Tag Archives: classroom management

Mindfulness and Classroom Management

A link has been doing the rounds on Facebook, entitled ‘This school replaced detention with meditation- the results are stunning’. According to the article, there have been zero suspensions since they started the programme. There’s no hard proof the two things are connected of course, but I strongly suspect they are.

Meditation is a form of mindfulness, and being mindful makes it pretty much impossible for situations to escalate and get out of hand. This video does a very good job, I think, of explaining exactly what mindfulness is.(Also see my post here https://wordpress.com/post/elt-resourceful.com/1361)

Mindfulness is not about not feeling emotions, but about being aware of what we’re feeling, and noticing it, rather than being dragged along by our emotions. I’d suggest that the students described in the article above became more aware of their emotions and thus less likely to get into situations which would ultimately lead to suspensions. And it’s just as important for teachers to develop mindfulness if they want to avoid problems and confrontations in the classroom.

Don’t sleepwalk into trouble.

The opposite of mindfulness is a kind of sleepwalking. We’re not really awake to what is happening, pre-occupied with other concerns. Sometimes we set ourselves up for classroom management problems by sleepwalking our way through the planning process. (This is understandable when many of us are planning at 9pm the night before!). But it is important to be mindful about certain key aspects of planning:

1 How are you going to group the students? Are there students that you think would work better (not) in particular groups? Think about how to re-arrange them quickly and easily.

2 What are you going to do to grab the students’ attention right from the start?

3 What will you do about early finishers? Will you stop everyone once the first few have finished, or do you have some extra activities up your sleeve? (These can usually be simple variations on the task, rather than having to plan lots of extra things to do)

4 If you have any complicated, multi-step activities, think about how you are going to set them up in advance.

Once you are teaching the lesson, you also need to stay ‘awake’. Good teachers (or at least teachers that don’t have chaotic stressful classes) are fully conscious and aware of what is going on in all corners of the classroom. As soon as you sense that some students are starting to lose concentration (perhaps the noise level is starting to rise), you need to change something. You might, for example, move onto the next activity if appropriate, or change partners, or get students to compare their answers.

Mindfulness traditions sometimes talk about the ‘monkey mind’. This is the part of our mind which chatters away non-stop. Try to notice and catch yourself when you start thinking about what to cook for dinner, or what the head teacher said to you before the lesson, or how worried you are that the students aren’t learning anything/are finding it boring etc. You don’t need to try and get the monkey to shut up (it won’t), but just notice it and detach from it so that you can focus on what is happening in your class right now.

This is particularly important when a student does or says something that upsets you, and you start to feel angry or panicked.  Just as in the video above, our first instinct is probably to go with the emotion, and start shouting, or throw the student out of class. But if a student makes us angry, it has to be because what they are saying or doing is hooking into something deep down inside ourselves. For example, that we aren’t good enough.

Some incidents of misbehaviour will just make us roll our eyes, or even laugh (inwardly), while others will really upset us. And even quite serious misbehaviour won’t necessarily make us angry, though we might well respond with a punishment.  But when our emotions are triggered, that’s a clear sign that this is setting off something negative that we believe about ourselves. Once you’ve recognised that, it’s easier to let the emotion go, and deal with the situation rationally and mindfully. You don’t have a choice about what emotions you feel, they just happen, like sneezing or blushing, but you do have a choice about what you do or say when you feel an emotion.

Reams have been written about classroom management, and good tips are always useful, but the very best overall advice we can all take, I think, is to ‘wake up’ and be more mindful.

 

Other posts about mindfulness:

Mindfulness for students (with no tibetan bells or yoga)

Mindfulness for teachers

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Filed under classroom ideas, mindfulness, motivation, Working with groups

Feedback: the most important part of any exercise?

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When you’re preparing a lesson you probably give a lot of thought to the tasks and exercises you plan to include. But how much thought do you give to what happens (or should happen) between the exercises? In my latest post for the British Council Teaching English blog, I consider the importance of feedback and look at some different ways to do it.

Read the post here.

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/61914949@N00/23755361233/”>Sean Davis</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

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Filed under classroom ideas, Differentiation, Planning, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

Teacher echo, teacher echo: helpful, or greedy and controlling?

Photo Credit: Natasja Valentijn via Compfight cc

Recently listening to Cecilia Lemos’ great talk on recasting as a form of correction, and how she had decided it was not always very effective,  I started thinking again about teacher echo.

Recasting is repeating an utterance which is incorrect, in the correct way, hoping that the student will notice it. As a technique, it has its roots in the ‘strong’ communicative approach, and is based on what parents tend to do with young children, as they are learning. However, there is quite a lot of evidence that students rarely do notice recasts. For example, Havranek (1999) recorded 1,700 examples of recasts and found that:

–          Half the errors were committed again shortly afterwards

–          Less than a third of learners even remembered the correction (and if they did, it didn’t mean that they later produced the language correctly)

–          Peers did not notice the correction of others

So, if repeating an incorrect utterance correctly is probably of quite dubious benefit, why would teachers ‘echo’, or repeat correct utterances?

The most common reason given is that it provides learners with another opportunity to be exposed to the language. This comes from the same roots as the notion of recasting, and assumes that learners learn a second language in the same way as children learn their first language. But, as we have seen, learners don’t tend to notice or respond to the teacher’s repetition, even when there’s something salient in it.

The second reason teachers give for echoing is that it helps other students to hear what the first student said, as students are often prone to mumbling. This may certainly be true, but does it encourage the students to speak up and make the effort to communicate with each other? Or, rather, does it give the impression that the only communication which counts has to go through the teacher?

Which brings me to my third point (which, to be fair has never been offered to me as a reason for using echo). Habitual teacher echo massively increases the amount of teacher talking time. Now, I’m not against teacher talking time, per se. Good quality input from teachers is a wonderful resource. However, automatically repeating every utterance like a parrot is not good quality input. It just takes up valuable space and time.

And furthermore, people do not actually communicate in this way in real life, so it gives the impression that the interaction is not real in anyway, that it’s simply a mechanical exercise.

So, in answer to my own question, I would say that teacher echo is very rarely helpful, and that, while it may be a deliberately contentious over-statement, it is quite controlling and greedy. There are also a lot of much better things you could be doing to provide high quality interventions (more on this in a future post).

If you do want to see how much echoing you actually do, it’s really worth recording yourself teaching. This is pretty easy to do unobtrusively with a mobile phone, and may surprise you.  It’s also likely to improve the quality of your teaching, as raising awareness is the first step towards making conscious decisions about the kind of interactions you want your class.

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Filed under Speaking, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

Monitoring class activities

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Photo Credit: madabandon via Compfight cc

 

Dictionary definitions of monitoring include:

To check the quality or content of something.

To keep track of systematically with a view to collecting information.

To keep close watch over; supervise.

Classroom monitoring can, I think, involve all of these aspects, and doing it well is a key teaching skill. We’ve all seen (or probably been) teachers who either breathe down students’ necks, making them desperately uncomfortable, or who wander off and start doing admin tasks at the back of the room (though the latter might just be monitoring very subtly!)

Monitoring to check the activity

As students start a task, it’s very important to check they know what they’re doing and that they are able to do it. So, although you might want to back off in order to make them feel less self-conscious, you probably need to at least subtly look around and see if people are on-task. Listen in unobtrusively, perhaps while doing those admin tasks, and make sure they’re ok. If one pair or group is uncertain about what to do, go and help them. If more than one pair or group is uncertain, I’d advise against going round and helping them all. It’ll take too long, and waste precious time for those waiting to see you. This is how I failed my O level maths (that, and too much gossiping).  Just stop the activity and set it up again. And this time, check your instructions.

This kind of monitoring is simply pragmatic, and about helping things to run smoothly. It’s most important at the beginning of a task, but you can also do this kind of monitoring while a task is in progress to see if a group have finished early, if they need more support or more challenge and so on. Especially if you’re teaching young learners, you can also assess if they are starting to tire of the activity, and if you need to swiftly bring it to a close before all hell breaks loose.

Monitoring to assess language and/or skills

The other main reason for monitoring is to assess the language the students are producing (or their skills). This is vital if you want to be able to use your skills to actually help students develop. If you aren’t listening or paying attention, how can you possibly have any idea what they can do, or what they still need help with? “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, of course, students are still able to listen to each other, and to themselves, but I hope you get my point.

How?

Perhaps you’ve heard about the secret handshakes that Masons are supposed to use to recognise each other? There’s a secret way that trainers who were trained up at International House (IH) can do this too….they crouch. Well, maybe not all of us, but I’ve recognised a few fellow ex-IHers this way. The idea is that by getting down on the students’ level, you’re less obtrusive and threatening. I think there’s something in this, but if students aren’t used to it, it can be a bit discombobulating for them (I knew I’d get to use that word in a blog post one day!)

It also isn’t great if you’re wearing a shortish skirt.

Being unobtrusive is important, however. You could try sitting at a short distance and looking elsewhere while your ears work overtime. If you really want to freak them out, look at one pair while listening to another, and then comment on what the second pair said. In a smallish class, it can also work quite well to sit on a chair in the middle of the room and lean forward. It signals that you’re listening, but isn’t too (literally) in your face. If students are writing, you’ll need to get closer. Try walking behind as these means they don’t have to stop what they’re doing and turn their book round to show you. It also helps to learn to read at strange angles.

Try not to get too involved with a group as this means you can’t tell what’s going on elsewhere. This can easily turn into small group teaching, while the rest of the class feel ignored, get bored, start throwing paper aeroplanes…. This (small group teaching, not throwing paper aeroplanes) might be OK in some circumstances, though. For example, with a longer project-like activity, once you are SURE everyone knows what they’re doing and can work independently.

What should you be listening for?

Obviously this depends on what the students are doing. Here are some suggestions.

Speaking tasks

Are they using the language you’ve been working on in class? Bear in mind that if they aren’t, it might be because you (or the coursebook writer) hasn’t designed the task very well.

Is the language you plan to focus on already being used naturally? If not, that will provide a ‘gap’ for you to feed language into later- as in task-based learning.

Can you identify a gap, or language they need to do the task more effectively? If so, make a note, teach it at the feedback stage, and then let them do the task again.

Grammar or vocab exercises

Monitoring should tell you which students are finding it easiest, and which are struggling. How many are struggling? (Do you need to deal with this whole class or on an individual basis?)

It’s also a great opportunity to think about who you are going to nominate at the feedback stage. You don’t want to put people on the spot [unless they really deserve it ;)] by asking for answers they don’t know. It can also be  a good idea to give a weaker student a boost by nominating them when you know, from monitoring, that they’ve got the answer right.

After monitoring

As well as carrying out feedback on a task, or conducting an ‘error correction slot’ (where you write mistakes you heard on the board, anonymised and ask students to try and correct them), you could write down examples you heard of language which was particularly successful or useful.

Alternatively, you could choose not to feedback at that point, but to note down what you’ve learnt about their needs and plan a future lesson around them.

If they haven’t used the target language they were ‘supposed to be’ practising, you could take some examples of what they did say (which was correct), give praise for it, and then try to elicit other ways of saying it which do use the target language.

Or you could ask students to feedback on other aspects of the task- such as how well they worked together- and give them your own feedback on what you noticed.

If, on the other hand, you’ve just been filling in the register while they did the task, you can’t do any of these things…

 

 

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Filed under Differentiation, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

A new class: building a learning environment together

Many of us are starting new terms and working with new groups. We probably already know what the learners are expected to achieve in their time with us, and the pressure is on.

It’s tempting to dive straight in, but any new group will need to work through interpersonal issues before they can function effectively as a group (and as individuals within the group). We can ignore these issues, but that won’t make them go away; we’re just more likely to get our feet tangled in them, like weeds under the surface of the water.

In a central work on group dynamics in the classroom, Schmuck and Schmuck [no, it isn’t just you that finds their names amusing  :)], observe:

‘ Our research has shown that classroom groups with supportive friendship patterns enhance academic learning, while more hostile classroom environments reduce learning…informal group processes in the classroom can, and do, make a difference in the accomplishment of the formal goals of the school.’

So, what can we do to encourage more supportive patterns?

Getting to know you activities

First of all, pay more than lip-service to the ‘getting to know you’ activities. Language learning is a high risk activity in terms of losing face and the student surrounded by unfamiliar faces is likely to either withdraw or ‘act-out’ as a way of controlling the environment.

Names

It seems obvious, but make sure that everyone knows everyone else’s names. Rather than putting pressure on them to learn them, try a discussion activity about names. Some possible questions:

–          How did you get your name? Were you named for someone else? Who/why?

–          Does your name have a meaning?

–          Do you have a nickname (you are willing to share)? How did you get it? Who uses it?

–          Do you or other people shorten your name in any way? How do you feel about either the shortened name or the full name? (Many people feel they are going to be told off when someone uses their full name)

–          Do you like your name? Why/why not?

–          What would you like to be called in class?

This can be done in small groups, which either swap around, or feedback to the main group.

It goes without saying that you need to learn your student’ names as quickly as possible. A few tips:

–          Write down the names in the same layout as the students are seated (i.e. in a horseshoe) and refer to it often in the first class or so.

–          Use their names as much as possible to begin with.

–          When students are working on something mentally go round and test yourself on the names. Ask anyone you can’t remember to remind you (better now than in a month’s time)

–          Make a note next to each name of a distinguishing feature (e.g. curly hair).But be careful with this one….don’t write anything you wouldn’t want the student to see!

Find someone who…

This is a very well-known activity in some circles, so apologies if it’s too obvious, but it does work brilliantly. This is a variation which doesn’t require you to know anything about the students prior to the class, and ensures that students are comfortable about what is revealed (which can sometimes be a problem when this activity is done on CELTA courses, based on application forms!)

Put students into small groups (3-4) and ask them to think of three things to tell the other group members about themselves, which they are pretty sure will be new information.  They should take it in turns to give a piece of information, and the others should comment on it. Model this if necessary. While they are carrying out the activity, monitor and note down one fact about each student that you overhear.

Then dictate the facts to the class. E.g. Find someone who…

…has just been to Sweden on holiday.

…used to live in another country

Students will already know some of these from their small group work, but they can then mingle and ask others in the class, ‘Have you just been to Sweden?’ etc.  (no pointing at the sheet allowed)

Guess who?

This works better with groups which have worked together a little before. Each group member writes 2-3 sentences about themselves (anything they want to share). These are collected in and read aloud (by you or the students) and everyone writes down who they think each one refers to before the answers are revealed at the end.

An alternative is for 1 of 3 pieces of information to be a lie. In this version, we don’t have to guess who, but guess which piece of information is untrue.

Creating a sense of group identity

As well as getting to know each other better, we can also focus on creating a positive group identity.

Class Yearbook or Photo Album

Over the course of the year, a scrapbook (or the digital equivalent) is gradually built up by members of the class. You could begin with photos and a short bio about each member, then add updates as often as you and the class wish. This could cover what has been learnt, any social activities or trips, creative writing or articles, whatever seems appropriate.

At the end of the year, contact details could be added for those that wish to keep in touch if the group is breaking up, and maybe include a letter from the teacher about the experience of teaching the group.

Class history

(this idea comes from the wonderful Classroom Dynamics- Jill Hadfield)

Exactly how you do this will depend on the age range of your students. The idea is for each student to research a different year or other short period of time in the past and find out what everyone in the class did or was doing at that time.

After a mingle activity where they interview each other, the information can be put together on a time–line.  This is a great activity for working together and getting to know each other (not to mention using past tenses)

In my next post I plan to look at some activities for developing the class’s awareness of how groups work together and how they, individually, are contributing to the group. Feel free to sign up to be sent this post by email- button on the right.

 

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Filed under Differentiation, Teaching methodology