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Guest post by Janice Abud. She is a Secondary Special Education Teacher in Rochester, Michigan. She teaches through a Blended Support Model for all struggling learners and focuses on teaching students learning strategies for school and life success.
Classroom structure is one of the most important foundations for a smoothly running classroom. Not only does it tell students what your expectations are for them, but also what they can expect from other classmates and from you as the teacher.
For our Academic Center, we identified five elements that we wanted our program to stem from. We agreed these areas would be focused on student accountability, routine, organization of physical space, key working agreements and staff teamwork. We started by identifying some key questions for each of these areas to identify how each would be addressed.
Student Accountability. How would students be graded in the class? How would they know daily or weekly of how they are doing?
Routine. How would the average class period run? What does the beginning of the hour look like? What do they do when they first enter the classroom? How does the end of class end? If we were absent, would they know what to do with a substitute?
Organization of Physical Space. Are materials readily available to students? Do they know where to find them and access them on their own?
Key Working Agreements. What are the expectations of the class?
Staff Teamwork. Are all adults on the same page? If a student asks one adult a question, would they get the same answer from all of us? How will we (the adults)support each other and work together to make the classroom most successful?
We came up with the following plan based on these questions.
Student Accountability. Our class is an elective credit, and our students must achieve an 80% (B-) in order to receive credit, called a G on a pass/fail system. Each day, students are graded on a 10 point scale. This grade is calculated on the daily lesson, use of a planner, on task work and overall behavior during class. This grade sheet is accessible to them all hour, and is a great reminder of the expectations of the class.
Routine. Each day, our students check our Smartboard when they come in. See an example of the board here. Every Monday, students know to bring all of their folders/binders/notebooks to class to use for organization. They also know that they will be checking grades on these days. The remainder of the week begins each class period with a 15-20 minute learning strategy lesson followed by support time for their other classes through re teaching and pre teaching. By keep this routine, we have eliminated the class turning into a study hall.
Organization of Physical Space. Students are grouped into pods where they work at tables with other students and a team leader. All stations are equipped with supplies that students may need as well as computers for completing work. Any out of the ordinary supplies are available, as requested, by students.
Key Working Agreements. We base our program communication and life skills along with academics. Our students know that we are there to help them stay on track to graduate and help them learn skills that they will not only use in high school, but also when they leave our doors and venture out into the real world. To do this, we work hard to build a community of respect and trust between all students and adults in our program. Our classroom expectations are simple:
Actively participate in class lessons and discussions
Come prepared with materials and a planner
Respect yourself and others in the classroom
Take ownership of your success.
Staff Teamwork. Many teachers work by themselves in their classrooms during the day. Our program however, operates each class period with two lead teachers, our learning consultant, and two paraprofessionals. This is great for our program and our students because we are all on the same page of our vision for the program. And most importantly, our students have access to teachers with strengths in varying expertise of subjects. But all of this would not matter if we tried to run five different classrooms in one by five different adults. Teamwork is key, and communication among our staff is one of our top strengths.
Our program has been successful because of great planning based on the idea of classroom structure as a key for success. How do you use classroom structure to help you and your students?