LTL DISCUSSION: Six of the Worst!
Earlier, I wrote about top tips for successful classroom management (HERE: Six of the Best). Now I want to think about the six worst things a teacher can do from the point of view of managing learning. Classroom management, of course, is not just about modifying behaviour, it is about modifying behaviour in order to promote learning.
How would you rank the following mismanagement techniques?
Rank these classic fails in ascending order; from 6 (bad) to 1 (VERY bad).
Throwing ANYTHING: Throwing tantrums, chalk or erasers is definitely not a good way to encourage pupils to pay attention to the lesson.
It can be frustrating when some learners prefer to do anything, rather than the work or activity you have prepared for them, but throwing missiles or having a meltdown does not make the lesson any more attractive for disengaged students. If you are actually a good pitch and you hit your target, there could be serious problems as a result of any injury. Throwing tantrums doesn’t necessarily hurt the students, but it does hurt the teacher’s credibility as a rational human being.
Shouting: If you can’t be heard over the general classroom noise, then the classroom is way too noisy, and shouting is not going to help reduce the noise levels.
The general hum of conversation and activities will get louder and louder the longer it goes on. The teacher has a lot of opportunities to bring the volume back down before it gets too loud to be heard without shouting. Teachers often have good strong voices, but having a voice that carries is not the same as shouting. People generally only shout when they have no other means of control (look out! help!).
Having Pets: I don’t mean that you shouldn’t bring your fur-babies to school, but you should definitely try to avoid having a classroom favourite.
There are always one or two pupils who can be relied on to give the correct answer, or hand out the books, or fetch the chalk from the office without peeing their pants on the way, but there are 20 other kids (or more) who, if given the chance, could probably rise to the occasion just as well. Having obvious favourites is a subtle way of excluding the other students from full participation in the lessons. Keen and capable pupils should be given peer tutoring responsibilities so their skills are used to help their friends rather than impress the teacher.
Taking Your Eye off the Ball: If you are writing something complicated on the board, or marking homework or tests during the lesson time, you’re doing it wrong.
If the pupils are quietly doing a reading or writing activity while the teacher is busy with admin or lesson preparation, then they may as well be doing homework, not classwork. The classroom hours for ESL / EFL courses often only add up to a few a week; such a limited number of classroom hours means teachers should be as available as they possibly can while they are in the classroom with the student. The five hours of English class is often the only time during the week when the students HAVE to use English – so use it with them.
Carrots and Sticks: A lot of teachers swear by stickers, especially for younger learners, but I think there is a cargo cult-like undertone of prizes and rewards where the big teacher will fly-in unearned carrot-wealth if approached correctly. Sticks aren’t any better than the stickers, either.
The reward for good work in the language class is the ability to communicate in another language. That’s a brilliant reward! Too often, the rewards themselves (candy, stickers, points, exam results, good grades, pizza party) loom larger in the learners’ minds than the real prize of language proficiency. The sticks (detention, extra homework, putting your hands on your head and standing in a corner) don’t do much to make learning more attractive, either.
Controlling EVERYTHING: Teachers are responsible for their lessons, and they do need to be in control, but it is also possible, and preferable, to share some of the decision making with the students.
If you ask the students ‘what is an appropriate way to speak in class?’, they will have lots of suggestions like ‘raise your hand first’ or ‘don’t shout out’. Likewise when we ask them about how we should act when other people are speaking, or someone wants to leave the room, they will have an answer. Using the pupil’s own words when we make the classroom rules makes the rules more real. It’s also a good idea to offer options for different activities ‘do you want to do the food quiz or the transport quiz?’. Students do need guidance, but we also need to teach them autonomy alongside their EFL, math, music or science lessons.
For the record, I would rank them like this:
6 Controlling EVERYTHING,
4 Carrots and Sticks,
3 Eye off the Ball,
1 Throwing ANYTHING.