February 19, 2012 19 Comments
“Oh my gosh that was an absolute disaster, I lost complete control, they (the children) were running circles around me” -
An extract from my journal in December 2011, written after the YLs I teach on Thursday afternoon had a particularly rowdy hour. They were chatting (in Italian), distracted, not engaged in the lesson had absolutely no respect for their teacher.
“Little brats, why won’t they just behave themsevles”
“They are absolute terrors”
It was quite unfortunate that these were the thoughts occupying my mind on the walk back to school. Why, you may ask, were they so negative? It is perhaps a defence mechanism employed to mask whose responsibility it was to resolve this situation. In these cases, it is tempting to deflect blame onto the easiest targets. Fortunately, the brisk walk back to work was enough to cleanse my mind of these thoughts. By the time I arrived back to school, my thoughts had refocused on how I could take proactive steps to change this situation.
What is the cause of this problem?
How can I change my classroom to encourage more positive behaviour in my classroom?
In contrast, these are much more constructive thoughts, wouldn’t you say? With this question in mind, I set about preparing a rough action plan. First I identified a few salient points to improve: classroom management, use of materials and grading of language. I figured that the reason for the lack of students engagement in class was because the language was too difficult, the lesson pacing was too quick, the structure of the lesson was not ‘stir-and-settle’ and tasks lasted too long.
In addition, without any system of giving feedback in place – I was relying on verbal feedback, which was useless, given that the learners are more or less absolute beginners – students had no way of knowing how they behaved.
- More engaging materials
- Classroom layout
- Lesson pacing
More engaging materials
The language school where I work is a veritable library of materials to use with YLs; they have everything from jazz chants to CLIL activities. What is more, the teachers I work with are seasoned pros when it comes to teaching young children.
- Read up on teaching techniques using flashcards.
- Team teach a lesson with my assistant director using cuisenaire rods to make a song with new chunks of language.
- Take activities from resource books and plan how to adapt them to the class.
- Abandon the classic ‘communicative horseshoe’ in favour of tables grouped together in squares; I can monitor and give on-to-one attention to those need it.
- Observe a more experienced colleague. Make note of any similarities with your classroom. Note any differences and consider the reasons.
- Brainstorm stirring and settling activities.
- Introduce a behaviour chart to be filled in weekly.
- Design a ‘classroom responsibilities’ chart e.g. English monitor, writing the date on the board, wiping the board, handing out sheets of paper.
- Draw up classroom rules, with Italian translations (to avoid any ambiguity).
After the Christmas break the class completely changed. By the end of January I had finished my first action plan and the class is going much better. Songs and visuals, new techniques and games keep students engaged. Feedback makesstudents happy that they are pleasing their teacher and doing well in class. New classroom management keeps students focused and makes the classroom more interactive. As a result, we have a fantastic rapport developing. Thursday afternoons are now a joy.
I flagged up four students as problematic in the past three weeks.
“what’s causing this behaviour?”
For two of them, it was a simple case of separating them and seating them in different positions in the classroom. The other two were slightly more perplexing however, and required a little more thinking.
Very disruptive behaviour, still not very engaged in class, plays, challenges the teacher’s authority in class whenever she can. It might seem a classic case of a badly-behaved child. I spoke to her teacher, who revealed to me that she has trouble producing words in Italian; her linguistic ability in L1 is far lower than her classmates’. It is therefore entirely possible that her rebellious behaviour in class may be a way of masking her low ability so as not to stand out and look like ‘the dumb kid’.
- Involve her more in class: give her tasks that give her responsibility like handing out materials or collecting in pens and glue.
- When the class is seated around the teacher, ask her to sit next to you to give her more direct attention and help her with her linguistic difficulties.
- Make tasks a little more open with easier language. This gives the stronger students in the class a chance to run with the language and frees the teacher up to give her some one-to-one teaching and engage her.
- Give very positive feedback on language and behaviour. Make her feel like she is achieving.
Unfortunately, this student is a bit more perplexing. He shares student A’s problems when it comes to producing words in English. He slurs and stutters, producing an incomprehensible blur of language. He is clumsy and spends most of the lesson with his head in the clouds.
- Sit him next to the boy with disabilities’ assistant. The adult figure is likely to regulate his behaviour so that I am not forced to give him constant attention.
- Give him the same one-to-one attention as student A.
The student is still alienated in class around his classmates. He rarely knows what he is supposed to do and seems very uninterested in taking part in class.
Not surprisingly, after chatting to his parents, it emerged that he is in fact lagging behind his companions in Italian. But interestingly, it also came to our attention that he is succeeding in maths. After talking to my assistant director, we decidedthat tasks with a lower linguistic load that appeal to more logical/analytical learners, using numbers, counting and mathsy things might appeal to him, give him a sense of achievement and engage him more.
At this point, I’d like to call on anyone who reads this blog to contribute their ideas on student B. Have you had a student like this? If so, what measures did you take to involve the student more in class? What activities do you know of the sort I outlined above?