Take the Manage Out of Classroom Management

When I lead blended learning workshops or coach teachers implementing blended learning, I get a lot of questions about classroom management. I’ve never liked the idea that as teachers it is our job to “manage” students, but it wasn’t until I was reading research about human motivation for my doctoral program that I understood why I was feeling such a knee-jerk reaction when I heard the phrase “classroom management.”

On some primal level, I know that I don’t like to be managed myself. When I enter an environment where I have no control, I immediately shut down. I’ve sat through several professional development training sessions in which I was instructed to put my phone away, told when the bathroom breaks would be, and directed to complete specific tasks in a certain way. I don’t enjoy that experience, and now I know why.

Human beings desire autonomy, or freedom from external control, and the ability to make their own decisions. Researchers have isolated autonomy as a basic human need. When humans are given autonomy, especially in a learning environment, it yields higher levels of interest, engagement, and motivation. Teachers who are autonomy supportive “offer their students choices, give them informative feedback and allow them the space to decide for themselves how they want to learn (Hofferber, Eckes & Wilde, 2014, p.178). It turns out that students in an autonomy-supportive environment learn and retain more, earn better marks, demonstrate higher levels of learning endurance, and enjoy learning more (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987; Miserando, 1996; Bätz, Beck, Kramer, Niestradt, & Wilde, 2009).

By contrast, teachers who tend to be more controlling do not allow learners to make key decisions about what and how they learn. These teachers tend to provide “explicit instructions for how tasks are to be performed…proposing solutions, giving students few or no choices, and put them under pressure to perform in prespecified ways” (Hofferber, Eckes & Wilde, 2014, p.178). In this type of learning environment, punishments and rewards are used to motivate students to do specific tasks. These extrinsic motivators do not inspire deep learning and can function to harm intrinsic motivation. The goal in a controlled learning environment is compliance. Teachers attempt to achieve compliance by managing students. Managing students implies that the teacher possesses the power in the classroom.

Instead of managing students, our goal should be to motivate them. The irony is that the very thing many teachers fear (lack of control) may be the very thing that motivates students to lean into the learning happening in the classroom. The more choices students get to make about when, how, and what they learn, the more likely they are to be excited about learning and stick with challenging tasks.

Blended learning models require a fundamental shift in control in the classroom from teacher to learner. Ideally, these models blend online and offline learning to place students at the center of the learning happening in the classroom. For this to happen, teachers must architect lessons that invite students to be active agents in the learning process. Students must feel their basic need for autonomy is prioritized in the learning environment and valued by the teacher.

Bätz, K., Beck, L., Kramer, L., Niestradt, J. & Wilde, M. (2009). Wie beeinflusst Schülermitbestimmung im Biologieunterricht intrinsische Motivation und Wissenserwerb? Zeitschrift für Didaktik der Naturwissenschaften, 15, 307–323.

Grolnick, W. S. & Ryan, R. M. (1987). Autonomy in Children’s Learning: An Experimental and Individual Difference Investigation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(5), 890-898.

Hofferber, N., Eckes, A., & Wilde, M. (2014). Effects of Autonomy Supportive vs. Controlling Teachers’ Behavior on Students’ Achievements. European Journal of Educational Research, 3(4), 177-184.

Miserando, M. (1996). Children who do well in school: Individual differences in perceived competence and autonomy in above-average children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 203-214.

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I Connect, Therefore I Learn

Is it possible to learn without being connected? How does the strength of an individual’s network impact their value as an employee? Why should employers encourage their employees to build robust personal and social networks?

Established learning theories, like behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, are grounded in the idea that learning occurs inside the human brain. However, technological advances are challenging that assumption. The explosion of artificial intelligence is a testament to the reality that knowledge can be created and stored outside of the human mind.

People no longer need direct experience with something to learn about it. Instead, humans can access the information they need to make decisions and take actions by tapping into their personal networks, computer networks, and social networks. 

A single person can only experience or learn so much; however, connection to a broader network allows them to draw on specialized data sets in their networks as needed. Given the massive amounts of knowledge being generated all of the time and the shrinking half-life of knowledge, our ability to connect with relevant and current information quickly is invaluable. This makes networks an essential part of the learning process.

George Siemens’ asserts that a new learning theory is needed for the digital age. Connectivism is grounded in the idea that “learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”

Siemens points out that learning theories must mirror the time period and that traditional learning theories do not account for the significant impact that technology, and our hyper-connectivity, has had on our lives.

In addition to reflecting the changing landscape of learning in a technology-rich world, connectivism attempts to “address the challenges of organizational knowledge and transference.” Siemens describes a new cycle of knowledge development. Knowledge begins with the individual, who brings his/her personal knowledge into an organization. That personal knowledge is composed of a network on which the individual draws to contribute to the organization. The organization gains knowledge and feeds the network. As a result, learning is happening at every level and information flows between the individual, the network, and the organization.

Given this new cycle of knowledge development, organizations (e.g. schools) should encourage their employees to build robust learning networks. The stronger the individual’s network, the more valuable that individual will be to the larger organization.

Even though many school districts and universities invest in professional development, that learning is often treated as an event when learning should be an ongoing process. Individuals with a strong network will continue learning and growing between these learning events and their learning will be more personalized because they are seeking information that is relevant to their specific needs.  

Siemens, G. (2005). “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.” InternationalJournal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 1, 1-8.

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Math Journals: Adaptive Software + A Metacognitive Practice

As a blended learning coach, I spend time in classrooms where teachers use adaptive software to provide students with personalized math practice. Often a station rotation lesson for math is composed of:

  • a teacher-led station for direct instruction and modeling.
  • an online station at which students work with an adaptive math software program, like Aleks, IXL, or Dreambox. 
  • an offline station where kids work offline to practice problems on a worksheet. 

bit.ly/mathjournaltemplate

I know that “personalization” is a hot topic in education right now and adaptive programs are a great way to provide personalized practice. My concern is that I see many students at these online stations simply clicking buttons and guessing because they get bored or frustrated. 

I’d like to see teachers pair personalized practice using an adaptive program with a metacognitive routine. Students should be encouraged to think about their thinking and learning. Simply asking students to engage with a program for 20-30 minutes each day does not do this.

Instead, I encourage the teachers I coach to ask students to spend the last 5 minutes in their station writing in an online math journal. Students take a screenshot of a problem they encountered and write a brief journal entry explaining both the problem and their process solving it. This simple practice has several benefits. 

  1. It builds a reflective process into their math practice.
  2. It encourages them to articulate their thought process in writing using math vocabulary.
  3. It provides teachers with insight into their students’ thinking and valuable formative assessment data.  

Below is the math journal template I designed for a 3rd grade math teacher I coach. You are welcome to make a copy of it and adapt it to use with your students. 

The more we encourage students to slow down and think about problems and how they solve them, the more confident they will become as learners. 

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