In our many years of teaching, we have found that one of the most difficult parts of classroom management is handling transitions. We’ve heard teachers discuss that their students just CANNOT handle transitions between activities. Many times teachers are looking at the whole picture and are thinking about the standards they need to teach, the test, getting through the whole lesson, etc… It is easy to feel rushed and not take the time to set our students up for success during these seemingly simple unstructured moments.
Here are the 5 keys to a smooth transition:
1. List Tasks:
Always LIST what you want to have happen during a transition. List as in number: “I would like for you to do two things: 1) Turn in your paper and 2) Get out your notes.” Numbering helps students mentally check off what tasks they have completed. If you ramble out a paragraph of things, your students will miss something and be off task. As often as possible have this list written somewhere for students to visually refer back to. This also helps you not to leave anything out as you relay the information to your students because once you set them free, you won’t have their full attention if you start shouting out additional orders in the midst of the transition.
2. Transition Cues:
What cues do you have in place to let students know what they are to be doing (visual, auditory)? Check out the list below and choose one that fits your style and personality. Do you raise your hand when you want silence? Do you ring a bell? Do you count down? What do you do to signal students that you are ready for their attention? If you don’t have a signal, get one and try to use the same one every time.
If you feel like students aren’t listening to you, this could be the step you are skipping. There is nothing going on in that classroom more important than what you are saying. Addressing the class with important information while students are still milling about or talking sends the message that it is okay for them not to listen to you. If a teacher sends that message, they are in for a world of frustration. Be prepared to wait until you have every single student’s attention in that classroom before you start talking. Don’t be afraid to ask that one kid to stop what they are doing and pick back up with it later.
Students need warning. Have you ever been in a PD session or meeting and the speaker abruptly starts when you were in mid-conversation? You want to finish your thought, it is only natural. Anytime you are switching gears with your class give your students a warning before closing an activity. Then give them a set amount of time to complete the transition to the new activity. It is important to create a sense of urgency in transitions. “You have two minutes pass your papers up and move your desks back”. Use a timer on the board, or just announce “2 minutes, one minute, 30 seconds, 10 seconds”. You can even make this fun, like a race, depending on the age of your students. Urgency is key.
5. Make It a Routine:
For instance, if you do group work often, have two different sets of groups your students are regularly in and a specific way they need to move their desks. Have a diagram up on the board. If it is the same every time, they will become quicker and quicker making it a shorter transition time. One teacher I knew had three different groups and desk arrangements and lettered them. Students knew when they got in Group A they got to be with a partner of their choice with their desks face to face, if the teacher called out Group B then they were with specific assigned students and their desks formed a square, and so on….
It is really isall about expectations. What should a student be doing during a transition? How long should it take them to do it? Make sure students know what you expect and what tasks they are to be completing. Remember above all that it takes practice, consistency, and patience to get students into the habit of becoming good transitioners. Practice the steps above and be willing to wait (for silence) before you give instructions to make sure your transitions go as smoothly as possible.