Having laid out the trials and tribulations of the last academic year in my previous post, it’s time to continue the reflective journey. Thinking about what happened in class is all well and good, thinking about why things happened the way they did is even better but to truly gain any benefit from such a thought process, it is necessary to use those reflections to better prepare for future classroom encounters…
So, based on last year’s experiences, I have identified the following things to change, improve and/or think about for the year ahead:
- The crucial first week
This year, I aim to get my lesson programme off to the best start possible. That may sound incredibly obvious but I think that last year I spent a bit too much time on personal introductions and class rules and not enough time on going over course objectives and expectations. I will have four hours with each class in that first week (barring any first week interruptions of course) so in addition to the usual ‘getting to know each other’ activities and negotiating class rules, I have prepared an overview of the course covering what we will do in our regular lessons, how my lessons will be assessed and what the expectations are regarding homework, class blogs and project work. I guess I always considered my 11 year-old students a bit young for this kind of thing in the past but I think it will be useful to do this and have a Q&A about the course rather than adding in extra elements later on.
- Going beyond simply setting rules
Somewhat ironically considering the problems I would ultimately have, I gave a webinar on behalf of the British Council’s TeachingEnglish website last year on classroom management. As I explained how I set some simple rules for the class and then have them set some additional rules of their own, there was a very good suggestion from one of the teachers in attendance - why not get the class to discuss and decide on consequences as well? If a student consistently breaks the rules, they should be aware of what will happen and that should be something the class agrees on. Also, they can decide on consequences for positive behaviour such as a game, a short video or a little free time. Obviously, careful moderation would be needed to avoid ridiculous punishments or exaggerated rewards but this should add to the students’ feelings of being involved in the learning process and an awareness of the consequences of their actions, good and bad,may cause them to think twice before they do or say something out of turn.
- Expect the unexpected
A big headache last year came with all the chopping and changing that went on in the first few weeks as the curricular changes at both a national and school level, combined with regular timetable adjustments, meant chaos reigned. There are further changes to be implemented this year so it is best to be aware of them, to be prepared for anything over the opening period of the semester and to ensure that my students are ready to expect the unexpected as well.
- Bringing a few things in earlier
Last year, I tried to bring in different elements of the English skills programme slowly, first starting with regular lessons, then introducing the online component and adding some extra elements later on. Alas, this seemed to have the effect of (for some students at least) some elements of the course not being taken seriously: when class blogs were introduced, some students never even registered for them; some students took project work too lightly even though it was assessed; some were taken aback when they realised they had an exam for my class; and some simply didn’t respond to any attempts to reinforce class rules and classroom management strategies… So, this year, I will set a class blog task in the first week, making it clear that this is a compulsory component of the course and will be used as a vehicle for homework assignments. The exam dates and assessed project topics have been set and will be shared with the students in the first week. And finally, a discovery I made midway through the last academic year that helped in at least some classes will be put to use from the moment the class rules, consequences and rewards have been decided upon: Class Dojo.
- Prevention is the best cure
This year, I am determined and ready to prevent problems before they begin. The activities for the first week and the discussion about class rules and consequences I have set out above will be part of that. I will also be seeking out the students’ teachers from previous years so I can be aware of any serious behaviour issues, making an effort to ensure the conversation stays focused on how to deal with issues when they arise and what best works for keeping the student engaged rather than giving anyone the chance for a good old moaning session! I will also be demanding contact details for parents (especially email as I can then make sure they are connected to their child’s Class Dojo account) so I can contact directly them in the event of any problems or issues that they should be aware of.
- Being better informedIn addition to knowing about potential behaviour issues with my new students, I will also be making an effort to keep track of any events that occur during the year that may affect the way my classes act. An awareness of things like exam dates and assignment deadlines for other lessons will help me ensure I don’t overload them with other tasks and also allow me to do some ‘lighter’ activities around those times. Also (although these can be sensitive issues) being in the loop regarding changes affecting individual students can help - such as last year when a little sensitivity shown towards one girl whose parents were away on business for an extended period went a long way towards improving her attitude towards me and my lessons in general.
Hopefully, the above ideas, coupled with a bit of flexibility and the ability to react to the individual nature of each class/student, will make this year better than the last one. Of course, there will be a healthy dose of reflection on how well these ideas worked along the way as well…