True or false: Effective classroom management makes only a marginal difference in teacher retention and student outcomes.The answer: False. It’s the lynchpin of all high-performing ESL schools. Without it, disruptive student behavior runs rampant and increases the likelihood of teacher turnover for novice and veteran educators alike. But, when skillfully applied, it makes a serious difference in learning. Research shows that expert classroom management boosts student engagement, which can increase student achievement by up to 20 percent.
We did some digging to learn how highly effective ESL teachers manage their classrooms. Their secret lies in these eight practices:
Establishing and teaching class rules
Offering meaningful praise
Applying proven behavior management techniques
Creating and maintaining routines
Designing engaging lessons
Managing the physical environment
Practicing cultural sensitivity
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
1. Class Rules
Successful classroom discipline starts with setting clear and situationally specific parameters. Students should know precisely what good behavior looks like during all major classroom activities, from working independently to working in groups to lining up for lunch.
Clearly articulated expectations make up the classroom rules of conduct, one of two key tools necessary for creating an orderly classroom. The other is a discipline plan, which describes what will happen when students comply with the rules and what will happen when they do not.
Teach; Don’t Just Tell
Students learn rules like they learn most everything else: Through careful teaching, preferably in context. If you want students to practice acceptable behaviors during group work, then teach the applicable rules while students are working in group.
Model what acceptable and unacceptable behavior looks like. Allow students to ask questions, and explain the rationale behind the rule itself. Students will be more likely to remember and follow the rule if they understand why it was created.
General praise, like "great job" or "good boy," expresses positive feelings about the student but doesn't offer feedback on their performance. Researchers Paul C. Burnett and Valerie Mandel note that this type of praise "is rarely converted into increased engagement, commitment to learning, enhanced self-perceptions or deeper understanding about the task."
Meaningful praise, by comparison, is a great tool for rewarding behavior because it commends students on a specific action or the completion of a task. Here are some examples:
I like the way you corrected yourself when you read that paragraph.
Your pronunciation and intonation are really improving.
You did a great job saying that sentence with confidence.
Burnett and Mandel's study of Australian students revealed that most prefer to receive praise privately and individually. Some students might actually resent being loudly praised in front the class because it could make them the target of ridicule from their peers. Always consider your students' preferences when giving praise. When in doubt, forgo public praise and give a discreet compliment instead.
3. Behavior Management
Correcting disruptive behavior is just as essential as praising constructive behavior. One study showed that when teachers offer consequences for negative behaviors in addition to reinforcing positive ones, disruptive behavior decreased by 33 percent.
Teachers have a variety of simple but effective methods to choose from when choosing how to change student behaviors. These techniques, called "kernels," are supported by experience and research. These include:
Time-out, a particularly effective strategy for younger children, that allows them to temporary disengage from a frustrating situation. This strategy not only defuses disruptive behavior, but it also helps teach students self-control.
Private reminders: A quick aside can quickly redirect students into more positive behaviors. These work best when teachers deliver them discreetly and non-emotionally.
Warm greetings: Enthusiastically welcoming students to English class strengthens the student-teacher relationship, which is itself a strong deterrent against negative behavior.
The Sound of Silence: Using Nonverbal Cues in the ESL Classroom
Nonverbal cues are a particularly powerful kernel for the ESL classroom. Here are two nonverbal strategies that most teachers swear by.
The pregnant pause: An uncomfortable silence draws attention to a misbehaving student without directly calling out their disruptive behavior. This technique works best with older students because they are more attuned to subtle social nuances.
Making eye contact: This is an effective but discreet method for influencing behavior. Once a teacher has established eye contact with a student, they can either give them a gesture, like a smile or a nod, to reinforce positive behavior. Or, they can use another gesture, like a shake of the head or a finger to the lips, to correct negative behavior.
“Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life,” writes author Gretchen Rubin. Research tends to agree. People repeat roughly 40 percent of their daily behaviors. Teachers can leverage this quirk of human nature by establishing routines that support effective classroom management.
Well-planned routines are simple, smooth and standardized, making them easy for students to remember and follow. They are particularly important for managing transitions, which have a higher potential for creating behavior disruptions. Visual aides and nonverbal cues are particularly effective for the ESL classroom. For example, when the teacher makes a spinning motion with her finger, students know it’s time to wrap up and prepare for a new activity.
5. Engaging Lessons
Establishing rules, creating routines, praising productive behaviors and correcting unproductive ones all directly contribute to a well-structured classroom. But, let’s not forget a less obvious classroom management tool: The lesson itself. Teachers can use the following techniques to craft well-designed lessons that engage students’ interest and helps focus their attention.
Cultural comparisons: Hone in on cultural topics that students find particularly interesting, like foods, celebrations and sports. Students love talking about themselves and their own interests, so encourage them to compare their own preferences to what people like to eat, play or do in another culture.
Prior knowledge: Activating prior knowledge acts like glue, adhering new information to what a student already knows. Posing thoughtfully prepared questions at the beginning of class is a simple but effective way to activate this key ingredient. Instead of simply describing the stages of a butterfly, for instance, teachers can ask questions like:
What does the larva look like? How is it different from the butterfly?
Why does a pupa make a chrysalis before it transforms into a butterfly?
This method requires students to make inferences based on what they already know, which will engage both their prior knowledge and their interest.
Humor: Few things improve a lesson like a good laugh. Research shows that laughter strengthens social bonds and activates the brain’s reward system, which in turn supports motivation and long-term memory. As Alton Brown says, “Laughing brains are more absorbent.”
6. Physical Environment
The layout of the classroom itself is an important component in creating an orderly, productive learning environment. A poorly designed layout is riddled with bottlenecks and blind spots that makes classroom management a chore. A thoughtfully designed classroom, by contrast, acts like “another teacher,” easing transitions and supporting meaningful learning.
Physical spaces that support excellent classroom management take into account three key factors: Seating, traffic flow and purposeful movement.
Seating: Will students spend most of their time working individually, in pairs or in groups? The answer to this question should dictate the classroom seating arrangements. This will help eliminate laborious transitions and wasted class time. Regardless of how they’re arranged, all desks should be within easy eyesight of the teacher.
Traffic flow: Do students have to stand in line while waiting to get supplies? If so, it’s a sign the classroom needs a makeover. Consider storing frequently used items in several stations throughout the room. Or, if students work mostly in groups, consider assigning one student from each group as a designated supply master who gathers and distributes materials to the rest of the team.
Purposeful movement: Research shows that movement supports learning. Capitalize on this fact by creating learning stations, each focused on a different skill or concept. Don’t forget to leave a space open for activities like dancing, skits and hands-on activities that support kinesthetic learners.
7. Cultural Sensitivity
The very definition of “good behavior” is a cultural construct that requires thoughtful and attentive handling. Cultural sensitivity, then, is a critical component for creating a productive and well-designed classroom. But, how do teachers develop a culturally sensitive classroom management plan? Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke and Curran of Rutgers University propose a three-pronged approach.
The first step is recognizing your own ethnocentrism and cultural biases. You must examine how your own cultural upbringing influences your values, motives and beliefs. In the course of their research, Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke and Curran found that this stage can be particularly difficult for White teachers, many of whom “consider their own cultural norms to be neutral and universal and accept the European, middle-class structures, programs, and discourses of schools as normal and right.”
Next, develop a deep knowledge of your students’ cultural backgrounds. Remember, a classroom management technique that is acceptable in one culture may be rude or shame-inducing in another. At the same time, however, be careful not to apply cultural generalizations to every student in every circumstance. Cultural classifications are simply “approximations of reality” that are constantly in flux.
Finally, be aware of the broader social, economic and political context of the classroom. Schools reflect the values, beliefs and biases of the culture that created them. Be mindful of how your school handles behavioral issues involving students from a minority group. Be careful to apply rewards and punishments fairly, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
8. Staying Organized
Strong organization skills are the bedrock for any classroom management plan. They limit the disruptions and unwelcome surprises that can easily derail an otherwise effective classroom. To be expert classroom managers, your teachers need to master two key skills: Writing lesson objectives and managing their time wisely.
Lesson objectives are like a roadmap: They help you determine where you want to go, and they give you clear directions for getting there. Lessons without a clear objective lack purpose, which is an invitation confusion and chaos.
A well-written objective is clear and concise. It should help your teachers determine what resources and activities they’ll need to teach the lesson, as well as how students will demonstrate their understanding of the material.
Objectives are a resource for students as much as they are a tool for teachers. Research shows that students’ comprehension increases when they understand the purpose of the lesson.
To be adept managers during the class, teachers should also practice effective time management outside of class. This includes spending time wisely on activities like lesson planning, creating classwork and tracking students’ progress. With Your Agora, teachers can master these activities in a fraction of the time it would take otherwise. As a result, they can spend more of time crafting stellar lessons and discovering new ways to elicit the best work from their students.
Classroom management is both a science and an art that requires dedicated practice. Use these eight practices to create classrooms that foster student achievement and school-wide success
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