I’ve written before about how teenagers can be stupid. This post addresses how I combat stupidity with procedure.

Let me address a comment:

My goal is a self-starting classroom. It varies year to year, but it’s pretty consistently what you see below (the black portions remain unchanged day to day, and I write today’s agenda between the squiggly lines.):


Now let me be clear about two things:

  1. Most of those first items are happening at the same time.
  2. It took many weeks of training to get this to run smoothly without me. My special class still requires much prompting.

I have trained my students (through mind-numbing repetition) to pick up whatever papers are on the table by the door as soon as they enter. If there’s no table there, then they pick up nothing.

Photo Jan 30, 8 04 19 AM

Then they sit down–papers in hand–and instructions for those papers are on the board.

After the notebook item is folded and glued, the student writes the assignment in her planner. Once the planner is completed, the student moves it to the side of her desk and begins the warm-up.

NOTE: Three key things are happening in the midst of all this:

  • Each day, I write the names of three random students on the board (pic below). Once they enter class, they–without my prompting–discuss with each other who will present each problem, get a small whiteboard, and prepare to explain it to the class.
  • An eight-minute timer is running. Once the timer hits 0:00, it kills the “walk-in-and-get-started” music and plays a siren. That app can be found here for free or here without ads. The student that presents problem #1 stops the siren and begins.
  • A student patrols the class with a date stamp and my clipboard. This student date-stamps each planner (once the assignment is written down1) and stamps the assignment that is due today (recording the score on my clipboard).

After the timer hits 0:00, here’s what happens:

  • Student #1 walks to the front of class, stops the timer, and says, “I have #1. First, subtract _____, then divide ____, then _____. The answer is _____. Any questions?”
    • Class waits for questions, thinking silently, “One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi, Three-Mississippi” then applauds for #1, who erases the board and returns to his/her seat
  • Student #2 stands and presents theirs in the same way.
  • After clapping for number two2, presenter #3 stands and teaches the class #3.

After the Warm-up, students take guesses at the Jeopardy question of the day.

Also, you can see the breakdown of the class roles for the day.

There’s no pedagogical reason for this. It’s just fun. It only takes 15-30 seconds and is totally worth it. I’m an adult, and still interested in learning fun, useless stuff.

Next comes Good Things; I play a 45-second clip of this song and students chat with each other about “Good Things” going on in their lives. When the song ends, I pick three students to share a “good thing” with the class. Then we clap, because life is good.

As the clapping dies down, I cue the “Take out today’s assignmentsong and switch to the document camera. I show the answers and ask for questions, every day reminding the students, “If you copy, copy on a separate page so you can try the problems later to see if you were correct.”

Then I read aloud the goal of the day and advance slides to the Daily Doozy–a college-level problem on the today’s topic. More on that here.

While the Doozy still echoes in their heads, I prompt the next thing that we’re doing3, and our class starts. From start to finish, our pre-lesson routine runs between 15-20 minutes. (…though I should mention that it takes about a half-hour during the first week of school.)

Not only does the routine give me time to fine-tune anything for the day, but it provides a consistent routine and alternate voice of authority for the students.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this is: I’m not the one directing them to begin.

Instead of, “Mark, please sit down and take out your planner.” I can say, “Anna, what is everyone else doing right now?”

Or even better, “Damien, the song’s over.”

All of which let the class weed out and re-direct the black sheep.

In closing, I didn’t do all of this at once. I started with one or two things in August, then every few days added a song or another item.

Questions? For quickest response, ask on Twitter or via email.

1 The date stamp is mostly for the parents. The parent says, “He doesn’t write down the homework.” And I say, “Bull Pucky. Here’s a stamp with the date. You just weren’t checking it.”
2 Much like my wife and I will do, when we potty-train our baby.
3 This could be notes, Algebra Tiles, a short video, whatever. By this point in the class, whatever garbage happened during lunch or the passing period has faded to the back of their minds.