Chaos vs routines

At the end of the class period, my middle school students want to rush out of the room as soon as the bell rings. Sometimes, I’m in the middle of a sentence and other times they leave the lab in a mess for the next class. Any suggestions for dealing with this chaos?
—Brad from Hawaii

Middle schoolers seem to be in such a hurry! They want to line up at the door long before the end of the class, waiting to sprint out the door. And I’ve heard teachers say “Wait a minute—we’re not finished” as students stream out of the room as soon as the bell rings. Perhaps it’s because they’re so full of energy. This high energy level can be fun to work with, although learning how to channel that energy is a challenge.

The end of the class period can be hectic (especially right before lunch or at dismissal time). I found it essential to have routines in place so the transition was orderly and we used our time productively. These routines should not be a set of arbitrary rules—they should be based on the established expectations of your classroom environment.

It sounds like you have two expectations for the end of class. Your first expectation is students leave the room ready for the next class to come in. Post it in your classroom. It helps if students have some ownership in the routines to meet this expectation. Ask them: What do we need to do at the end of the period so the next class can be ready to start? Ask each team for a few suggestions, and reserve the option to add some yourself. You’ll find a lot of duplications, but essentially you’ll see things such as pick up litter, turn in assignments, return lab materials, push chairs in, and store technology and notebooks in the designated places. Pick out a few essential ones and post them in the classroom under this expectation. Designate a team member to take charge of each group’s clean up tasks. You may need to model the routine for shutting down any technology and returning the laptops or tablets to their proper place. Make sure places to return materials are labeled and accessible. Students should know and use these routines so that you do not have to issue orders every day, other than a reminder “time to clean up.”

The second expectation is for students to pack up their thinking. If students race out of the room, it’s easy for them to forget what they did (and you’ll look at a sea of blank faces the next day). After materials are put away (or as students are doing so), use an exit activity to help them reflect on or summarize what they did and what they learned. This can be a brief note or response to a prompt, a group summary, an entry in their science notebooks, or adding to an electronic discussion via programs such as Moodle, Edmodo, or an addition to a class blog. They can be creative, too—a drawing or an acrostic in which you give the students a word and have them write a sentence or phrase starting with each letter related to the lesson. I’ve read about teachers having students post sticky notes on a class flip chart page on their way out. The teacher can use the exit activity to get a sense of what students learned or questions they still have.

Schools are not always student-friendly when it comes to bell schedules. Students may only have a few minutes to get from one class to another, even if the rooms are on opposite ends of the building. As part of your routine, make every attempt to dismiss your students in time so they can make the trek. You could ask a student to be the official timekeeper and give you a reminder sign when there are a few minutes remaining in the class period for packing up materials and their thoughts.


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