Plaques, awards and intangible rewards: celebrating 10 years in the same job

As August turned into September, so did one academic year finally close and another begin. This one was a bit special, though, as for me it marked ten years of being in the same job. While this time has passed so quickly I have sometimes wondered where entire years have disappeared, it is also a period in which, when I reflect back on what I’ve achieved, has been one of great satisfaction for me.

In some ways, it’s easy to sum up what I’ve done in mere numbers. I’ve taken the time to tot up what has happened in my decade of work (granted, some of these figures are approximate):

1000+ students taught
50+ classes taught
32 conference sessions delivered across half a dozen countries
20 articles published in professional journals
8 chapters published in books
3 blog of the month awards (2 from the British Council and 1 from TEFL.net)
2 award plaques for being the teacher of the year, voted for by students
1 Blogathon gold medal with a trip to IATEFL as reward

While it’s pleasing to look back on this list, it doesn’t really tell the full story of my decade. So, moving beyond cold statistics, what are the important things that have happened?

Yay... me with a plaque!

Yay… me with a plaque!

Well, let’s start with the plaques and awards

The plaques were special as they came about as a result of student votes: it showed that I was valued by those who trusted me to educate them and help develop their English. I didn’t think that it would feel special, receiving personalized plaques with my name on them, but importantly they are emblazoned with the words ‘as voted for by his students as recognition for his outstanding achievement in teaching’ which meant I was appreciated for the work I put in.

How about the awards for blogging?

Well, writing and maintaining a blog over a period of time is no easy task. Indeed, it can be thankless work if I’m honest. I might not ever receive brass plaques for blogging, but receiving support from fellow professionals and ELT organizations and website nevertheless means a great deal. Those of you reading this who blog will know exactly what I mean.

As for the many conference presentations and written contributions, I’m proud to look back at how much I’ve done and consider my contribution to the profession to have been a reasonable one, all things considered!

So, where to next?

This post has given me a brief opportunity to reflect back on ten years in the same job, by far the longest stint I’ve ever lasted in one place. I’m eternally grateful to my university for giving me the support and the degree of professional independence that has made all of these things possible. As I’m about to embark on a Masters program in the coming month, I have a lot to think about in terms of how I approach the next ten years. The things that have been most important to me have sometimes come in the form of tangible awards. Nevertheless, the most important thing is the honest appreciation of those I teach. I hope to get a lot more of this in the coming decade!

Posted in The life of an english teacher | Tagged | Leave a comment

10 great techniques to help you remember student names

For the longest time, remembering names was a huge problem for me. In my first classes, way back when I started teaching, I was still struggling after several weeks and it got quite embarrassing in the end. If you also suffer, you have to find strategies that work for you, as I eventually did. Today’s timely – I hope! – post looks at some of the problems we face and, more importantly, some excellent strategies we can use, as given by some ‘old pros’…

Part one: The view from the trenches

1. So many students, so many names

Initially you might find remembering student names a real problem, especially if you’ve just arrived in a country in which names are unfamiliar to you. Can you always tell your Halil from your Halit? More importantly, are you expected to? Here are some responses I received from those of view in the classrooms who posted on a thread on an ELT forum.

‘I’ve currently got 186 in total. Not a chance!’

spiral78

‘I have around 1100 students in 22 classes. No way I can remember names. Can’t see myself printing all those name cards, either.’

gingermeggs

‘I have about 380 students, and I have been never very good with remembering names. Yes, using the person’s name helps to remember it, but it also helps if you have more regular contact with the same people as well. People I see once a week in larger groups, not much of a chance.’

Gaijinalways

2. So many students, so few names

Another problem you may come across is what I like to call the ‘so many students, so few names’ dilemma. Learning the name won’t be the problem here, but differentiating one Dave from another might be.

‘I have one easy class. Of eight students, the four women are all called Fatimah. The four guys are, respectively, Ali, Mohammed, Ali-Abdul, and Mohammed. Can anyone beat 8 students, 3 names?’

spiral78

Yes, apparently.

‘In Qatar I once had a class of 26. 19 of them had the first name Mohammed.’

dmb

3. Practicalities

How practical is your method of remembering names? Can you really take photos or make name-tags for all? Consider this…

‘As to taking pics, sorry, I’m not much of a camera guy. That’s a lot of extra photos to be lugging around. I know some teachers have students bring their photos as an assignment, but I’m not sure I want to make seating charts that are that large or to make student files for so many students. I don’t have that much extra free time.’

gaijinalways

4. My mind is playing tricks on me

We can be our own worst enemies too. Only last year I had a student whose name was lazy Roger Waters, because he was very lazy and looked incredibly like the former Pink Floyd bassist. Funnily enough, this didn’t help me remember his real name. I’m not alone…

‘My worst problem is I often assign a name before knowing the real name. If a student looks like someone I know named Mehmet, it will take ages to get Mehmet out of my head. Or I’ll see a student for the first time and think “Walter Matthau” or “Shiny Hair” or whatever, which makes it easy to recognize a student but hard to remember the name.’

justme

students11

‘Students 11′ by @yearinthelifeof from #ELTPics

Part two: Practical advice from seasoned professionals

My advice is to find something that works for you. I’m a lot better at remembering names than I used to be because I now employ some of the techniques described below (please note: some of these are quotes from people using forum pseudonyms, while others quoted will be more familiar!):

1. Use names often

‘My dad was a corporate trainer, he had new students every two weeks, and sometimes the following year some of the students would take another of his courses. He was great with names. His trick was to use the person’s name repeatedly in your first conversation. It feels weird at first but works.

– Hi John, nice to meet you.
– Where are you from John?
– John, can you sit over here next to Sue?
– Sue, can you help me hand out these papers?
– Thank you, Sue.’

MELEE

2. Make associations

‘I think it helps if you can make quick associations with their names to their features or what they’re wearing. I think that’s how I do it. It’s like their names pop out when I see their faces.’

TheLongWayHome

3. The circle game

‘In classes of 25 or fewer, space permitting, I put them in a circle. I choose one student to say his/her name, then go around the circle where each student has to say all the names that came before, plus his or her own name. At the end I go around the circle and say all their names, twice if I really screw it up the first time.’

justme

4. Make a classroom plan

Make an outline of the classroom, and on the first day go student by student, asking their names and completing your plan. Leave this on your desk and, for the first few classes at least, make sure people sit in the same spot for the beginning of the lesson. Or ask students to make a little name card and place it on the desk in front of them.

Lindsay Clandfield

5. Repeat the name

The only thing I do to learn student names quickly is to repeat the name to the student a few times and attach a mental image to the name. My record is 150 student names in two weeks.

Burcu Akyol

6. Use cards

I see most of my students once a week, in classes of about thirty, so at the start of the first semester I have a lot of names to remember. Every student makes an attendance card, which I hand out at the beginning of class and take in at the end. They use it to give themselves a score (minus points for speaking too much Japanese, forgetting their textbook etc), for answering reflection questions about the day’s lesson, for telling me a few extra snippets about themselves, and they all have a photo. I can look through them between classes to put names to faces, and peek at them as I walk around “monitoring”.

Darren Elliott

7. Write names on the board

This is only relevant for mixed nationality groups, but a nice way to start a new class can be to write your name up on the board – explain who gave you the name and why, nicknames you’ve had, along with anything else that seems relevant to your name. And then hand the pen to a student and invite them to do the same. As the pen gets passed around, there are sometimes ‘aha’ moments as a Japanese students write up their name and the kanji characters are recognized by Korean or Chinese classmates, while I and fellow European students watch in amazement. And then hopefully someone from say Argentina steps up and explains their multiple surnames, and the wonder carries on. Only a rose could smell as sweet…

Vicki Hollett

8. Describe the person

This is the method I most often use: writing things by the side of the class list describing each person so that I can remember who is who. You will probably want to keep this secret from the students and even other teachers, as the easiest thing to learn their names from is often short physical descriptions, and the easiest ones to remember people from might not always be taken as complimentary. Other possibilities of what to write include things like “highest level student”, “always comes late”, “pauses a long time before speaking”, “joined the class in the second month”, “obsessed by cats” or “usually first to arrive”.

Alex Case

Hey… Where’s 9 and 10?

That’s where you come in! If you have any further suggestions, please let me know in the comments section below and I’ll add them to the post.

Summing up

For me, the following quote sums up why this is an important issue;

‘When I was a student, I’d feel really bad if my name was the one forgotten by a teacher who remembered other names, so I try to plan around my being bad at remembering names.’

justme

If you’re teaching a relatively small group of people regularly for any length of time, get to know their names. If, like me, this is something you’re just not good at, here are some good ways to help you plan around it from Lindsay Clandfield‘s excellent 6 things blog. Also, Alex Case has a great list of ideas here.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas, The teacher perspective | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Investigating the emotional side of the classroom: What is your personal classroom management profile?

Now that we’ve reached the end of our epic classroom management journey, I hope we can define it as a system for establishing order and routine in the classroom so that learning can take place with the minimum of disruptions. Any teacher’s personal classroom management style will determine the order and rules their class will follow and how they will interact with learners.

While I’ve tried my best to present you with a comprehensive introduction to classroom management over the course of these last few posts, I hope you’ll take it into your own hands to continue your voyage to classroom management nirvana! Researching classroom management styles and experimenting with different approaches will help you find your preferred techniques and enable you to create a positive environment for both you and your learners.

Making a start: learn what kind of classroom manager you are

My advice is to start with my wonderful series of posts (!), then, if that’s not enough for you, conduct a bit more online research into the various classroom management styles. Commonly defined styles of classroom management are “authoritarian,” “authoritative,” “laissez-faire” and “indifferent”: the majority of educators fall into one or more of these management styles.

Let’s now look at the following ‘typical’ teacher descriptions: do any of them strike a particular chord with you?

Are you an authoritarian teacher?

Strict discipline is good, right? Well, learners in general dislike authoritarian teachers for the reason that they view them as cold and excessively firm.

How to tell if this is you?

Such teachers tend to forcefully control their classrooms while showing little involvement with their learners. The rules are there to be complied with. These teachers quickly punish learners for misbehavior. Such classroom environments can become quiet and seemingly orderly places. However, this comes at the expense of learners’ happiness. Teachers who seek full control and little opposition from learners will adopt an authoritarian management style.

Are you an authoritative teacher?

The authoritative teacher places limits on learners’ behavior, yet still encourages learners to think and act independently.

How to tell if this is you?

Such teachers firmly redirect disruptive learners but do not shout or dish out overly harsh consequences for misbehavior. Authoritative teachers are those exerting high levels of control, but, more importantly, also showing high levels of engagement with their learners. Such teachers are strict, but importantly are also compassionate. Teachers wanting to be effective and respected by learners tend to adopt this style of classroom management.

Are you an indifferent teacher?

If indifference is your thing then you are probably characterized by the small degree of control and learner involvement in your classes. Fortunately, no teachers intentionally adopt this style! Nevertheless, newbie teachers, or even just those who lack training, confidence or dedication, may fall into indifference.

How to tell if this is you?

Such teachers use the same lesson plans over and over again and show no interest in extra-curricular activities or going ‘the extra mile’ with learners. Also, there is usually a lack of any kind of discipline in the learning environment, leading to disinterest and absenteeism.

students8

‘Students 8′ by @yearinthelifeof on #ELTPics

Are you a laissez-faire teacher?

Teachers adopting the laissez-faire classroom-management style enjoy time in class with their learners, yet place few if any controls on them.

How to tell if this is you?

An alternative but equally applicable term to describe such teachers would be “indulgent”: such teachers indulge their learners and refrain from disciplining them for misbehavior. It is pertinent to remember, though, that the term comes from the French expression meaning ‘let the people do as they choose’. Learners will initially enjoy their time with such teachers because they have freedom without much responsibility. Nevertheless, laissez-faire teachers revel in being the ‘cool teacher’ at the risk of their learners’ development. Such teachers need to think carefully about the extent to which such a management style actually benefits learners, for the simple reason that it mostly doesn’t.

What you need to do: planning for development

1. Focus on your classroom discipline procedures

Decide if you feel you need to address the balance between the need for order and the need for a nurturing atmosphere. When I looked at my classroom management style, I needed to make changes; the chances are, you will, too. Think about which management style you are using when disciplining learners, as well as when praising them. Does the management style you exhibit in the classroom correspond with your personality and your preferred style of teaching?

2. Talk to other teachers, inviting them to observe your teaching style in the classroom

Getting the perspectives of trusted colleagues will be invaluable and undoubtedly tell you more about your classroom management techniques than any other method. Get your colleagues to make notes on any weak or strong points as part of your personal classroom management profile. A fresh set of eyes on classroom management practices is an asset to every teacher.

3. Put together a list of your strong points, as well as those requiring attention

Doing so will unveil your particular style of classroom management and will give you insights that will make lesson-planning and discipline methods easier to carry out. Write down your classroom management philosophy, including the changes you feel you need to make, and write a plan for how you intend to achieve it.

Final tips for adapting your classroom management style

  • Don’t be afraid to undertake different management styles for different situations. No one single style works in every situation for every classroom environment.
  • Be aware that classroom management styles and theories evolve over time, over the course of your career: be willing to adapt to new styles and keep up to date with the latest ideas.

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Posted in Classic posts, The teacher perspective, Theory | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Book review: ‘Punctuation..?’ by User Design

Whenever reviewing a title for an ELT website or for a journal, I regard the most important thing a book should do as delivering to its target audience. This being the first review I’ve done directly for my blog, I’m happy to start out with a publication that does this on more than one level. Indeed, this is a major plus for this title: while the style and clarity of the text in Punctuation..? means that it works well as a practical guide to learners of English, it’s certainly as much use to language teachers and writers.

Although the book is written as a serious set of explanations, it is done so in a light and easily digestible way, making it a joy to ‘consume’. PunctuationThe second great thing about this book is that, despite the explanations being brief, they’re also correct. That’s not to say that coverage isn’t thorough. For instance, the pilcrow (¶) and interpunct (•) receive due attention, as do the techniques of indication direct speech used in other languages, such as French.

At the heart of Punctuation..? is the intention to explain the “functions and correct uses of 21 of the most used punctuation marks.” In this it succeeds admirably. Nevertheless, this isn’t a title for those who are sticklers to absolute rules; you’ll find no mention of the imperative to use the Oxford comma here! Rather, it takes the approach of concisely explaining what a comma is and how it is used. This approach is echoed throughout the book: you get what you absolutely need to know to be able to use punctuation with confidence, not the pedantic arguments of scholarly academics.

The kitsch, unassuming artwork that accompanies each section serves to enhance the concise and rational explanations of punctuation marks. Indeed, the book’s website states that, Punctuation..? is for “a wide age range (young to aging) and intelligence (emerging to expert).” While I’m no master, I’d consider myself fairly well accomplished in the use of punctuation. Nevertheless, I found this title to be as useful, and as charming, as my 12-year-old son. As a language teacher, I’ve come up against any number of books on punctuation and this is by far the cutest – and coolest – I’ve ever read.

Title: Punctuation…? Publisher: User Design; 2nd Revised edition (December, 2011) ISBN-10: 0957071221 ISBN-13: 978-0957071223

Punctuation…? is available on Amazon, but also check out the User Design website for more information about the title.

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Investigating the emotional side of the classroom: What can we learn from Canter’s Assertive Classroom Management Model?

Last time round we looked at Glasser’s Choice theory of classroom management. This time we focus on Canter’s Assertive classroom management model…

The assertive classroom management model was developed by Lee Canter in the 1970s, based on the notion that learners react positively to fair and well thought-out rule systems. Unlike Behaviorism, the assertive model is not necessarily an antagonistic model, nor does it suggest that teachers should over-discipline learners. In fact, the model uses four elements to determine a learning environment in which learners operate under clear rules, which carry specified benefits or consequences depending on their willingness to follow them.

The four elements break down as follows:

1. Establishing rules

Write down clear classroom rules that require no interpretation. Include specific rules, such as;

  • turn off your phones when you enter the classroom,
  • ask for permission before leaving the classroom for any reason, or
  • clean your desk area before leaving the classroom.

If you incorporate general rules, ensure that you write them clearly, with specific elements. For example, you may write the following:

‘Respect other learner’s opinion in the class by listening when they speak, considering what they are saying and responding to the statement without making personal attacks to the speaker.’

This is a general rule, but one which can’t be misinterpreted.

Clarify and talk about each rule on the first day of class, and let your learners ask questions about the kind of actions that may violate these classroom rules.

students5

‘Students5′ by @yearinthelifeof fom #ELTPics

2. Predetermined Affirmation

Reinforcing your learners’ observance of your rules is desirable, and can be achieved with affirming statements as well as the kinds of specified benefits listed on your list of rules.

Making sure that the advantages for complying with your rules are clear is paramount in the assertive classroom management model. For instance, you may specify that if each learner treats their fellow learners with respect, as per your rules, during the week, you will give each learner some kind of bonus over the course of the coming week or semester. It’s imperative that you act in accordance with your promised benefits for good behavior, showing your learners that you are fulfilling your responsibilities from the rules.

3. Predetermined Negative Consequences

Designing specific punishments for each broken rule is important, but making sure your punishments are both fair and reasonable should remain the priority. Also, handling discipline in a straightforward and matter-of-fact method is extremely important.

You should handle such situations by quietly informing the offending learner how they broke the rule and exactly what their punishment will be, based on the rules you handed out. For example, you may decide that if a learner leaves class without permission, they must return to your classroom at the end of the day and help you clean up the classroom. As we will see at every step of this model, standing by what you say is vital. In this case, stand by your punishments and assert them equally to each learner who breaks your rules. If not, prepare for anarchy!

4. The teacher as leader

Your role as a teacher in this assertive classroom management model places you as the leader of your learning environment. As such, you must show your learners how to follow the rules by demonstrating them yourself. For instance, showing learners how to be respectful of other learner comments by treating each comment as you describe in your rules is a good way to exemplify how things should work.

As teachers, we need to follow and enforce our rules consistently, because the goal is for our learners to make behavior decisions based on punishments and benefits they can count on, such as knowing that if they leave class without permission, they will face the punishment you have assigned.

Summing up in three sentences…

  1. On a cline of extreme discipline through to trusting the learner to control themselves, this theory lies at the exact opposite end to that of Skinner’s behaviorism.
  2. As a teacher, you lead the way, and as such get to set the tempo as to what is right and wrong: if things go wrong, it’s probably down to you!
  3. If you are a new teacher, this theory might be the best approach for you, as it takes the good parts of behaviorism, but still trusts the learner to inherently be able to sense what is appropriate.

OK, that’s it for today! Please join me again soon for one last look at classroom management; in my next post we’ll be looking at strategies to help you understand your classroom management techniques.

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Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: Epilogue – The perfect classroom

When I started thinking about the classrooms I would be teaching in this semester I thought it would be a good idea to write a full critique of each, in terms of what opportunities they created and the constraints they placed on me. To be honest, though, after a couple of posts on this subject I don’t really feel the need to go on, as I’ll just end up repeating myself. My posts on the rooms G062 and G045 (I’ve linked to these posts at the end of this post) probably contain everything I want to talk about. With this in mind, I thought I would round things off with a brief epilogue.

What better way to do this than with a visual display of what is considered to be the ultimate in early 21st century classrooms. Below you will see two images from a really good report that I found from the University of Oregon, which looked attempted to define the perfect classroom based on instructor and student use. Their findings are comprehensive (and available as a PDF download here).

As you’ll notice, I’ve captured these screen shots from their report. There are annotations describing the features of the perfect classroom (those dashed lines that you can see in the pics). Here are a few highlights:

  • Provide a shaped ceiling to create a sense of enclosure, maximize sight lines to screen, and improve acoustics.
  • Provide wall mounted light switches and motorized screen and shade controls for easy access from podium.
  • Provide integrated, quality sound system with even distribution to maximize student comprehension.
  • Provide ample space for instructor movement at the front of the classroom and throughout student seating areas.
  • Use sled base chairs and movable tables to allow for flexible use of space.
  • Provide lightweight, stable tables but assume table configuration will not change regularly.
  • Provide white board wall. Avoid covering with screen or use full wall white board.
  • Provide evenly spaced wall outlets near student seating areas. Avoid cost of data jack at student areas by providing robust wireless connection.
  • Provide clock- locate for easy visibility from students and instructors perspective.
  • Provide color and interest on walls.
  • Provide visibility into classroom from hallway.

So, how does your classroom shape up to this idyllic image? Looking at it from this perspective, I haven’t got too much to complain about. I’d love to hear how this contrasts to your experiences.

If you’d like to read more about people describing their classes, you could start with my other posts in this series (Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: prologue, Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: In search of teaching paradise?, and Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: The curious case of G062). Also, please take a look at my concurrent series of posts in which I investigate the emotional aspects of classroom management!

I’d also recommend the posts written by Tyson Seburn (What classroom is perfect?) and Vicky Loras (The Ideal Classroom – My Post for Tyson Seburn’s Blog Challenge).

__________

FOCI-X @ Sabancı University: Prep and Freshman: two sides of the same coin or worlds apart?

Posted in Classic posts, Life inside the classroom, The life of an english teacher, Theory | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Investigating the emotional side of the classroom: What can we learn from Glasser’s Choice Theory of classroom management?

Having focused on the discipline-based theories of Skinner and, to a lesser extent, Jones in my last two posts, it’s definitely time for a shift of gears! What better way to do that than with psychiatrist William Glasser’s theory of classroom management, an effective blueprint to enable teachers to organize and sustain a flourishing learning environment.

Glasser is a world away from Skinner in particular; he asks that we as teachers educate our learners as to how they can make good choices and take responsibility for their behavior in the classroom. When adhered to, Glasser’s Choice Theory can make education a rewarding experience for both learners and teachers alike.

The features of Glasser’s Choice Theory

In the classroom

‘In the classroom’ by @SueAnnan from #ELTPics

The theory is based on the notion that the classroom environment – and the curriculum -should create a safe place for learning by meeting the needs for freedom, a sense of belonging, a share of power, and the need to have fun. Glasser furthermore stresses we are, in fact, helping learners achieve success by teaching them to make appropriate behavioral choices.

According to Glasser, behavior boils down to a matter of personal choice. A learner’s behavior stems from their choices; it’s the teacher’s duty to help the learner make good choices, resulting in first-rate behavior.

In this framework, teachers should;

  • stress the importance of learner responsibility,
  • the establishing of rules that lead to success,
  • accept no excuses for inappropriate learner actions,
  • require value judgments from learners,
  • suggest suitable alternatives,
  • bring into play responsible consequences, and
  • carry out continual review with the class.

The benefits of Choice Theory

Glasser believed in providing learners with a choice in deciding not only classroom rules but also in the curriculum itself. This helps the learners take ownership of the learning process, leading to increased enthusiasm, confidence and participation, or so the theory goes!

We’re still not left with a magic solution, though

Nevertheless, this theory alone won’t eradicate all classroom behavioral issues. Glasser suggests that we as teachers need to organize our learning environment in the best way possible to meet the learners’ needs and then intervene to ‘improve’ behavior as and when it is deemed necessary. Indeed, Glasser concedes that even when the theory is adhered to, about a quarter of your learners may remain unproductive.

Considerations

The Glasser Theory enables – or, rather, requires – us to deviate from the conventional learning environment structure to attain success. This is not necessarily an easy thing, especially if you’re new to the profession. It does promote a lot of what I consider to be good classroom practice, nonetheless, meaning that even new teachers can employ elements of Choice Theory. Glasser, for instance, favors learners working together in small groups. This;

  • helps foster a sense of belonging,
  • motivates learners to work towards the group goal, and
  • reduces learner reliance on the teacher.

According to the theory, when divided into smaller groups, the stronger learners will help the weaker ones, which enhances classroom relationships.

Summing up in three sentences…

  1. On a cline of extreme discipline through to trusting the learner to control themselves, this theory lies on the exact opposite end to that of Skinner’s behaviorism.
  2. If you are a new teacher, think carefully about mastering the physical aspects of classroom management before you jump head long into giving too much choice to learners: it might spell disaster if you lose control of things.
  3. Using group work in class is a great way to get started with the Glasser model, as this necessitates that learners take some responsibility for their learning.

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Posted in Classic posts, Opinion, The teacher perspective, Theory | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Infographic: Past perfect tense

Following on from my triumphant award for the British Council TeachingEnglishFeatured blog of the month’, I’m once again in the mood for making another infographic for you all! Today’s infographic shows us how to use the past perfect tense. In addition to highlighting the forms of this verb tense, the main functions are clearly explained, with many examples.

As usual, I used Piktochart to design the infographic.

comparing thingsYou can download the original, full size image here (800×2180).

Additionally, there are a number of share and embed options available from Flickr here.

Finally, you can share the image using the QR code on the right.

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Investigating the emotional side of the classroom: What can we learn from the Jones model of positive discipline?

Those of you who’ve visited the blog recently will know that I’ve been tackling a two-pronged series, looking at both the physical and emotional aspects of effective classroom management.

In my last ‘emotional’ post I looked at Skinner’s behaviorist theory of classroom management. My hope is that you all found that a little too extreme and desire something a little less authoritarian. If that’s the case, today’s post is for you! The Fredric H. Jones Positive Discipline Model is a classroom and school management system. Jones is the author of ‘Positive Classroom Discipline’, hence the name of his model. His system focuses on;

  1. teacher body language and the teacher as an example of appropriate behavior,
  2. the presence of firm, easily understandable rules, and
  3. having a backup plan for when things don’t go to plan.

Let’s consider each of these in detail.

The teacher models what is considered appropriate behavior

The main tenet of the Jones positive discipline system is that the teacher models the kind of behavior that is expected:

  • The teacher adopts a calm tone of voice that assumes that the learner will follow directions.
  • The teacher uses positive language that nurtures a learning environment in which learners are encouraged to speak with one another thoughtfully.
  • The teacher focuses on the learners and what they are doing in the learning environment, organizing the classroom so that they are able to quickly assist any learner.

What this all means for the learner is that their teacher provides a role model of acceptable adult behavior in an environment that supports their ability to learn.

Decorations

‘Decorations’ by @pysproblem81 from #ELTPics

Simple to apply rules, posted clearly

Another significant element of this model is that the rules are straightforward, direct and placed within the learning environment where they are visible at all times. Commonly, classroom rules might include; not talking when the teacher is talking or other learners are responding; coming to class with all the necessary class materials, such as coursebook and notepaper.

When applying the Jones model of positive discipline, the number of rules should be as few as possible and should deal with precise, concrete actions that are appropriate to making the learning environment a safe place to learn.

Responding to misbehavior

Even in the finest of classroom situations, learners sometimes behave inappropriately, or in a way that disturbs others. In the Jones Model, the first step in correction is a timeout in the classroom. If the learner is being sufficiently disruptive, they can be sent to another room to give them and the teacher time to calm down.

If the behavior is persistent, such as not bringing materials to class or distracting other learners while the teacher is talking, the teacher might work with a counselor or administrator to develop some kind of observation checklist.

Summing up in three sentences…

  1. As with behaviorism, this approach depends on there being a right and a wrong way of behaving in the classroom; again, this is dependent on a set of rules.
  2. Unlike Skinner’s theory, though, this approach positively assumes that the learner is able to recognize the right way to act and respond to an exemplary example of behavior, i.e. that of the teacher.
  3. Although a much diluted down version of Skinner’s behaviorism, you may still feel that this approach is too disciplinarian for you (the rules dictate behavior, even if they have been agreed upon by the learner); if so, please proceed to my next post when I’ll examine William Glasser’s theory of classroom management!

Posted in Opinion, The life of an english teacher, Theory | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Dealing with the physical aspects of the classroom: In search of teaching paradise?

After a brief, award winning-inspired interlude, I’m back on track with my duel series on classroom management. While a lot of the posts in this series will be looking at the emotional aspects of keeping control of your learning environment, today’s post looks at how we might choose to manipulate the physical contours of the rooms in which we teach. Let’s get right down to business, then…

My favourite classroom out of all those I’m using at the moment is the functionally named G045. Please take a look at the video clips below (there are four and one should play immediately after the previous one finishes) and you’ll get a good idea why.

So, on first impressions it seems to offer me everything I could need to conduct any number of activities. It’s big, the furniture is movable and yet comfortable. There is a nice area for me to conduct my business, while there is also space for the students to get up and move around when necessary. The room is also fully kitted out to meet my technological needs and those of the learners.

So, how does this room measure up to the perfect classroom?

When I was thinking about putting this series of posts together (read my prologue post here and my first room discussion here), I did a bit of research to see what had been written about this phenomenon. One really good report that I did find was one by the University of Oregon, which looked attempted to define the perfect classroom based on instructor and student use. Their findings are fairly comprehensive (and available as a PDF download here) and detail everything that you might consider were you trying to create the perfect learning and teaching environment. I’ve picked some of their descriptors here to give you an idea of what their report looks like. Look at these and think about the room I showed you in the videos. Also, try to reflect on the rooms you have to use: this might help you identify problems in your classes that you couldn’t put your finger on before.

Room Size & Shape:

  • Avoid rooms with long, narrow proportions
  • Avoid rooms with low ceilings
  • Avoid rooms with no windows
  • Avoid rooms with columns or other obstructions

Ceiling Height & Shape:

  • Provide minimum ceiling height of 10′-12′
  • Avoid over-illuminating the ceiling or creating a shadow under the light fixture

Daylight & Views:

  • Control daylight and views with opaque shades
  • Provide motorized shades with simple control from the teaching area

Finishes:

  • Provide carpets
  • Provide colored walls
  • Avoid white walls unless used with accent color
  • Avoid hard, sterile surfaces and “timeless” color palettes
  • Plan for room upgrades every ten years or less to keep the room “fresh”

Acoustical Control:

  • Design the room so students can easily hear the instructor, but consider how students will hear each other as well
  • Provide low-pressure air systems when forced air is used
  • Provide sound-insulated walls
  • Provide amplification so the room’s performance is not dependent upon enhanced audio
  • Avoid movable walls
  • Avoid hard ceilings

Furniture & Adjustability:

  • Provide chairs that move easily, but are steady when in use
  • Chairs with sled-style supports are recommended
  • Position tables allow small groups to form around them, but be close enough to allow a “critical density” of students to create engaged lectures and discussions
  • Assume that tables will not be regularly moved but that lecture format courses will have to transform into small groups easily and vice versa – arrange table to allow both uses easliy
  • Avoid round tables unless lecture style presentations are unlikely to ever occur in the space
  • Avoid tablet arm desks
  • Avoid room layouts that assume a high level of user-directed changeability

Connectivity:

  • Provide robust wireless connectivity
  • Avoid unnecessary costs of added hard wire data ports in classrooms

Lighting:

  • Provide an easily controlled variety of lighting, including general lighting, perimeter accent lighting, and instructor area highlighting
  • Provide dimmable or stepped lighting
  • Provide override control for room occupancy sensor
  • Avoid suspended lighting

Controls:

  • Provide simple, intuitive controls that require no special knowledge to operate
  • Use simple switches where possible
  • Provide labeled switches
  • Place light controls near the primary teaching area
  • Limit the number of switches to about 3-6 switches

Student Arrangement & Area Requirements:

  • Provide 40% internal circulation area
  • Program space allocations based on the number of students, recommended instructor area and internal circulation based on observations

Electrical Supply for Student Use:

  • Provide perimeter plugs evenly distributed around the classroom to allow use for those who need power
  • Avoid column drop outlets
  • Avoid hardwired data connections for student use

Instructor Arrangement & Area Requirements:

  • Provide a generous teaching area (on average about 180 Square F)
  • Position podium to provide good visibility of both students and the screen
  • Assume that instructor will generally teach from one location regardless of teaching format
  • Plan instructor area to have direct connection to the door of the room allowing the instructor to arrive late or leave early if necessary

Technology & Media:

  • Provide a ceiling mounted projector
  • Provide instructor podium with connection for instructor laptop
  • Provide amplified speakers connected to the projector system
  • Provide instructor podium with:
    – desktop mounted power supply
    – easy access to lighting and daylight controls
    – access to writing surface
    – under-desk storage for backpack
    – stool stored under knee space (to allow standing presentations for most of the time)
  • Provide a large whiteboard near the instructor podium
  • Provide additional whiteboard around the room for small group break out and teaming activities
  • Provide a robust, high speed wireless system
  • Assume that all technology is temporary and will be replaced in less than 10 years
  • Assume that instructor will use personal laptop for media presentation
  • Use surface mounted or easily accessed wiring systems where possible

See, I told you it was a comprehensive list, didn’t I!

By now you can probably see why G045 is one of my favourite classes. I’m not sure, though whether I’d like to walk into any room with these descriptors as a checklist: I’m sure I’d come away from most feeling fairly despondent! Nevertheless, it is useful to look at these and consider the ways in which your teaching environment is most constricted, be it in terms of furniture, acoustics, or any of the other factors mentioned above.

How does G045 measure up?

I have only two gripes with this room…

Too darn big

Firstly, it’s too big for the size of the class I teach. I have on any given day fifteen students in this room and they do so enjoy sitting way at the back. This can mean me moving to them to get their attention, although I also then have to return to the teacher zone as and when I need to utilize the technology. The white board is also very distant when they choose to sit at the back.

Solution

I pointed out that the furniture is moveable, so, guess what? Never be afraid of giving the furniture layout a good makeover before a class starts. If you’re in a room that is blatantly too big for the number of people occupying it, group them together and group them fairly near you, otherwise the open space can be intimidating and even a bit creepy.

Lack of control over lighting

Secondly, the lighting is really clumsy and difficult to control. There are two light switches, one of which turns on the lights at the front and one the lights at the back.

Solution

As with the first point, group the students so as to try not to allow any of them to lurk in the gloom. Having them all operating in the same lighting conditions may seem like a small consideration, but, believe me; it can really affect the dynamic of the class if you don’t get them all in a well lit part of the room.

All in all, for a classroom that was built about twelve years ago, it has really stood the test of time in terms of how it is fitted out technologically. It is a bit gloomy when it’s dark outside, and the limited control over electric light in a big room like this is an issue. Nevertheless, you can really go for it in terms of varying activities and it is an extremely flexible environment.

What’s your take on all this?

So, what do you think about this room? How would you go about making the most of this environment? How does this compare to the rooms in which you teach? I’d love to hear your comments on this.

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Posted in Classic posts, Life inside the classroom, Theory | Tagged , | 5 Comments