We can barely speak of dynamics if we think about the traditional methods of teaching and learning English (dynamic meaning changing, active, in motion). Nowadays, learners are no longer pinned down to their chairs and the teacher is no longer pinned to his/her desk. The dynamics of the language teaching methodology has brought about changes in the way we perceive classroom management today. It has become one of the challenges of the modern teacher.
Apart from planning, organising, developing and preparing lessons, the modern teacher has to put his innate abilities and his/her acquired teaching skills to work in order to effectively monitor and manage the behaviour of students in the classroom. A very well planned lesson can be interrupted by a disruptive student and it is the teacher’s duty to manage the situation or to solve the conflict. In order to do that he/she has to understand why the conflict emerged and find a solution for the problem. There are various reasons for students to interrupt classes, among which we can mention boredom, lack of respect for the teacher (especially when the students sense the teacher’s insecurity), an act of rebellion (when teachers are seen as being unfair), problems at home or seeking attention.
When talking about classroom management we need to take into consideration aspects of the learning environment and the teacher’s role in creating a warm classroom atmosphere. Here are some important aspects:
- Organisation (how time, space, materials are used);
- Participation (the teacher provides positive, realistic support meant to promote an active participation from students);
- Content information (the teacher can explain, lecture, answer questions, elicit answers, thus leading students to find answers for themselves);
- Provision of samples of language (language exposure through instructions, comments, questions, stories);
- Materials and tasks (the teacher selects or suggests the work to be done or materials to be used);
- Monitoring (the teacher monitors what is happening in the class);
- Informative feedback (the teacher offers information about errors made, how a task was performed, suggestions for future work);
- Structuring and sequencing (the teacher organises the shape of individual lessons);
- Authority (the teacher uses his authority where appropriate- to make decisions, to end an activity etc.).
All of the above are key elements we need to focus on if we want to create optimal conditions in which learning can take place. The elements refer to the specific actions that a teacher must undertake in order to make sure that teaching will indeed turn into learning.
According to Scrivener, “the essential basic skill for classroom management is therefore to be able to look at and read classroom events as they occur and think of possible options available to you, to make appropriate decisions between these options, and to turn them into effective and efficient actions”. (Scrivener, J, 2005)
One of the decisions Scrivener talks about refers to the organising of the students or classroom interaction. We can teach a class as a whole group, we can have students working on their own, performing tasks in pairs or in groups. There are advantages and disadvantages in all of the situations above.
When choosing a certain classroom interaction we need to consider the following factors:
- the task (explanations and demonstrations ask for a whole class activity);
- variety (different student grouping sustains motivation and prevents boredom);
- the mood (changing the grouping of a class can be a good way to change its mood when required; teachers need to feel the “pulse” of their students and to know when to redefine the task).
Whole class grouping
It is suitable for activities where the teacher is acting as a controller (giving explanations or instructions). Lockstep is when the teacher is in front of the class and all the students are “locked” into the same activity, at the same time. It is a default setting for much traditional teaching. Dictionaries define the term lockstep as “a mode of marching in step by a body of persons going one after another as closely as possible.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2003) Students do not get much chance to practise or to talk. Still, it is the best grouping for giving instructions and for checking answers to reading or listening tasks.
Students working on their own
It is a vital step in the development of learner autonomy. Teachers are able to respond to individual student differences (pace of learning, learning style, preferences). As disadvantages, we can say that although it promotes autonomy, it does not encourage cooperation (students do not get to help and motivate one another- and we all know how crucial motivation can be!) and it can involve more materials preparation (different worksheets, different tasks for students with different abilities).
It increases the amount of speaking time students get in the class. It promotes learner independence and cooperation, thus helping to create a more relaxed and a friendlier atmosphere (which leads to a better learning environment). As a downside, we should mention the noise and the “chaos” pairwork can produce, and, also, the effort the teacher has to make to ensure that the students stick to the task and to the target language.
Organising students in larger groups allows them to do a wide range of activities such as writing a group story, role-playing a situation, preparing a presentation, working on a project. It increases the amount of talking for individual students and there is a greater chance of different opinions than in pair work. It also promotes learner autonomy, students making their own decisions in the group.
The role of the teacher regarding this type of grouping is essential: he/she has to know when to offer guidance and when to step aside and just observe, but without losing control over the class (group activities are likely to be noisy, students move from one place to another, some may be domineering and some, passive).
Probably every teacher’s dream is to walk into and out of a disciplined classroom where learning takes place, the students are motivated and cooperating smoothly, the lesson proceeds according to plan. Among the factors which contribute to a disciplined classroom and which are potentially within the control of the teacher we can mention the following: methodology, lesson planning, student motivation, interpersonal relationships and, of course, the teacher’s abilities as a good classroom manager.
Scrivener, J. (2005): Learning Teaching. A Guidebook for English Language Teachers, Second Edition, London, MacMillan, p. 80.
*** (2003): Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, Springfield, Massachusetts, s.v. lockstep.