March 6

Dealing with difficult classes

Most of us have had a difficult class at some point in our careers.  And by class, I really do mean class, rather than a tough learner within a class.  I’ve had a couple of difficult classes over the past few years, most of which were comprised of wonderful individuals who just didn’t work well when in the room together at the same time.

Last year, I took on a group which had been difficult the previous year and had actually reduced one of their teachers to tears.  This year, they’re with a teacher who is new to our academy and it made me think about how we decide who teaches those difficult groups.

At the same time, I’ve recently discovered a new brainstorming site, which allows you to collaborate in an online brainstorm.  So, feel free to add your ideas below…

October 9

Thoughts on BIG classes

This year we’re working even more closely with a local state school, which is absolutely marvellous – a great way to forge friendships, learn from peers and get an insight into different ways of approaching education.  For me, it’s the first time I’ve been faced with such a large group of students and I won’t lie, it’s not something I feel particularly comfortable with!  We are very fortunate to have their mainstream teacher in the room with us and it’s a bonuc for a number of reasons – obviously discipline issues are dealt with by the teacher with more authority, but also it makes the work of monitoring large numbers much simpler.

Some initial thoughts on teaching large groups…

1. People get lost much more easily – both I think through sheer volume of voices in the class but also, and this may be a weakness on my part, because when you see someone is noticeably weaker, you feel even worse putting them on the spot to be listened to by 29 other people.

2. It’s incredibly difficult to remember people’s names.  Fortunately I’ve been teaching in the school for a number of years, so I’m quite familiar with a lot of the faces in the sea before me…and perhaps that’s why I feel worse when I don’t remember someone’s name.

3. It’s not impossible to hear from everyone during the lesson – the nature of WGFB changes as you no longer want to hear from each individual after each activity, but there are enough moments of WGFB during the lesson that you can nominate everybody (even those souls mentioned in point 1, once we’re all a bit more comfortable!).

4. Everything takes longer.  I don’t know whether this is because we’re working at an average lower level than we normally would in academy classes, or whether it takes longer because of the time it takes to monitor each group…hmmm, one to think about.

5. It’s difficult to keep/get everyone’s attention.  There are always distractions – someone’s pencil falling on the floor, a whispered comment…and it takes much longer to snap the class back to the focus.

6. It’s really noisy! Oh, the joy of a communicative class where students are merrily conversing in English – it’s happening (with snitches of Spanish when they think you’re not listening), but it’s very loud 🙂  And it makes me think about which activities I’ll need to adapt to make them more “big-class-friendly” – running dictations for example are a possibility, but with one person dictating to the group, rather than students working in pairs.  Shouting dictations are a definite no-no!

7. It’s really good fun! 🙂

September 24

Routines

I’m killing two birds with one stone with this post!  Firstly as it allows me to throw out another piece of paper with thoughts from last year written on and also it’s good for one of my new year resolutions!

At some point last year, probably during my quest to make use of more routines, I started a list of some activities I could do in class to revise language.  So here’s my list…

  • Question word O+X
  • Where’s the ghost? (good for prepositions)
  • Character Builds (great for any age and level)
  • Star Word
  • Bingo
  • Banangrams
  • Freeze! (What were you doing when…?)
  • Hangman
  • Alphabet Race
  • Guess the Question
  • The Boss Says…
  • Disappearing Sentence
  • Sit down if…
  • Different types of Dictation
  • Vocab boxes
April 10

Heads down = “real” work

We had a wonderful professional development session yesterday  by Ceri Jones on coursebooks.  It was a wonderful moment of querying the role of coursebooks in our classes and really thinking about how we use them.

We discussed what the coursebook means to us individually and the content of an ideal coursebook, looking at how our ideals compare to what the majority currently offer.  Then we went on to look at a specific two-page spread and talked about how we would teach that lesson – how we would Select, Adapt and Supplement the material (a healthy dose of SAS is important for every page of the coursebook!).

At this point, Ceri introduced us to Lindsay Clandfield‘s idea of “Heads Up, Heads Down and Heads Together” as a way of categorising the interaction patterns and activity types.  After the session, I was thinking further about this: about the variety within the class and, more importantly, what learners respond to.  We said during the session that as EFL teachers using a communicative methodology, we instinctively aim for more “heads together” activities as these encourage STT and really get the learners using the target language.  However, something that we’ve found, certainly in the extra-curricular classes we give in a local state school, is that learners respond particularly well to “heads down” activities.  Younger learners who are taught in a fairly strict, structured, “heads down” environment often struggle to recognise the boundaries of a more communicative “heads together” class, leading to classroom management issues because of noise, high energy levels and over-use of L1.  I wonder whether as well, because of their learning experience, they see more benefit in “heads down” activities or whether it’s simply a case of habit and expectations.

As always, it’s essential to have a balance of activities in every lesson.  But also, it’s important to keep those “heads down” moments to appeal to all our learners – those intrapersonal learners probably appreciate the chance to do an activity quietly and it may perhaps be their moment to shine as well.

April 3

Closer, closer…

I’ve just read this article about eliciting – it’s one of those teaching skills which I think I do well, but there’s always room for improvement and also it’s good to get a fresh perspective.

One of the points the article mentions early on is about standing close to students with quieter voices so that they don’t misinterpret you not hearing them as an incorrect answer.  This got me to thinking about instances where that has happened in my own classes – I can picture the faces of the students who are keen to volunteer an answer, but then look a little forlorn when I ask them to “say it again”.  Perhaps part of the problem is in my own response to not hearing them: I should say, “Can you repeat that, please?” rather than, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  Can you say it again?”

This all ties in with classroom management – in this case, thinking about teacher (body) language, noise levels in the class and seating plans.  Do I sit the quieter students nearer me?  Do I make sure that each answer has everyone’s full, undivided attention?  Do I use the correct gestures and language when I don’t hear an answer?

I think the answer to all these question is “No”.

Hmmmm….something for me to think about…