We are so lucky at Wake Tech ESL to have such wonderful students. It is not often that we have serious classroom management problems. If your class runs smoothly, it’s not by luck. Whether you recognize it or not, it’s probably due to a combination of a solid lesson and effective management. But what is the best way to manage a class? I decided to ask YOU, the teachers, for feedback. Earlier in the year I solicited feedback on best practices. Thank you to everyone who responded. And while the responses came from teachers across the different ESL levels, there were many commonalities. Read through the post to see what you and your peers had to say. And if you want to add to the conversation, please post a comment!
What are your top five best practices for classroom management?
- Treat the students as adults (and expect them to act like adults)
- Address any classroom problems early….”Nip it in the bud”
- Speak to problem students privately
- Maintain an environment of respect
- Set expectations from the first day.
Do you have classroom rules? If so, do the students understand them? The most common answer to this question was, “Yes, and the students understand them. But, the rules are not posted in the classroom.”
How do you manage problem students? Speak to them individually. Try to find out the source of the problem. Is the student bored or frustrated? If the student is consistently bored or frustrated, could you address the problem by changing class level? Or, does the student have problems outside of the class that are influencing classroom behavior?
What do you think is the best seating arrangement for the classroom, and how does it impact learning/environment/behavior? There didn’t seem to be many strong opinions about this question. There was acknowledgement that different seating arrangements worked better for different classes. For example, for the intermediate and high levels, pods, or group arrangements seem to work well. For classes that are not conversationally focused, ERV, for example, the group seating arrangement is not necessary. For the lower levels, the U shape was popular, as was the traditional desk.
To dig deeper into the shared wisdom of our teachers, keep reading! Some of the comments are direct quotes, and some are summarized due to the frequency with which they appeared!
- Spend some time at the beginning of each quarter discussing basic behavior expectations in American classrooms. This includes simple things we take for granted such as the fact that students should raise their hand before addressing the teacher, avoid side conversations while the teacher is delivering direct instruction, appropriate body language (no slouching, leaning against a wall, etc.), etc.
- Prepare students for any changes in the classroom. For example, set expectations for what happens when new students enter class from the most recent registration. How does that affect the students? What changes can they expect? What behavior does the teacher want to see?
- Be consistent and fair with classroom rules.
- All students are asked to read, sign and date a handout I wrote entitled “Wake Tech Student Code of Conduct.” This handout defines and gives examples of the term “disruptive behavior” in clear, high intermediate language. The handout also includes a summary of consequences and the process involved with single or repeated incidents of disruptive behavior. The focus of the handout is on the importance of respect and the right of every student to a safe, disruption-free learning environment. I assist students with unfamiliar vocabulary and actually create a mini-lesson based on the handout. I am very conscientious of the need to check for student understanding of the handout’s main ideas and details before they sign it.
- Be willing to be open and transparent with your students. If a lesson is not working, be able to admit it and move on. Or, if the students don’t like the lesson, or are not interested in it, be flexible and redirect.
- The classroom is a democracy. Make decisions by consensus. What do the students want to do on any given day?
- Address problems early on. Don’t wait for them to escalate. They rarely disappear on their own, and usually get worse.
- Respect yourself and others. Listen when others are talking.
- Speak only English in the class.
- Address problems individually with the student. No public chastising.
- Phones in the classroom. Teachers were all over the map with the use of phones in the class. Some thought it was ok to use translators, others said English to English dictionaries were fine. Other teachers said no phones, in any circumstance. Only you can decide what is right for your class. But, there was universal agreement about talking/texting during class. If phone use becomes a problem, most teachers gave warnings, and then some type of action, such as getting an absence for the class, or taking away the phone.
- Remember that usually “problem” behavior has a reason behind it. Try to find out the source of the problem and address that. Is the student bored? Is the student confused? Does the student have other problems influencing behavior in the classroom?
- Maintain an emotionally safe classroom environment.
- Keep it interesting. Change activities every 15-20 minutes.
- Vary the lesson between group and individual work.
- Encourage students to sit next to someone who does not speak their language.
- Use humor!
- Develop a relationship with your students. Learn about their lives outside of the class.
- Greet your students at the door. Say goodbye to them as they leave.
- Be clear, firm, and consistent with rules and their enforcement. Be fair.