One of the most important things a language teacher can do is to create a classroom environment where students can learn. To do this, students need to feel that they belong, that they know what is expected of them, and that they have the freedom to experiment with the language and make mistakes along the way. This is especially true of secondary students because of the insecurities and uncertainties that many teenagers experience.
Classroom management is all about creating this environment: it is influenced by every action that the teacher does, and every word that a teacher says. If we focus on what we are doing in the classroom, we can work towards creating a better learning environment.
Here are four key areas to focus on to ensure we create a good learning environment.
1) Have clear and fair rules
It is not always necessary to have rigid classroom rules, but students need to know what is expected of them and what is acceptable behaviour. It is worth remembering that every classroom is different, and every teacher has different expectations and rules. Some students are not good at working out what each teacher expects of them. Here are some actions you can take to have clear and fair classroom rules:
- Make sure the rules of the classroom are clearly stated and that students can easily refer to them when needed. Revisiting the rules can also be used as an opportunity to consolidate and practice the language.
- Make sure you follow your own rules and apply them fairly. Students who observe teachers breaking their own rules or seeing them be applied unfairly can come to resent the teacher.
- Be prepared to adjust and update rules if necessary. Circumstances change and you may notice that your classroom rules can be improved.
2) Give students the freedom to experiment with the language and make mistakes
Students need to practice and experiment with the language to improve, and this means frequently getting things wrong along the way. Therefore, getting students to understand the importance of making mistakes cannot be overstated. Also making students feel comfortable and safe about making mistakes needs to be a priority. Here are some suggestions to help you give your students the freedom to experiment and make mistakes:
- Talk to students about the importance of feeling free to make mistakes. Explain that mistakes give them information that they can use to improve.
- Encourage students to try to use the language. Show that you value effort and give support for trying, as well as constructive feedback. Accuracy and fluency only come through trying and practising.
- Make sure students do not tease each other for making mistakes.
3) Give clear instructions
In the classroom, a lot of time is spent giving instructions. When the instructions are clear students know what to do, and the class time is used more effectively. Conversely, when instructions are not clear, time is wasted, and students can become distracted and frustrated. It is worth remembering that instructions are not only useful for the running of the class, they are also an opportunity for consolidating language. Here are some actions you can take to make your instructions clearer:
- Plan your instructions carefully. It is surprising how easily you can make your instructions clearer when you plan the exact words you are going to say. If you do this in writing it becomes even easier to improve them.
- Check your instructions once you have given them. Ask questions to check that students have understood each stage of the instructions.
- Monitor students carefully to make sure they are carrying out the task correctly and be ready to stop an activity and give instructions again if you notice students haven’t understood.
4) Deal with disruptive behaviour
All secondary teachers experience disruptive behaviour from time to time, and we should not be surprised by this because of all the things happening in teenagers’ lives. Here are some suggestions for dealing with disruptive behaviour:
- Remain calm in body and voice, because becoming angry often escalates the situation. Give yourself a few seconds to breathe and think before you speak. When you do speak, use a calm tone and regular volume.
- There is always a reason for an action, so acknowledging the probable motive for disruptive behaviour shows that you respect your students and leads to less frustration. Say something like, “I’m sure there is a reason why you said/did that…”
- Show willingness to listen and give the student an opportunity to explain the reasons for their action. Where possible, handle this outside class time so that the lesson is interrupted as little as possible.
In conclusion, making some simple adjustments to your current teaching practice can help you create a better learning environment in your classrooms. It is these small, incremental changes that make us better teachers’ day by day.
Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.