by Harry and Rosemary Wong
Dispensing Materials in Fifteen Seconds
September paints a picture of classrooms teeming with materials and supplies. But, how do you go about accounting for those items during instructional time? We all know the value of engaging students in hands-on, minds-open activities, but the dispensing and collecting of materials for an activity can be a horrendous procedure. Here's how it can be done in fifteen seconds and with no pain or strain and without losing any items, either!
All effective teachers actively and physically immerse their students in the learning process. So it's urgent that materials, whether they are math manipulatives, physical education equipment, science supplies, fine arts materials, or even textbooks are dispensed as quickly as possible…in under a minute with a minimum of traffic congestion in the classroom.
Imagine taking 28 minutes for a high school teacher's class to exchange papers, as described in a research paper during classroom observation. Or, what about the teacher who "lost" materials at the end of every activity? Translated: The students walked off with the materials. Take an item as simple as a ruler. If two are taken from each period, that would be 12 or 14 gone by the end of the day. Are the students at fault? Perhaps we should look at the management system that invites things to be "misplaced."
Do Not Use a Central Table
The potential for disorganization and disaster is found when the teacher places all of the materials for an activity on a central table and announces, "All right, everything you need is on this table." So, all period long, a multitude of students are parading back and forth, getting one or two items as they are needed. There are even students who yell at their classmates who are at the central, supply table, "Get two rulers, not one!"
And, does the student who goes to get the item return via the same path or in the same length of time? We all know what happens. They stop and talk, and if they are seen with a ruler, they are challenged to a mock fencing match as they fend off a gauntlet of defenders who are guarding the length of the aisle. Then we have those "lethal weapons," like meter sticks, compasses, and batons. En garde!
To make matters more complex, in some classes liquids such as paints, chemicals, and water are used. During the same movement from the central table, these liquids are spilled, even flicked at other students, and the teacher who does not know what to do reverts to lectures, worksheets, and "quiet study time." And we all know that quiet time is a waste of productive time in the classroom.
Finally, we come to the worst scenario, which is at the end of the class period. The teacher announces, "All right everyone. The bell's going to ring in five minutes. Let's clean up." First, what does "clean up" mean to a group of second graders, or a pubescent seventh grader from a dysfunctional home, or a high schooler with no concept of "clean up your room?" And if the teacher is more specific and says, "Bring everything up to the (central) table," that's exactly what the students will do--drop everything on the table and exit quickly as the bell rings to end the class.
Now, the harried teacher can be seen sorting and rearranging things. Oh, no, two rulers are missing! The class is gone and the next class is beginning to enter. Angry? Please don't be. It's not the students; it's how the entire activity process was managed.
Place Everything at the Student Table
There are solutions to the dispensing and collecting of materials and here are three. Two are from past Gazette columns and the third one is a technique for this month's column.
In our November 2001 column (http://teachers.net/gazette/NOV01/wong.html), Steve Geiman, a high school physical education teacher, said,
Before I made the changes in the gym, my classes were difficult. I was working myself to death reminding students every day of things I needed them to do. I did all of the work, setting up games, moving equipment, and handling paperwork. It was exhausting! I did not enjoy physical education, nor did the students.
The students are now responsible for all paper work, equipment, and set-up--leaders are assigned and activities are much more organized. Classes run themselves and I can teach much more effectively. Students can't wait to get to class!
In our December 2001 column (http://teachers.net/gazette/DEC01/wong.html), we talked about Jeannie Bayless, an art teacher in Las Vegas. She not only must dispense and collect materials, she has to manage a different class each hour over a two-week period, as each class in the school cycles through her room. Yet, these students, despite a two-week hiatus, know what to do when they enter her classroom.
She has all of the materials ready for them at their tables and as the students settle into their previously assigned tables, they immediately take an inventory and arrange the materials ready for work. If there is any classroom movement, the floors are marked with lanes or arrows so that if students need water or must wash their paint brushes, there is an organized flow of traffic without students bumping into each other.
Dispensing Materials in Fifteen Seconds
Here's the favorite system used for years in Harry's classroom with much success, and is readily applicable, in concept and practice, to any other classroom activity at all levels. It's called the TOTE TRAY SYSTEM, indicating that everything is preorganized in a carrying container and is carried or toted to the work area.
- Gather a collection of similar containers sufficient for the number of groups and the size of your class. Typically, this may mean 15 or more plastic boxes, coffee cans, shoeboxes, dishpans, copy machine paper boxes, and shopping bags.
- The number of groups will determine the number of tote trays needed. To determine how many groups will be organized, refer to The First Days of School, page 252 where the statement is made:
The number of people in a group must equal the number of jobs in the group.
So, if you have 30 students and there will be five students in each group, six tote trays will be prepared.
Collecting Everything in Minutes and With No Loss
The procedure for collecting the materials is even more important than the procedure for dispensing the materials, assuming you want everything returned.
The teacher is relaxed, stress-free, and happy knowing that an organized classroom is a class ready for productive learning.
A Peek Into the Future
Teaching is a doing profession; it is a sharing profession. We learn best by sharing, not by hoarding secrets or whining about why things can't be done. We learn best when we share with each other, which is what so many of you have done in our columns. As you go back and read about Steve Geiman who shares how he manages his physical education class, Sarah Jones and her second grade class, Liz Breaux and her alternative school classroom, Jeannie Bayless and her art class, and Pam Hawkins and her junior high school, know that these people willingly shared their information with us so that we could write each column and share in return.
In the months to come we will share with you the work of Max Longhurst and his work with substitute teachers, the classroom management techniques of a group of foreign language teachers in Virginia, and Becky Hughes, a high school band director with a class size of over 150 students.
We have spent much time on classroom management for without it teaching is virtually impossible. We are now going to start a series of columns on teaching for mastery. As you know when you read The First Days of School, the book is structured on the three characteristics of effective teachers: classroom management, lesson mastery, and positive expectations. At this time when accountability and high test scores are expected, we will share some information on how to teach lessons effectively.
Please continue to share your classroom management strategies with us. But if you have techniques for effectively teaching a lesson, please write to us. We'd love to hear from you and perhaps share the information in future columns.
Our profession is in a crisis mode. The demands of the classroom are increasingly intense and yet you persevere and want to make a difference in the classroom with your students. Our hats are off to you---we salute you---and welcome you to a brand new school year and what we hope will be a most gratifying year for you and your students. If you use the resources you have right here at Teachers.Net, we know you'll be around for years to come. And for your students, that's a plus---for each year you grow in skill and understanding of how to be a truly effective teacher.
Harry & Rosemary Wong products: http://harrywong.com/product/
Email Harry Wong: email@example.com