The foundation for successful classroom management (in a subject class) is respect for the teacher and for the importance of learning. You gain that respect in your class by being serious about teaching your subject. Your class period is filled with obvious learning activities. There is an expectation for learning. There is simply no time for misbehavior.
In the study hall, though, you have none of that. You aren’t there to teach at all. The students think of it as free time. It’s a sort of break in the routine of the day. If you tell them to be quiet, they’ll think, “What for?” They have been primed by tradition for an hour of socializing, pranks and time wasting.
This is one situation where you will have to rule from a position of power, but with the understanding that it’s for the common good. Here is how you begin.
You must have a seating chart prepared before the students arrive. Boy-girl, boy-girl is slightly better than some other arrangement at this age. If you can separate them somehow, all the better. Once they are in their assigned seats, your introduction might go like this:
Teacher: “I know that many of you have trouble getting your homework done. Perhaps it’s because you have lots of after-school activities, or you find it difficult to study at home or you just don’t like to do it after school is over. I hope that this study hall can solve all those problems. It’s amazing how much work you can get done in one hour of absolutely uninterrupted time. Also, since I teach math, I will be happy to help you with your math homework. I’ll also do what I can to help with any other homework you’ll have, too.”
“Just so you’ll know what I mean by uninterrupted, I’m going to tell you the rules of this study hall. First, you must be in your seat and working when the class begins, or you’ll be counted as tardy. Also, you must show up with all the materials you’ll need, since I won’t let you borrow from other students or go back to your locker.”
Reasoning: The students should start the class on their own, automatically. If you have to plead with them to get busy, then you are starting from a position of weakness that will only get worse.
Teacher: “Throughout the entire period, you will be absolutely quiet. No talking will be allowed for any reason. If someone sneezes, you are not to say, “God bless you.” If you bump someone, you don’t say, “Excuse me.”
Student: “What if I need to ask you a question?”
Teacher: “Raise your hand until I see you. Then I’ll motion for you to come up to my desk. By the way, the only time you are to come up to my desk is to ask me for help with your homework or to tell me that you have a serious medical emergency.”
Reasoning: Until students get used to a quiet study hall, they will become so bored that they’ll look for any sort of break at all. Many will want to chat with you, get a drink or go to the bathroom just to break the monotony. Also, if they need help with their homework, they should come to your desk, so you can still watch the room. During the first week, at least, if you go to the student needing help, you’ll lose control of those behind you. Actually, it is probably not a good idea to have students come to you during the first week for any reason other than medical.
Also, you may want to consider sitting behind them in the back of the room. That way they cannot readily keep an eye on you, and when you help a student at your desk, it won’t be as likely to distract the others.
Teacher: “As I was saying, you may not talk for any reason. In fact, you may not communicate with anyone in any way. That means you can’t pass notes, exchange glances or giggles, attract attention to yourself or do anything else I might feel is inappropriate. You are to conduct yourself as though you are sitting in the room alone.”
“You must do written homework throughout the time you are in this study hall.”
Reasoning: Notice that the teacher added to what they couldn’t do, “anything else I might feel is inappropriate.” There are always a few students who will try to find a loophole in your rules. If you didn’t mention that you don’t like them popping bubble gum bubbles, they will drive you to distraction doing it. By including that last admonition, the teacher has covered all the bases, even those he might not have thought of.
Having them do written work gives you an easy way to check if they are busy. While it would be unreasonable to require this all year, it is necessary during the first week or two while you are establishing an academic atmosphere.
Student: “What if I don’t have any homework?”
Teacher: “I find that hard to believe. But, if you really don’t have any written homework, then you’ll just have to make up something. Bring your math book and do some problems. Perhaps you can work ahead in one of your texts. Ask your teachers if you can do some extra credit. In any case, you must have some written work to do.”
Student: “What if we have reading homework in science or English?”
Teacher: “Your work in here must be written. If you are supposed to read, then you have to take notes on the reading. I will check your notes. Anyone who violates any of the rules or in any way bothers me or other students will have to copy from the dictionary. I want to be absolutely certain that you folks have one hour of distraction-free time for your school work. You can either choose to do written work or copy from the dictionary.”
Reasoning: Notice that the last, closing statement reiterates the fact that you are going to run this study hall for their academic benefit and that you have every intention of imposing a consequence on those who would interfere. Copying from the dictionary is not a punishment in the sense described earlier in this website. It is a consequence, since the student knows it in advance and has an alternate choice.
Teacher: “Since you didn’t know what to bring today, if you need paper and pencil, I’ll lend it to you. This is the last and only day I’ll do that, so be sure to bring your materials tomorrow. If you don’t have any homework now, just make up math problems or repeatedly write a list of vocabulary words.”
Reasoning: You must begin having them follow the rules from the first minute on. After having described your rigid standards, it would be ludicrous to ignore them until tomorrow.
Throughout this discussion of the rules, there will be those who will grimace or otherwise show their displeasure with you. They will try to convey to you how unfair they think it all is. Hang tough. I know how dehumanizing this sounds to some. It does work, though. It will be in everyone’s best interest for you to be utterly uncompromising. At the end of the year, some students will actually thank you for giving them the time to work.