November 26, 2014

Bringing Order to the Unruly

Seven years into my teaching, career and may I dare say I am finally beginning to understand middle school children and what they need.  On the top of that list of what they need: order.  So what exactly to I mean by order?  Order would include consistent expectations, clear routines, firm and predictable consequences for non-desirable classroom behavior, a welcoming environment, and student ownership of the classroom.  It's all about finding that balance between elements that don't seem to go together and figuring out how to get both to exist.

For example:

1.  Consistent daily classroom routines and flexibility to allow for student choice.
2.  Meeting high, rigorous standards and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students in the classroom.
3.  Developing strong relationships and rapport with students and operating the classroom with high behavior expectations.
4.  Students working independently as readers/writers and students working collaboratively as readers/writers.

It has taken me this long to figure out that all of these things CAN exist together in one classroom.  Realistically, this doesn't mean that every possible minute of instruction will be utilized in a picture-perfect way.  However, if teachers play the balancing game to bring order to their classroom, I feel strongly that student achievement will go up.  Bringing order requires strategic planning for the structured and unstructured parts of a class period.  Below are some ideas that work for me to bring order to my very fun and energetic group of 6th graders this year.

An interactive Smartboard is ready and waiting as they walk into class for lunch count and attendance.  As students are getting out their materials needed for the day, they also quickly move their name to the appropriate column.  This eliminates me taking unnecessary time out of class to interrupt learning to do this.

A sign outside of the classroom letting students know what needs to be out and ready to go on their desks as class begins.  This eliminates the, "Ms. Kiehl, I need to go to my locker because I forgot my IR book" in the middle of class.  I am also very harsh with this board.  There are no excuses to leave class for missing materials.  If your materials are missing, you must make due that day without them.  It's funny how that works, but consistent, sometimes harsh, consequences like this prevent students from forgetting the next day.

Nope, I'm not above using a good, old-fashioned timer.  Once students enter the room each day, the timer begins.  The timer stops once lunch count/attendance is taken on the Smartboard, everybody's materials are out on their desk with their binder underneath the desk, and everyone is seated.  Sixth grade students love competing to beat their previous time.  The best part?  I don't have to say a word.  My students encourage everyone to follow expectations and get ready to go as fast as they can.

After the whole-class minilesson, during independent reading/writing time while I am working with small groups in either guided reading, guided writing, or literature study, I leave the directions for the application of the minilesson up on the Smartboard.  This makes it crystal clear to students what they're supposed to be doing as readers/writers for the day.  I also leave a "Questions you have for Ms. Kiehl" part on the Smarboard for students to write on so that I know what I need to answer to the whole class and individual students once I am done working with the small group.

Another support I have put in place this year for independent reading/writing time while I am working with small groups is the "Work it out with a Partner" area.  This is the only area in the entire classroom where talking is allowed during independent work time besides the small group area.  Partner pairs start the timer once they get to the partner area (maximum of two minutes) and are able to get clarification on the application, help each other brainstorm, ask questions, and/or receive feedback before returning back to their seats to continue working independently.

Use formative assessment as much as humanly possible.  I have come to the realization that I can never know too much about my students as readers and writers.  The most important part of what I will ever do as a teacher on a daily basis is spend time wrapping my head around my students' current level of understanding so that I can bring them to the next logical place.  This is what I have come to realize is my best form of classroom management.  My students know that I am committed to finding out who they are as readers and writers.  This creates an atmosphere of trying, being vulnerable, and giving a best effort.

My last tip to build order in a middle school classroom is to plan/structure class periods for students to move around/collaborate with one another, but also balance that out with times that students are expected to apply reading and writing skills silently and independently.  In order for students to better themselves as readers/writers and for a middle school balanced literacy classroom to work, both need to happen every day.  Here's how this plays out in my classroom with our daily, 90 minute literacy block.

10 minutes: Interactive Edit (Students write what they notice about the grammar, author's craft, etc. of a sentence from the day's interactive read aloud.  After students have done this independently, they share with their tables what they noticed.  Finally, a representative from each table goes up to the board and "teaches" the class one thing their group noticed and why.)

5 minutes: Vocabulary (Words from a read aloud for the day are up on the board with definitions and page numbers from the book.  Each group has a copy of the book, reads the sentence where the word comes up, and talks about the word.  They then talk about how they could use the word in a sentence using a similar context the author of the story did.)

15 minutes: Interactive Read Aloud (Students move to our IRA space and are seated around me as I read our IRA for that day.  I stop a few times during the reading to model my thinking, have students turn and talk about an idea in the book, or talk as a whole class.)

10-15 minutes: Minilesson (Minilesson statement, modeling of how I would apply the minilesson to my reading/writing, have-a-go where students have a guided practice of the minilesson.)

30-40 minutes: Independent Reading/Writing and small group work (Students apply the minilesson to their reading/writing independently while I meet with small groups.  Students also rotate weekly for comfy item privileges and are able to move to a comfortable spot for independent reading/writing.  This is also where the "Work it out with a Partner" and "Ask Ms. Kiehl" comes into play.)

5 minutes: Share (Students come back as a whole group and share the work they have done as a reader or writer that day based on the minilesson application.)

I hope you enjoyed these tips for how to "bring order to the unruly."  If you have comments to share about something you've tried, would like to try, etc., make sure you leave them below.  I love hearing from you!


  1. This was a very helpful post! I'm going to try out the Work it Out with a Partner station. I have a bunch of chatty students this year and I always have a problem with side conversations during the minilesson or any time of whole group activity. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!

    1. Ashley,
      I have found the Work it Out with a Partner station to be instrumental in my classroom management during independent reading and writing time when I'm working with small groups or one-on-one with students. It also gives me something to say to students besides "stop talking." I can tell them that if they're trying to work something out about their reading and writing, they need to head over to the appropriate area to do so. As far as students talking during whole group time, that's not okay. My advice would be to review expectations for whole class, small group, and individual work time and possibly chart those expectations that are agreed upon onto an anchor chart so that you're able to refer to it when students aren't following what was agreed upon. Also, I would think about the length of your whole class minilessons and ask yourself if they are an appropriate amount of time or if they could be cut down to 10-15 minutes or less. Additionally, make sure you are incorporating turn and talks, small group discussion, or volunteering from the class throughout the minilesson to keep them engaged. I know it's dorky, but I always end turn and talks with a countdown of when the attention is back to me.

  2. Hello - I am quite enjoying your blog! I'm an elementary teacher who is transitioning to middle level next year. I'm very adept at the 'balanced literacy' model, but would have three separate minilessons in the course of a class (reading/writing/word work) so am just having some difficulty grasping your structure. Are you just doing a writing mini lesson, or a reading mini lesson and alternating? Could you possibly post what one actual lesson would look like? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Deidra,

      I do have a free product on my TpT store that outlines different ideas in how to structure your time depending on how much of it you have. Check that out here: Also, I've blogged about minilessons often and given sample lessons, check them out here: Thanks for reading my blog! :)


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