People are different. Therefore, they will behave differently in your classroom. Managing those differences and keeping all students focused at the exact time that you need them to focus is one of the challenges teachers face daily.
For language teachers, now throw in the extra interest that comes from teaching to a multi-lingual group, where each native language brings a different set of learning challenges. It’s what makes our job interesting yet tricky!
Guest blogger and experienced English instructor, Nola Adams, has some great ideas for handling classroom behavior.
In order to create a comfortable classroom environment, it is important to encourage students to give the positive experience that they deserve. It’s a two-way street!
With this in mind, it is important to identify inappropriate behaviors and create classroom guidelines at the beginning of each class.
I recently had the privilege of instructing a kids’ class. After my first class teaching 11-year olds, they were bursting at the seams with energy and literally bouncing off the walls. I quickly realized that I had to adjust my classroom priorities.
As it turns out, some of the strategies I used to maintain an orderly and positive classroom in my kids’ class have proven successful even in my adult classes, especially when larger groups are concerned.
I think the most frequently observed misbehavior in the classroom is students talking during instruction.
I find it extremely distracting to teach a lesson when there are multiple side conversations in different languages all happening at the same time. Unavoidably, it is usually those students who participated in the side conversation who later have questions regarding the topics that they had missed.
This is why I believe it is important to have a consistent classroom routine set in place, so students know what to expect and can participate productively in learning.
For instance, depending on the level, I always kick off with a “brain warmer” such as a crossword puzzle, brainteaser or even a short text that students have to read and then write what they have understood the previous class. This lets students know that it is time to wake up, settle down and get stuck in.
Group language classes usually average two hours for adults, and this means that you can include the all-important 5-10 minute break in the middle. The break is a key part of the practice stage and social bonding that builds trust in the classroom, and shouldn’t be underestimated as a teaching tool. For children in schools, they naturally form this bond at break or lunchtimes, whereas adult learners may well not see each other from class to class, especially if trust has not been created.
However, after this 5-10-minute coffee break, I find that students are often tired or too relaxed, so it is essential to make them active again, especially in classes of longer duration where concentration has to be maintained.
For instance, I get them to put the answers up on the whiteboard, so they have to get up and get physically involved; you will be surprised how much they love playing as the teacher!
When delivering classes of more than two hours, it’s a good idea to allocate the last 15 minutes of the class to “talk time”, but make sure:
- It is topic-specific and challenging.
- Dictionaries are used to build up vocabulary
- Pronunciation is stressed
However, there are days when some students prefer to have side conversations instead, so, when the gentle hint to be quiet fails to bring results, here are some practical tips to maintain classroom control and reduce “off-topic talk”.
- If the students begin to have side conversations, use proximity control to try to stop them, literally stand next to them.
- If that doesn’t work, write the name of the talker on the board in bold and red, this is normally so embarrassing that they stop disrupting immediately.
- If it still doesn’t work, get a whistle. I have a whistle and I am not afraid to use it; sometimes the sight of the whistle is enough.
I try not to forget to meet and get to know the students, ask them what their short and long-term goals are, and then attempt to tailor a class to fit their learning needs. Involving and empowering students in the classroom by using constant positive feedback is essential to their overall language success.
It’s also a good idea to learn a new language ourselves every now and then to remember what’s like to be on the other side!
I read somewhere that “good teachers don’t have to worry about discipline”.
However, we work and live with people from different backgrounds, so there might be at least one student who doesn’t pay as much attention as the others, or is used to and prefers a more lecture-based, teacher-led learning environment. It might not be on a consistent basis but it is inevitable. It is important to be able to manage the situation in a positive and productive manner.