Getting the Class Back on Track

By Brent Vasicek on October 3, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5

The beginning of the year was hectic, and the procedures you tried to put in place didn't really stick. Looking back, there are definitely things you would have done differently. Plus, as the novelty of a new school year wears off, some students are really testing the limits. You realize your class is off track and you want to fix it before it completely derails. What do you do? Try these strategies to get your class back on track.

Photo ©: iStockphoto.




Set Up Talk-Time

The brain likes to socialize. Instead of trying to quiet the students down, make sure you give them time to talk. During an average 30-minute lesson, the students in my class are allowed to talk to each other at least 40% of the time. It's not random conversation, but structured conversation with their partners or teams. Simply saying, "Now turn to your partner and talk about how you would tackle this math problem," is enough to relieve the pressure that is building inside their brains to socialize. Vasicek Social Learning

Another sample discussion prompt is "Discuss a life skill the main character has and support your opinion with an example from the story." Sounds like a question from a worksheet, doesn't it? It's okay to pull a few questions from a worksheet. Really! And it makes your job that much easier.

Model Proper Behavior

Students pick up on hypocrisy quickly. The adage "Actions speak louder than words" has great truth to it. If the rule is "Be quiet as we walk down the hallway," then be sure to follow that rule yourself by not talking to your colleagues. If you want students to respect the time they spend in your classroom, then respect their time: honor student work time; honor release times for lunch or class changes; promise a small break during class and deliver! When asking them to clean up the room, jump right in there, too. If your class is off track, analyze how many times a day you are sending mixed signals.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The brain needs to practice tasks several times before the correct way becomes hardwired. If there is a procedure that is rather difficult, such as lining up for lunch in an elementary classroom, then practice it three times the correct way.

I did this when teaching an urban class of 1st graders who had already had three other teachers that year. After a few weeks of practicing and being consistent, I had a class that went from crazy to tame. They became role models of the school. It truly works.

Vasicek FRR Rules Consistency

Are you fair and consistent with your rules? Immediate, fair, and consistent feedback is tiring, but oh, so important. If there is misbehavior, be sure to take care of it as soon as possible. Likewise, if there is positive behavior, be sure to recognize it. Caution: Some students love public recognition, others do not. Be sure to honor the different personalities in your room. 

There are only three rules in our class, and 98 percent of annoying behaviors fall under one of them: Focus, Respect, Responsibility.


Music can have a calming effect. It can also mask distracting noises during independent work time. If you don't utilize music, introduce it. Once your students begin to appreciate the music, you can always take it away if their behavior or noise level warrants it. Also, asking for school-appropriate songs can help build rapport. For more on introducing music, see "Music to Manage Your Classroom" and "Mr. Vasicek's Classroom Music Playlists."

Establish High, Yet Reasonable Expectations

Did you ask students about their needs when setting up the rules of the classroom? You might be surprised at what they come up with when you ask. For example, if you have a class with several freshmen football players in it, maybe they resent you because you always give a lot of homework on Thursday nights, their game night. Honoring them with a No Homework Thursday Night would earn you many rapport points and perhaps help solve a problem.

Hold a class discussion on the topic of "What I need to be a successful student." Have the class establish group norms that everyone can abide by. Sign them and post them in the room. Examples of group norms may be:

  • Respect: Students and teacher will give respect to the person speaking.
  • Respect: Students and teacher will respect others' property and opinions.
  • Punctuality: Students will be in the seat when the bell rings and teacher will release students on time for lunch.
  • Focus: The teacher will give students at least ten minutes of work time at the end of the hour. Students will give at least 30 minutes of focus during the lecture.
  • Attitude: Public comments will be positive.

What strategies do you use to get your class back on track?

2I2 Trademark 2010 Vasicek Say it. Mean it. Do it!


2i2 is a trademark of Mr. Vasicek's class.


These strategies are a great reminder of the expectations we need to keep and encourage as we go through the year! I really enjoyed reading and it was a good way spur some reflection on what I am currently doing in my classroom. I like the different ways you have included music in your class and I hope to implement it in my class more frequently. Thanks!

This was a great post to read today because the "newness" of the school year is wearing off and students are beginning to test the limits here lately. Modeling consistently and expectation consistency are definitely the keys to success. Thanks for a great post, Brent! I'm looking forward to your posts this year!


I can't comment on the site, so I'll go ahead and post it here... Thanks for giving us more tools for our management toolbox! My kids are doing very well this year thanks to great advice like this. :) ~Krista H via facebook

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