ideas)

Collecting student work is also a constant, but now there are a variety of methods and formats when doing it online. This makes it tricky at times.

  • Blogs or Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Google Classroom allow submissions to be timestamped, which helps (p.lists several of the more common LMS)
  • Submissions can be electronic through Google Forms or shared spreadsheets, for example, or the more cumbersome email

Communicating the day’s agenda and homework was a nice topic to see, as I do this each day. I post what we are “learning, doing, and homework” - a Visible Learning approach. I don’t post it in classroom but rather project it on the board. I’m thinking I should do both. (homework is posted, but not the activity / lesson objectives, however)

What students do when they walk in the room also sets the tone. (if you have your own room; teachers move in my current school) A well-managed class has students who know what to do and are ready. This could be sitting with books or devices out, or even a regular activity to warm up. This can be done digitally with an accessible slideshow or clear instructions for students to begin working straight away. (freeing up the teacher to take attendance, do housekeeping) See p.12 for an example. The authors suggest a warm up activity as a method for taking attendance. (ie) an online quizzing tool, such as a review of a homework reading. Work not done can also be proof of being absent. (though in my class sometimes students neglect to “submit” a digital worksheet)

Shared devices in a school can be an issue, in terms of teaching students to protect their account login, determining where work is to be saved, and accounts that may also require a login. (as with iPad apps) Chromebooks and iPads are making this easier. I’d suggest that developing a responsible culture is necessary.

Extension activities would be something I think are easily done digitally - there’s so much out there. The extension activity would have to be engaging and relevant. Let’s face it, students have other work they want to be doing if they “finish early” - an unfortunate truth. The authors note activities such as writing, composing, gaming, artwork, and they note giving some options that won’t lead to sloppy work and time wasting. See a list of suggestions on p.17.

Another area the authors touch on are file naming conventions. This can save or waste a lot of your time. They correctly point out that file naming conventions are more and more being generated for the teacher and student through the LMS. (ie) Google Classroom copies of docs for all students. However, sometimes it is the case that there needs to be a file-naming system. This also teaches organizational skills to students.

Although I have by accident, not design, developed paperless classrooms, printing needs have to be addressed, though I feel this depends on the school. I would argue more paper is used with 1:1 environments, but believe it will change as more and more teachers learn to assess in the cloud. Schools need to develop a when, where and how to protocol for printing. And I’ll add, a protocol that strengthens environmental stewardship.

II. Classroom Rules and Expectations

This section begin with a school culture discussion related to acceptable use / digital citizenship policies. These can be the basis for your school and classroom. Some thoughts I appreciate:

  • Only set the rules you intend to enforce
  • Don’t let techno panic set in (ie) don’t freak out and ban devices when a couple of students are off task - we used to pass notes 30 years ago, so deal with it more rationally) I’d suggest setting the rules and enforcing positive work habits in the classroom
  • Battery life management is another issue discussed, so schools must decide whether (1) there is there charging allowed, (2) no school charging, or (3) a device sign out system. My current school has the sign out system, and it is at times a burden on human resources. Shared device classrooms certainly need charging

Caring for one’s device is also a major issue. Some students do, and some don’t. (not to mention teachers. This has to be taught, and part of the school culture. I’ve thought of doing a “Be Nice to Your Device” campaign at my school. See a list of suggestions on p.25, along with the Be Prepared To Learn school habit noted on p.26

No audio spaces may be necessary when students are doing homework when in quiet areas, or areas in which others may be distracted. (so get them in the habit of carrying earbuds in their schoolbags)

Poster campaigns are a good way to promote the rules and expectations, and if enforced, should lead to good overall habits in the school culture of device care and digital citizenship. (see p.27-30 or download some ideas here from the EdTechTeam)

Digital citizenship is certainly an ongoing topic of discussion and discourse in schools and hopefully at home and the authors make the all-important point that we were doing this before we had devices in classrooms. It has to be integrated across the curriculum. Resources are abundant. (see Common Sense Education for grade appropriate lesson places and resources)

I used to do a kind of Boot Camp at the American School in Japan for Grade 9 students (paired with a learning habits session) in which we discussed digital footprints, security, privacy, and acceptable use policies. These can include handling of devices, care for devices, etc. (see p.32-34) A great suggestion (which we did not do) is to include parents in the process.

My students often say they can multi-task, but we know any time we do more than one thing at once our attention is divided. Distraction is always going to be an issue in managing a classroom - digital tools are simply another distraction. The authors discuss research behind music and that if it is to be played instrumentals are best, and more likely classical music will provide the mood students claim they want to be in. I need to have a clear discussion with my students with regard to distractions and managing distraction as independent learners. This would be a good collaborative, reflective and community activity, one in which they can develop strategies to deal with distraction. (we do discuss this, but only in clips and phrases) The authors describe strategies such as closing apps and tbs, disconnecting from wifi, locking students to an app (this would be in a controlled device environment), and thankfully mention developing engaging lessons. Imagine that!

III. Teaching Tips & Strategies

This is a section that I feel can apply in the connected or “disconnected” class. They include personalized learning approaches and engaging lessons, but here is a list of strategies / considerations that may be applied to a unit, lesson, or activity.

  • Room arrangement
  • When the teacher should be at the front back or center (as in the middle of the room - I’d love this mobility if we had the space)
  • Pods, pairs and groups along with a limit to the number of devices to be used (I made this mistake today by forgetting to tell groups of four to use only one device, I myself distracted momentarily, and only later noticed there was less discussion and more non-verbal collaboration on a shared document - which was not my intended approach)
  • Seating assignments (see p.43)
  • Page 46 highlights activities for higher-order thinking (webquests), tech for creation (art, film, music), deeper learning of “how things work”, choice, personal connections

Dealing with tech questions is inevitably going to be an issue in schools. Some have tech coaches, IT experts, student tech teams. They point out that teachers need to know their primary role is to help students learn, and point to the tech support or opportunities to develop tech support in schools. (ie) student tech teams, technology coaches, IT support, technology “hubs” in a school. Teacher can scan the room and ask students for help. I am quite surprised how often a teacher will not know how to do something, that has often been taught or put in a tutorial, but will not ask a student in the room and instantly call “tech support”. (I teach as well and often am in class or a meeting) I do sometimes give students a tech challenge and require them to figure it out together. Usually someone in the class figures it out. However, I do make sure I know what to do, so this may not be the best example!

Managing projects is a topic that comes up, suggesting that there be multiple technology roles, especially when working in groups. (this is if technology is needed in the project) Pages 52-55 discuss how to manage tech-dependent projects, including research skills and questioning techniques, which are very important. See p.55 for “Guidelines for Online Sharing”.

Pages 56-60 discuss choosing the appropriate tools, as well as note-taking.

IV. Partnering with Parents

At the moment it’s safe to safe most parents today in 2016 haven’t grown up in a digital classroom environment, nor grew up with social media, and thus have a difficult time understanding the current classroom environment. Unsurprisingly, the Dowd and Green suggest strong communication is a key to a successful partnership. They suggest communication tools such as (and I see this in our elementary school frequently):

  • Newsletters
  • Social media posts
  • Open house days

In terms of communication strategies, discussions on:

  • Why digital devices and why the ones that are being chosen
  • Sharing classroom expectations with parents
  • Sharing access to assessment data (via tools such as Net Classroom, Power School, etc)
  • Share classroom activities with parents explaining how the devices are being used (this has me thinking it would be good to have parents be given the opportunity to do a device-based activity with their children, for fun, on the weekend, but one that is related to the subject being studied)
  • Discuss with parents strategies for working with their children at home: when can the device be used for school, and when used for play, when to charge it, etc
  •  Further resources are near the back. (websites, books, ISTE standards)




Nate Gildart
DP History/ TOK/SS Teacher
Instructional Technology Coach
Google Certified
Educator/ Trainer and Innovator
Tokyo, Japan


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