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Dear Otto: Help With Classroom Management Problems

Posted by on April 18, 2019

tech q & aDear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. 

BTW–lots of people ask why the name ‘Otto’. It’s a palindrome so beloved by geeks and nerds and techie-sort of folk.

I got this question from a colleague::

I teach computer literacy. K-4 teachers line their students up and they arrive all at one time, so with this age it would be easier to give instruction before everyone is seated. However, it is still difficult because I don’t really have enough open floor space to seat them away from their computer.

5-8 students walk down to my class on their own, so there is a period of 5-7 minutes of students wandering in. Once they sit down at the computer I’ve already lost about half of their attention. If I post the assignment on the board, even after weeks/months of making it habit, they still don’t grasp the concept of looking there for instruction. 
My classes are literally back to back and they are only 45 minutes in length, plus routine is hard to set when you only see students once a week. My oldest students are the worst to not log out of their computers, and with that being said when students sit down and there is a site left open they automatically want to engage. I do have remote desktop, but I don’t find it as useful as I had hoped in regards to locking screens. 
My answer:

I think it’s OK for students to be seated at their stations to start class. If you need to talk to them, then they leave their monitors off until you’re done. As a rule, I start with a TODO list on the screen so students come in and get started, usually on keyboard practice. There’s no reason grades 1-8 can’t follow a TODO list. You may have to walk around as they enter, remind them to look at the screen and get started, but eventually they will get it. I do–at times–gather K/1 on the carpet because they are used to that approach and seem to listen well doing that. Since you don’t have room, I wouldn’t worry about it. It won’t make a definitive difference.
As for the late students who wander in, that probably isn’t the culture in your school–that students arrive when they feel like it. There’s probably a bell that rings, or an accepted 3-minute pass time, and then they should be in their seats. If they arrive late, send them back to wherever they came to get a late slip. Chances are, they won’t be able to get one and you’ll have made your point. If they tell you something like “I left class on time, but took too long in the restroom”, then they need to get a late pass from the principal or Dean who handles that. Sure, you could excuse them the first time, but not the second. They need to understand that you are like any other class. If it’s the teacher’s fault that they are continually late, explain why that is unacceptable and rude (of course, do that nicely). She certainly wouldn’t like it happening to her.
As for not closing computers down correctly, this is easy to fix: Students don’t leave class until you’ve verified they are closed down. Their monitor is on and you see the desktop–they can go. You could have neighbors verify that each other is closed down. And, don’t allow students to turn the monitor off–that’s the easiest way to hide their tracks. If they are then late to leave and another class is waiting to enter, the incoming class has to wait. Hopefully the teacher stays with them–doesn’t simply drop them off. You can explain to her the classroom management steps you’re taking and ask her/his patience. It shouldn’t take long for students to get used to your new rules. They may even be embarrassed having the next class see them being ‘held over’. 
The most important piece of all of this is: You are the teacher. You are responsible for setting rules that help the class run effectively and efficiently. I regularly take input from students, but it must be helpful to the class as a whole. You could explain the situation to students (too many devices not being shut down to the desktop) and get their thoughts. I’ve found that students are tougher on each other than I am so you can end up looking like the friend!
Let me know how it goes. Good luck!

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More on classroom management:

22 Digital Tools You Must Have in Your Classroom

Go Paperless for Earth Day

Organize Your Classroom for Tech (video stream of 19+ webinars)

169 Real-World Ways to Put Tech into Your Class–NOW

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today and TeachHUB, and author of two tech thrillers. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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