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Classroom Management in a 1-1 Environment

When our school went 1-1 a several years ago, we anticipated that classroom management would be a potential challenge for teachers. In an effort to be proactive, we held a meeting with faculty before our roll-out to provide them with some ideas for how to adapt to this new environment. Here are some of the suggestions we put forth:

  • Incorporate Chromebook use in classroom expectation plans. We suggested that the default expectation for students was to keep their Chromebooks closed but available to be used at any time.
  • Use common language, such as the phrase ‘lids down’, whenever you want students to stop using the Chromebooks. Teachers were reminded that students should never fully log out from their Chromebook during the day. By simply closing the lid, the machine stays on, only requiring a password to restore previously-opened tabs in about 2 – 3 seconds. Some teachers tell students to ‘close the lid to a fist’ – this prevents the Chromebook from going to sleep while also making it nearly impossible to view the screen.
  • When we first went 1-1, we purchased a subscription to Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard, a full-featured Chromebook monitoring and classroom management application. Interestingly, we found that teachers were using some of these additional features sparingly, prompting us to go with a lower cost solution. We recently purchased a subscription to Crostini for all our teachers. This is a barebones, simple-to-use Chromebook monitoring tool that allows teachers to see a thumbnail image of all their student screens in one window. Clicking on a thumbnail brings up a larger image of the screen as well as a list of open tabs. The teacher can close tabs or send direct messages to students to remind them to stay on task.
  • Have an open and honest conversation with students about responsible use. This should include a discussion about norm setting, including how to deal with apps, communication tools, and extensions that might cause distractions.
  • Teach from the back of the room. Yes, I mean literally teach from the back of the room, perhaps using a wireless keyboard and mouse so that you are not tethered to the computer when using it. When not teaching from the back of the room, make it a practice to move around amongst the students. Proximity has always been a great deterrent for distractibility, even before technology entered the classroom.
  • Plan engaging lessons that incorporate technology with a purpose. Boring lessons are (and have always been) a recipe for classroom management issues.

In my opinion, the last bullet point is without question the most important. Additionally, teachers that foster positive relationships with students are far less likely to experience issues transitioning to a 1-1 model. In fact, those teachers that had strong classroom management prior to going 1-1 continued to have a productive classroom environment after going 1-1.

Towards the end of the first year of our 1-1 program, we surveyed students about their perceptions of the program. We received mostly positive feedback but did learn that roughly two-thirds of our students reported they were distracted either by their own use of technology or that of a peer. To be honest, if we surveyed students 20 years ago about distractibility, they likely would have reported a similar statistic – the source of their distractibility would have simply taken a different form.

Nonetheless, the issue of distractibility did not sit well with us and we decided to take some action. Here are a couple of changes that have taken place to further address this issue:

  • Two of our Instructional Technology Coaches (ITC’s) created and now deliver a Freshman Seminar every year. This seminar meets once every 8 days in the fall, for a total of about 10 sessions. We use a study block for the classes and manage to schedule every freshman into one of the seminars. In addition to providing students with strategies to combat distractibility, we also teach them about digital citizenship, responsible use, and creating a positive digital footprint.
  • When our 1-1 program was first introduced, teachers were inclined to let students use their Chromebooks to take notes whenever they wanted. Not only does this increase the temptation to go off task, research is emerging to suggest that computer-based notes are not as effective as handwritten notes. Teachers are now using the Chromebooks for purposeful learning experiences and asking students to keep them stashed in their bags when not needed.
  • We continue to hold focus groups with students that have been in our 1-1 program since its inception. When asked about distractibility, they have consistently reported they have learned how to manage their use of technology in and out of school to minimize distractions. Whether they turn on ‘do not disturb’ on their phones or choose to take paper notes over computer-based notes, our students are definitely taking more responsibility for their own learning.

While we still have some work to do, the classroom management challenges associated with our 1-1 program have improved significantly. It’s my hope that other districts considering a 1-1 initiative can draw on our experiences to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Steve Ouellette