Teach English in Changsheng Zhen - Tongliao Shi

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As the 7th graders walked into the classroom, it was instantly apparent that two students were intent on messing around to get their classmates attention that day. Satisfied that most students sat down at their desks I observed the dynamics quietly. When the bell rang I got up and introduced myself with a calm, projecting voice. Half the class was listening with their eyes on me, half were busy being entertained by the two students still not at their desks. “I will give you a minute to settle down and put your eyes up front,” I said, waiting to see if that would focus the rest of the class. This time it did not. It is so easy to get irritated by this kind of behavior and raise your voice to demand attention and respect. Experience teaches you however, that raising your voice never really works. With the commotion the two students were causing it was impossible for me to verbally give instructions. I had to change the order of my presentation. Focusing on half the class that was paying attention I announced that I would write today’s classwork assignment on the white board and go over it after the students had a chance to write it down. By the time I was done writing my clear instructions on the board I could tell that almost the entire class was now on board. Focusing on the students that were on task, instead of on the trouble spots avoided escalating the situation and allowed more students to redirect their attention to what they actually should be doing. I then was able to give the verbal instructions I had intended to start with. To be honest, my two troublemakers never came around that day, but they had lost their power to influence the rest of the class and that was all I needed. Working as a substitute teacher for many years I learned that focusing on the students that are doing a great job is one of the best tools to manage a classroom. Simple things like saying: “Thank you for being on task, Jill,” go a long way in appreciating a student's great work and also gently reminding the other students to do the same. As a substitute teacher that means that it is crucial to make sure you have seating charts for each class to be able to call the students by name and create a more personal atmosphere. With my own class I would really focus on playing some games with the students when we first meet, to get to know each other and establish a classroom environment that is comfortable and safe. Another part of making students feel safe, is to establish and clearly communicate classroom rules. This is true for all age groups, but especially important for younger students. “Supporting and developing orderly and productive classroom environments, is the foundation of good classroom management.” (Dr. Carolyn Evertson, Vanderbilt University) Students feel safer when there are clear rules and routines they can follow and that let them know exactly what is expected of them. Experienced teachers will spend the first few weeks simply teaching those rules and routines to lay a solid groundwork for a safe and fun learning environment. “Research suggests that all students are motivated to learn, as long as there are clear expectations, the tasks and activities have value, and the learning environment promotes intrinsic motivation.” (Michael Mills, Effective Classroom Environment: An Interactive Textbook) Clear expectations of classroom behavior and clear instructions of the tasks at hand, will motivate students and create a successful learning environment. However, keeping all students motivated with all the different skill levels and learning styles that are present in each and every classroom, is another challenge. Even with the best laid out lesson plans, you will always have students that will feel overwhelmed and students that will feel bored because they are not challenged enough. The key to solving this problem is staying positive and flexible. There are many different solutions for this problem. You could have extra worksheets or assignments ready for students that finish early, assign higher performing students more difficult tasks, or pair higher level students with lower level students to give extra support to those that need it. In an EFL class, for example, having the different skill levels can also present a great opportunity. Higher performing students often love to help their lower level classmates. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride that they are able to help. The lower performing students on the other hand often enjoy having a peer explain the assigned task to them in a different way than the teacher; a way that might be more on their level of understanding. Monitor the dynamics of the pair work, though, as it could also cause problems if the two students don’t get along very well. When teaching a foreign language there are a few key elements: exposure to listening to the language to absorb the correct pronunciation, studying vocabulary and grammar, and actually actively speaking. In an EFL classroom that means that the teacher has to find the perfect balance of speaking to the students, giving them time to study vocabulary and grammar for the lesson, and providing a safe and encouraging environment to practice speaking and applying what they heard and learned. Finding that perfect balance means that depending on the classroom dynamics you might have to rearrange groups, change the timing of your lesson plan, or skip part of it all together. Key is to have students feel safe to try out the new language. Do not correct little mistakes they make but praise their effort to speak. Encouragement goes a long way to motivate students to study and improve their skills.