Using Stories, Magic and Technology for Effective Classroom Management
Classroom management skills are essential for Early Childhood (EC) educators to engage preschoolers meaningfully and create learning opportunities for their development. ECDA Scholarship recipient and Principal of Mosaic Preschool Eunos, Mr Mohammad Aizat Hashim, shares his journey in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and the ‘magic’ behind a thriving learning environment for young children and EC educators.
Driven by his passion and interest in working with children, Aizat decided to join the EC sector after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree. However, his decision was met with doubts and concern from family and friends.
“It is inevitable that I was faced with a lot of ‘whys’ when I decided to jump into the EC sector,” said Aizat. With the support of his wife, who also works in the education sector, and his hunger for continuous learning, Aizat followed his passion and stepped foot into a preschool as a novice teacher.
Storytelling and Magic to the Rescue
Working with children soon presented unexpected challenges as Aizat struggled to get the attention of his preschoolers in class. Initially, he thought it was the norm for teachers to portray themselves as stern figures to manage preschoolers’ behaviours. It was through the guidance of Aizat’s mentors that he learnt the importance of consistent behaviour management to manage his class effectively. This meant he had to be a positive role model and play partner to the children.
After experimenting with various techniques, ranging from music to visual cues, to get the children’s attention, Aizat and his mentors discovered his flair for storytelling and drama.
“I like the excitement of ad-libbing stories using props or items that are found within the classroom. Somehow the children can connect with me through such stories easily,” said Aizat.
One of his favourite storytelling practices is telling “bookless stories”. According to Aizat, “bookless stories” are stories told without the use of books and could involve paper cutting or folding techniques. One story which Aizat enjoyed telling is “The Baker”, where a piece of paper cut into a circle was used to represent a loaf of bread which the baker intended to sell in the market.
As the baker brought the bread through the woods to the market, he shared it with hungry characters which Aizat would demonstrate by tearing or cutting the circular piece of paper. When the baker reached the market, a genie turned the leftover bread into a full loaf, signaling the baker’s kindness being repaid.
“The act of tearing the paper while telling a story brings the children’s attention to the action (of tearing the paper). It also introduces numerical concepts like halving and fractions, coupled with socio-emotional concepts like empathy and sharing,” shared Aizat.
Stories aside, Aizat concluded that magic was another effective way to capture his children’s attention as they would usually be left captivated by his tricks!
The story ends with the tiny eighth of the circle magically unfolding to become a full circle once again. Through such stories, EC educators can nurture curiosity and encourage children to express their sense of wonder.
Aizat telling a “bookless story” using a mystery box and measuring tape
Developing His Own Bag of Tricks
In his quest to build his classroom management skills as a novice teacher, Aizat turned to resources produced by renowned EC professionals, including Dr Jean Feldman’s book on ‘Transition tips and tricks for Teachers’, which discusses various classroom management strategies. “In that book, the strategies were categorised into various application scenarios. From there, I associated the idea of classroom management to a magician’s bag, where there are many tricks waiting to be used,” explained Aizat.
Inspired by the strategies he picked up in his research, Aizat came up with his own bag of tricks which consists of the following strategies:
- “Attention Grabbers” are strategies to get children’s attention quickly. Rhythmic clapping is commonly used to redirect children’s attention to their teacher and clap along to a familiar tune. In Aizat’s classes, rhythmic
clapping can be used as a cue for children to clean up after learning corner time or during transition periods.
- "Clean up! Line up! Let’s go!” is useful to facilitate children’s transition to another activity. ‘If you’re ready and you know it’ is a chant Aizat adapts as a cue to move to the next activity.
- “Circle Time” can be used at the start of class to get the children energised. Having exciting energiser activities can set the mood for the rest of the day!
- “A Story in your Pocket” is a collection of bookless stories like “The Baker” where props, objects and even magic tricks are incorporated to engage young children.
Based on his keen observation and understanding of his preschoolers’ behaviours, Aizat is ever ready to pull out a trick or two from his bag when required.
Technology in a Modern-Day Preschool
In today’s era where technology has permeated many areas of our lives, it is no surprise that Aizat leverages digital tools to create a positive learning environment in his preschool.
Laptops and smart devices are used for small group teaching and activities. For example, the children in Mosaic Preschool Eunos have used Google Earth to explore and discover different parts of the world.
“Small group teaching is an important part of classroom management as it allows groups of children to be involved in different activities at the same time, hence managing the movement of children,” shared Aizat.
A preschooler using Google Earth for virtual exploration of the world
Sharing (Knowledge) is Caring
Aizat’s passion, innovation and dedication in honing his skills were recognized when he was offered the ECDA Scholarship in November 2019. Being an ECDA Scholarship recipient proved valuable to Aizat as it allowed him to expand his networks and perspectives.
“The scholarship has given me a platform to connect with other educators and leaders, as well as learn about good classroom practices. On the ground, I can connect better with my group of teachers and share newfound knowledge with them,” said Aizat.
Aizat and participants at the ECDA “Learn n Share” virtual event
Aizat delivered a sharing session on classroom management to ECDA Training Award recipients at the ECDA “Learn n Share” virtual event on 6 April 2022.
Lu En Yu, a Preschool Teacher from E-Bridge Bukit Batok West, attended the session and was impressed by Aizat’s advice and sharing of innovative practices in classroom management.
“He used creative ways to get children to gather. Through respectful interactions, we will be able to get children to listen and engage in class. It deepened my knowledge on classroom management, and I learnt that the opportunities
are limitless!” exclaimed En Yu.
Aizat conducting a virtual storytelling session of “The Baker” story
Apart from participants who benefited from his sharing at the event, his colleagues at Mosaic Preschool Eunos also have the privilege of being mentored by Aizat.
“He gave me great ideas on how to conduct fun and cheerful lessons with children. As a mentor, he also guided me on how to manage the classroom effectively and plan process-orientated lesson plans,” remarked Song Zhen, a senior teacher at Mosaic Preschool Eunos. Song Zhen was also impressed by Aizat’s talent in using any item in the classroom to tell a story, which almost always calms children down instantly.
On putting classroom management skills to practice, Song Zhen shared that “we play soothing background music when the children are doing table work as it creates a relaxing and comfortable environment. When it comes to configuration of learning corners, we will place the reading corner far away from the manipulative toy corner so that children do not disrupt each other when they have fun in their respective spaces.”
Song Zhen and Aizat
Advice for Preschool Teachers
With his years of experience and experimentation with classroom management strategies, Aizat stressed the need for preschool teachers to have patience, resilience and creativity when working with preschoolers.
Aizat admitted that there is a lot of trial-and-error as one strategy may not work with every group of children. When a preschool teacher has collected a bag full of “tricks”, it becomes easier to pick and adapt the strategies to meet the needs of different children.
“In your day-to-day observations and interactions with the children, take the time to identify their individual personality and get to know them personally through sincere conversations. Once you can get a rough idea of the type of learner they are, it is easier to identify the type of classroom management strategy that might work. Dare to try strategies that may be deemed as ‘strange’ or unorthodox. You may get unexpected results,” said Aizat.
Click here to download the presentation slides on ‘Bag of Tricks: A Sharing on Classroom Management’ presented by Aizat at ECDA’s “Learn n Share” 2022.
For more inspiring stories on EC leaders like Aizat, click here.
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