Showing posts with label classroom management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classroom management. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Reading your Students

“Reading” is a skill you will find yourself cultivating in your students from day one in the classroom until the end of the semester. They use reading to find the right classroom, to register the date and their teacher’s name, to find the Resource Center or the Coordinator’s Office. Reading ability will determine the ease (or difficulty) with which the students interpret written instructions to an exercise or participate in a scripted dialog in a textbook.

Reading may one day lead your students into enlightening research, the expansion of comfortable dimensions of knowledge, the tingle of literary adventure or romance.

But….are you “reading” your students?

Many teachers begin a semester with intense concern for the lesson plan, the materials they will use, the technologies they will employ in the process. Have they reliably led the class from point A to point D, with demonstrably positive results (evident in the students’ overall performance)?

In following the trajectory of a prescribed teaching path, the instructors become so intent on the intermediate and end goals that they may overlook the signs that indicate how the students - on a less obvious level - are absorbing or reacting to the class in question.

Are you (the teacher) attentive to the following “reading” signals: 

  • Willing and consistent eye contact 
  •  Alert and energetic posture (vs slouching and lounging)
  •  Precision in repetition (vs relatively soundless mouthing, avoidance) 
  •  Interested, forthcoming collaboration with fellow students
  •  Alacrity in response to task initiation and follow-through (vs sluggish foot-dragging that results in frustrated task completion) 
  •  Tone of voice (confident vs timid) and nature of attitude (positive projection vs reticent or somewhat surly rejection) 
  •  Choice of seating (outside the teacher’s peripheral vision or within easy visual “reach”) 
Reading accurately and with sensitivity; it can make a difference in task success, and an even bigger difference in classroom and lesson management.

Katy Cox

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Classroom Issues: The Power of "NO"

Felipe is Young – nine years of age in Junior 2 – but not new to the school. With three semesters of experience, he’s already a Casa Thomas Jefferson veteran. He’s uncordially known to guards and hall monitors; given the number of his visits, he could accurately describe the arrangement of objects in the Coordinator’s office. She’s a beast. Probably has bad breath. His teacher ( like the others ) is a nit-wit. “OK, guys, let’s….” play some silly game where we all compete with each other like mad and get virtually nothing. But he’s not a groupie. He’s a (short) heroic rebel. His friend Pedro can’t take his eyes off him. Watches his every move, even at the lunch counter. Rewards (slavishly) by repercussive imitation. Is faint with fear (of association) and admiration. “So…let’s go, guys!” Fresh and false. But – like Superman stopping a train – Felipe takes the lightening in his hands. Crosses his arms on his chubby little chest. And says “NO!”

There’s an attempt at persuasion. Great; it augments the audience potential. Felipe has already been separated from Pedro, who is inwardly applauding; look at his almost envious eyes. The arms are tighter across Felipe’s body, the mouth a facial fist of defiance. “No!” The rest of the students are speculatively waiting….How will this momentary power-play pan out? With another visit to the Dragon’s Den? Or with miraculous (unlikely) capitulation?

This is when the Power of No hangs in the balance. The teacher can bargain, in a way beg, try to integrate, make promises – and with every strategy pulled out of the deck of tactical cards, the frontal approach can be met with an impenetrable shield. The ungiving power of “no”. The teacher can expediently remove the offender. But the message is that she has had to pull rank and use the power invested in her by the rules of the system. To rid herself of a nine-year-old child, she has to call for irresistible reinforcements: the Coordinator and her henchmen. Ha!   A battle may have been won, by some means, but possibly only to be fought again at another moment.

A diversion might be tried instead. How about “Oh…you don’t want to do that? No problem. You stay here – this is where you want to be, right? And we will all move over there and play this game in a slightly different way.”  The focus is re-directed -  away from the nay-sayer. For force to be used in a way that strengthens the group (not the teacher, not the offender), it has to be divided among the students. When the students are enjoyably engaged – with Felipe in a kind of time-out situation – the dynamic will change. With no “teacher vs student” issue at stake, Felipe will be disempowered passively, frustrating the attempt to turn up the tension. Don’t worry about Pedro. With no rebellion to support, he will probably opt for relative invisibility with a noncommittal  colleague.  

“No” is powerful when it causes divisiveness, a taking of sides, a hardening of the spirit. Turning a grumbling giant into a mewling midget requires finding a tactical instrument that will simultaneously puncture the rebel’s carapace of negativity and inject the fellow students with a purpose that pleasurably ignores conflict. 

“No” doesn’t need to fill up the room;  instead, it can become a very flat balloon.

Katy Cox

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Finding Motivation by Motivating Students

What do you do when your students fail their tests? Do you blame them or yourself? I used to blame myself, but I’ve learnt that the best alternative, at least for me, was to stop assigning blame and start thinking outside the box.

It’s natural to think that there are predetermined roles in the classroom and that simply by enrolling or being in the classroom, everyone will know what to do. That is exactly how I thought things were: I would go to a specific classroom in a specific time and so would students; I would teach and they would learn. It was only when I was confronted with terrible grades — only 3 out of 10 students had passing grades on their first written test — that I realized I was wasting a great opportunity.

My first reaction was to think I was a terrible teacher. After all, I am an absolute beginner, having only less than two years of experience. I spoke to several senior teachers and asked for advice. The first one I received was to check what exactly the students’ mistakes had been. Had they all made the same mistakes? If yes, I needed to check the way I had been teaching them. If not, I should check the students’  academic records to see if they had had difficulties in the previous levels. After some research, I realized two things: all students, even the ones who had good grades, made the same kinds of mistakes; and none of them had had a history of below average grades.

It’s important to note that students in the lower intermediate level get a really bad reputation. They are said to be the “weakest links”; students who didn’t do well on their replacement tests. I kept hearing that those bad grades were just what I should have expected. I felt extremely uncomfortable to just accept that these students were weak and that there was nothing I could do. In my mind, If I had been a better teacher, they would have done better. Besides, I had looked into their academic records and I could not find the proof that they were just bad students.

Another thing I was told by senior teachers was that there is a large gap between the Teens course and the Lower Intermediate course. In the latter, tests demand a lot more from students’ cognitive abilities. In fact, the one difficulty all students had was with listening and reading comprehension. It wasn’t something I had taught them; I had been too focused on teaching grammar and vocabulary.

My first step, after gathering advice I had received from several senior teachers, was to deliver the news to the students about their low performance and, at the same time, motivate them to do better on their next test. It seemed impossible! But the teachers I spoke to knew me and trusted me. They said I could do it. So I asked students how they had prepared for the test, how they thought they did, and if it had been easy or hard. I spoke to them in Portuguese and they opened up very quickly. I found out a lot from my students that day. They are under a lot of pressure from their parents, their regular schools and themselves. They also thought, same as I did, that teaching and learning were automatic processes, and all they had to do to get a good grade was to “sit down and study”. For them, given how they did on their test, it hadn’t been enough.  I thought they were being too hard on themselves, but then again, I realized I had been too hard on myself too.

I needed to take the focus out of this blame game. I asked the students to trust me and to help me help them. Thinking about it now, I noticed that what I did was to ask them to stop looking for someone to blame and start focusing on learning. I remembered something that my coach had told me on my first semester at CTJ: “We a have to teach students how to learn”. So based on that and also on the things I have been learning at the TDC - Teacher Development Course, I started changing the way I planned the lessons for that specific group.

The first thing was to teach them strategies such as scanning and skimming. I showed them how to look for information, how to look for clues in exercises, patterns in sentences, and in essence, how to develop strategies to solve the exercises. I also turned the wrap up stages of the lessons into mini projects. For example, after a lesson about the differences between past simple and past continuous, I told the students to create a story using only three sentences. They all sat down on the classroom floor to make a poster together, and it was the first time I saw them actually happy to be in class.

Basically, I started focusing on making the students feel independent and in control of their own learning. I stopped simply giving them information and started giving them the tools to get there themselves. I noticed a complete change in behavior. What I had thought was just normal teenage behavior during a class at 2pm had basically been lack of motivation. Before, they were barely present in class, mostly quiet and unresponsive. They didn’t do their homework and they didn’t answer my questions. They also spoke a lot of Portuguese. Now, they try harder to speak English, they use the language being presented, they respond faster to eliciting. And, I’m relieved to say, out of all the students, only one had a below average grade on their second test. It was not a miracle change though, — the lowest passing grade was 76 — but I’m counting my blessings!

This had been the one group I dreaded meeting every week. They made me feel like a real failure. Now that they are motivated, they are the best part of my week. I’m glad I stopped focusing on laying blame and decided to trust the advice of senior teachers: I learned that motivating my students was the best way to motivate myself.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Seating Arrangements?

Most species arrange themselves in juxtapositions which are indicative of purpose or customary convenience. A lone eagle grasps a rocky crag or high, bare branch: He takes a position which will offer the best vantage point from which to sight a salmon swimming upstream, a rabbit pausing in a clearing. A trio of lions hunting: Their proximity is guided by expediency, the strategy which will result in the separation of a slow calf, a lame elder, a single zebra in panic and tiring. Elephants circle for collective protection, penguins for warmth. 

What about people? When they are safe and comfortable, people are gregarious. They seek convivial exchange and the reassurance of belonging, similarity to each other. People congregate in various situations for specific purposes: In church, with each individual reflecting on a speaker’s words, people sit in pews. In a theater, attentive to a sequence of actions designed for their appreciation – not participation – people sit in rows. The arrangement is the same, expanded, at soccer and baseball games. Viewers are not in attendance to perform. But what about a business meeting? Each person present will be somehow judged according to their input, the timeliness of a suggestion, the interjection of pertinent wit. 

Many communal rituals, from primitive to pompous, take place in a circular conformation, with a common view of each face, each voice having equal value. A party? How do people situate themselves at a party where everybody’s having a good time? Do party-goers naturally convene in lines along the walls? Reiterating: people are naturally gregarious – i.e. social, companionable, tending to “flock” together. This characteristic relates to what is most inherent in humans – their dependence on communication. Language teachers study, among many things, strategies to propitiate communication – natural, spontaneous exchanges between humans of all ages. 

What are the most convenient conditions for these exchanges – the windswept rock, the dusty plain, dimly lit lines along the walls? Probably not. The vital potential of democratic communication lies in the equality of exposure, of being comfortably visible and audible. A neighborly livingroom, a table at a local eatery – these are situations propitious to communal communication; our classrooms, when they can, should emulate this companionable condition. So…. Are you planning class activities that maximize genuine communication? Think about it:  Shift your focus from “seating arrangements” to “speaking arrangements.”  

Katy Cox

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Teacher - Only Human

The teacher is only human, after all. The repeated emphasis on students’ needs indirectly encourages forgetting about those of the teacher. Male or female, the human ego feeds on reward and recognition, and your teacher ego perks right up when a student loves to respond, laughs at your jokes, asks you for help as though you were the last life-saver on the boat. 

SAD_Hortons_Kids 114 You use your instructional energy generously and it doesn’t really take much to – in return – make you feel like a good looking genius. Therein lies the cyclical danger. The teacher’s well-known duty is to pay equal attention to all students -  to prevent the guilty recognition that the girl in the left-hand corner never says a thing because she is not spoken to; to avoid having to admit that most of your lesson moved energetically along with lots of participation but – come to think of it – not from the left-hand side of the room. Why can’t you remember the face of what’s-his-name who always sits by the door (and who eases smoothly out of that exit as soon as the bell rings)? Even the trouble-makers are more appealing, testing your patience and your class management skills; victories with these in-your-face challenges can make you feel especially self-congratulatory….while the “escape artists” shroud themselves in a cloak of invisibility as they look for a dropped pen, a misplaced paper, a book in a backpack, and successfully evade the teacher’s attention (which is inevitably on the eager beavers with their hands in the air…).

The skilled fugitive knows how to keep his head down; the wave of willing responses will satisfy the also needy elicitor… Every teacher should have a fool-proof system of checking production frequency among all 12 or 16 or 20 students – who spoke, how often, how much – and making sure they know who you are and that you care. In ensuring uniformity and truly collaborative direction in your work in the classroom, your heart-strings are not as consistent a guide as your intellect and your eyes.   

Katy Cox

Friday, December 06, 2013

Seeing your Students

Can “seeing” your students influence your relationship with them and their willingness to communicate? What does this question really mean? 

Let’s examine the following situation: You have created an eminently respectable lesson plan; it includes the requisite phases for pairwork, attention to textbook activities and grammar orientation, hands-on dynamics to practice the topic of the day, periodic white-board use, and appropriate technological inclusions. Your “flight check” for that last part resembles NASA pre-lift-off procedures as you punctiliously check CD tracks, PPT slides, computer connections, volume register…..all that is essential to take your lesson safely to its destination. 

Your concentration on your multiple responsibilities occupies your thoughts almost exclusively as you enter your classroom and attend to setting up what your students will experience for the next 150 minutes. Ah, yes…the students…. a gaggle of girls and a band of boys, all dragging roller bags and the paraphernalia of study and play…. assemble in noisy desks, a crowd with a collective identity. Who among them so you see and greet? Believe it or not, this could be a moment of potential significance – the fresh encounter, the time to reconnect and begin anew. 

TopkidsErika_LAS (1)There is one of two ways to envision this scenario: (a) The teacher is absorbed in class prep, back turned, the students gathering facelessly in their predictable arrangements, or (b) the teacher greets the students as they enter, acknowledging a new hairstyle, a happy face, a new pair of bizarrely bright orange running shoes…..If it can be managed, the time for the lesson and techno-check is when the classroom is empty, silent, awaiting the next round of action. The time for precious rejoining with your students is when they enter the environment you share; that is when you “see” them and rekindle the energy that fuels what you will experience together in those minutes that you hope will be memorable, that will make your students look forward to the days and weeks to come. 

Even with all your attention to your lesson plan, first and foremost, smile and look your students in the eye. This is the moment that could determine how far and how well your lesson will actually fly.     

Katy Cox