Classroom Management in Middle School: My #1 Strategy

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Classroom management in middle school can be difficult. Have you ever worked for hours to perfect the most awesome lesson ever? Only to feel like your students aren’t listening to you when you finally get the chance to deliver it? Is there a constant undercurrent of talking while you are talking? Do you find yourself repeating directions over and over? Have you tried to pull a small group only to have the other students get too loud? These are all situations that are affected by our classroom management. 

As a veteran educator of 28 years, I have talked to many teachers about their struggles with classroom management in middle school. Heck, I have struggled in this area myself. However, over the years, I have found certain techniques that work for me and that have worked for other teachers that I have mentored. In this post, I am going to give you my number 1 tip for classroom management in middle school. And it is one that you can start implementing right away. 

What is this miraculous strategy? I call it the “pause and scan” technique. To improve your classroom management you should pause at regular intervals and scan your classroom to make sure that students are on point. Seems too easy, right? However, I can tell you that many teachers either never do this or don’t do it often enough. 

So, here is some practical advice on how to use this strategy effectively. 

Remember to do it.

First, you have to remember to do it. Many of the teachers that I have mentored over the years, don’t seem to notice when students aren’t on task.

I once observed a beginning teacher for 30 minutes. He had an AMAZING lesson and delivered it well. Except, in that 30 minutes, at least 10 students got up to sharpen pencils, get a drink of water, or throw away a piece of trash. Two other students carried on a very quiet conversation throughout the lesson. I kept waiting for him to redirect them but it never happened.  When I spoke with him afterward, he said he hadn’t really noticed. Even if a student is doing those things quietly, it can be distracting. It’s distracting for other students who are trying to focus on the teacher and the information being given.

And no matter how fantastic your lesson is, if the students aren’t paying attention, they probably aren’t learning what you intended for them to learn. 

So, think of creative ways you can remind yourself to pause and scan the classroom. Put a large sign on the wall that you are facing that says “pause and scan” so you’ll see it while you are teaching.  If you use slides, insert a certain symbol or Bitmoji on a slide to remind yourself to look around. No one has to know what it means but you. Once you develop the habit, you’ll find you won’t need the reminder anymore. 

Remember to do it.

Know when to do it.

Second, you need to know when to do it. Transitions are a great place to implement the pause and scan technique. For example, when you have directed students to take out their textbook and turn to a certain page. Pause and scan the room to make sure that everyone has done just that.

If you are presenting a lesson, pose a question to students and during their “think time” pause and scan the room to make sure that no one is talking, texting under their desk, listening to their AirPods, etc. 

While students are working independently and you are roaming the classroom and assisting them, pause occasionally and scan the classroom. If you see students who are off task, it could be because they don’t understand what they are supposed to do. Do the same thing when you pull a small group pause and scan the larger group.

Know when to do it.

Know what comes next.

Finally, you need to know what comes next. What do you do when you find a student that is off task during the pause and scan? You redirect them. 

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. For example, during a transition, give positive reinforcement to students you see doing what you asked. “I like the way everyone in group 1 is on page 13 and ready to learn.” You’ll find the other students who weren’t there yet sit up a little straighter and get their books open to page 13 because they are hoping you’ll notice them also. Yes, this works with secondary students as well. It even works with adults in staff meetings. 

You can use proximity to redirect students. If you are presenting a lesson and see a student texting under the desk, you can walk over and stand next to that student while you are teaching. I can guarantee you they will slip their phone back into their pocket or backpack because they don’t want you to take it. This is why I love to use my ipad when I teach because I can teach from anywhere in the room and not be stuck to the whiteboard or document camera. 

If necessary, you can verbally redirect a student by using their name. “Joshua, focus this way please” and then move on with your lesson. Always be polite and just remind them of what the expectation is. Some students have short attention spans and just need a gentle reminder. 

Know what comes next.

So, if you are finding that classroom management is an issue for you, try the pause and scan technique.  You will notice students more often who are off task or distracting others and you can redirect them. Student engagement will increase and as a natural consequence so will learning.

If you are more of a visual learner you can also check out this video below that covers the pause and scan technique. And if you find it useful, don’t forget to give it a “thumbs up” and to subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss any future videos.

I hope you found something here that is useful for you.

Thank you for being a teacher. 🌺

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