Sunday, 20 July 2014

On classroom management: what matters most with teenage learners?

I would be the first to admit that earlier in my teaching career, I had rather mixed success with teaching teenagers. Looking back on the experience, I can see how naïve I was - with this age group, you really do need to know what you're letting yourself in for, as it can be a lot less forgiving than adults.

Having said that, I believe no experience is ever truly wasted, and this year as a postgraduate student has been a good opportunity to read widely, and not solely in support of my MA studies. During the course of the "Edmodo Reflection Project" that ended only recently (an Action Research project undertaken for my MA), it did become apparent at around the half-way point that several of the trainee teachers from Japan I was working with were facing a number of the issues I'd faced, and were looking for advice.

Over the coming week, I therefore read a few key texts on teaching adolescents, and put the following presentation together, which I gave to the trainees in person at Warwick:

The next task I set trainees on Edmodo required them to compare and contrast Japanese and British classrooms, and to consider how teachers can not only manage what goes on in class, but equally importantly, manage the impressions students have of them. The results made for some interesting reading!

I'm becoming more and more interested in classroom management techniques now, actually, even if my students are nowadays as a rule a bit older than this. And there are some good posts out there - here are some favourites:
Plus more than a few good books! Here are my favourites:
  • Hadfield, J. (1992). Classroom Dynamics. Oxford University Press.
  • Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.
  • Scrivener, J. (2012). Classroom Management Techniques. Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers.
All three of the above are great, I'd say. Scrivener provides the best reference work, Hadfield gives practical advice (borne of hard-won experience) on what to do when things don't go to plan, and Dörnyei does his best to get to grips with how teachers can provide impetus to and (more importantly) sustain learner motivation through the trials and tribulations of the learning process.

As teaching is very much a "people business", it makes sense to promote positive relationships in class - resistance to learning will be much less if we educators succeed in achieving this. And if we're unlucky and hit problems - we're not alone. Often there's someone out there experiencing similar problems, or who went through them at an earlier point in their career. This is one reason why I'm so keen on the idea of team teaching and mentoring…topics for another day, perhaps?

So how about you? Do you teach adolescents or adults? What classroom management techniques have you found most beneficial in your context? If you wish to get in touch, I'd be delighted to hear from you.

On reflective practice: what do novice teachers most need to know?

Over the last few weeks I've been engaged in researching reflection by trainee language teachers, working in close collaboration with the short courses unit within Warwick University's Centre for Applied Linguistics and a group of young trainees from Japan.

The results of this research will form the substance of my MA dissertation, soon to be finished…but you can view the slides from a presentation I gave to trainee teachers at the start of the project below:

As a teacher - and, for the brief duration of this research project, a teacher trainer - I'm pretty convinced reflection has a vital role to play in our professional practice as educators.

As regards the above slides, I've since changed my views very slightly on Donald Schön's work, as I'm not altogether sure "reflection-in-action" and "reflection-on-action" are qualitatively different. However, the talk did seem to get the research project under way very well, and the audience appeared responsive both during class and subsequently, online. It seems like a good idea to get trainees thinking seriously about the mechanics of what goes on during lessons, and what this might look like to observers besides the teacher himself/herself.

So how about you? Did reflective practice get talked about much while you were training to be a teacher? How does it play a part in your current practice? I'd be interested to hear from you.