The teacher’s physical approach and personality in the class is one aspect of class management to consider. Another is one of the teacher’s chief tools: the voice.
How should teachers use their voices in class?
Perhaps the teacher’s most important instrument is the voice. How we speak and what our voice sounds like have a crucial impact on classes. When considering the use of the voice in the management of teaching there are three issues to think about.
Audibility: clearly, teachers need to be audible. They must be sure that the students at the back of the class can hear them just as well as those at the front. But audibility cannot be divorced from voice quality: a rasping shout is always unpleasant.
Teachers do not have to shout to be audible. In fact, in most classrooms, there is a danger of the teachers voice being too loud. Good teachers try to get this balance between audibility and volume just right.
Variety: it is important for teachers to vary the quality of their voices - and the volume they speak at - depending on the type of lesson and the type of activity. So the kind of voice you use to give instructions or introduce a new activity will be different from the voice which is most appropriate for conversation or an informal exchange of views or information.
In one particular situation, teachers often use very loud voices, and that is when they want students to be quiet or stop doing something (see the next section). But it is worth pointing out that speaking quietly is often just as effective a way of getting the students’ attention since, when they realise that you are talking, they will want to stop and listen in case you are saying something important or interesting. However, for teachers who almost never raise their voices, the occasional shouted interjection may have an extremely dramatic effect, and this can sometimes be beneficial.
Conservation: just like opera singers, teachers have to take great care of their voices. It is important that they breathe correctly from the diaphragm so that they don’t strain their larynxes. It is important that they vary their voices throughout a day, avoiding shouting wherever possible, so that they can conserve their vocal energy. Conserving the voice is one thing teachers will want to take into account when planning a day’s or a week’s work.
How should teachers mark the stages of a lesson?
If, as we said in Chapter 1, the teacher needs to provide variety, then clearly he or she will have to include different stages in his or her lessons.
When he or she arrives in the classroom, the teacher needs to start the lesson off. Where possible and appropriate, he or she needs to tell the students what they will be doing or, in a different kind of lesson, needs to discuss with them what they are hoping to achieve.
Teachers do not always explain exactly what they are going to do, however, since they sometimes want to maintain an element of surprise. But even in such cases, a clear start to the lesson is necessary just as a play often starts with the rise of a curtain, or a visit to the doctor starts when he or she asks you, ‘Now then, what seems to be the problem?’ or ‘How can
I help you?’
When an activity has finished and/or another one is about to start, it helps if teachers make this clear through the way they behave and the things they say. It helps students if they are made clearly aware of the end of something and the beginning of what is coming next. Frequently, teachers need to re-focus the students’ attention, or point it in some new direction.
In order for such changes of direction to be effective, the teacher first needs to get the students’ attention. This can sometimes be difficult, especially when teachers try to draw a speaking activity to a conclusion, or when students are working in groups. Some teachers clap their hands to get students’ attention. Some speak loudly, saying things like, ‘Thank you ... now can I have your attention please?’ or ‘OK ... thanks ... let’s all face the front shall we?’ Another method is for the teacher to raise his or her hand. When individual students see this, they raise their hands briefly in reply to indicate that they are now going to be quiet and wait for the next stage.
Finally, when an activity or a lesson has finished, it helps if the teacher is able to provide some kind of closure - a summary of what has happened, perhaps, or a prediction of what will take place in the next lesson. Sometimes, teachers find themselves in the middle of something when the bell goes, but this is unfortunate, because it leaves unfinished business behind, and a sense of incompleteness. It is much better to round the lesson off successfully.
What's the best seating arrangement for a class?
In many classrooms around the world students sit in orderly rows. Sometimes, their chairs have little wooden palettes on one of the arms as surfaces to write on. Sometimes, the students will have desks in front of them. It is not unknown to find the chairs bolted to the floor. At the front of such classrooms, frequently on a raised platform (so that all the students can see them), stand the teachers. In contrast, there are other institutions where you can find students sitting in a large circle around the walls of the classroom. Or you may see small groups of them working in different parts of the room. Sometimes, they are arranged in a horseshoe shape around the teacher. Sometimes, it is not immediately obvious who the teacher is.
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Different seating arrangments in class
Clearly, we are seeing a number of different approaches in the different arrangements of chairs and tables and this raises a number of questions. Are schools which use a variety of seating plans progressive or merely modish, for example? Is there something intrinsically superior about rigid seating arrangements - or are such classrooms the product of traditional orthodoxy? Is one kind of seating arrangement better than another? What are the advantages of each? The following discusses these various arrangements.
Orderly rows: when the students sit in rows in classrooms, there are obvious advantages. It means that the teacher has a clear view of all the students and the students can all see the teacher - in whose direction they are facing. It makes lecturing easy, enabling the teacher to maintain eye contact with the people he or she is talking to. It also makes discipline easier since it is more difficult to be disruptive when you are sitting in a row. If there are aisles in the classroom, the teacher can easily walk up and down making more personal contact with individual students and watching what they are doing.
Orderly rows imply teachers working with the whole class. Some activities are especially suited to this kind of organisation: explaining a grammar point, watching a video, using the board, demonstrating text organisation on an overhead transparency which shows a paragraph, for example. It is also useful when students are involved in certain kinds of language practice (as we shall see in Chapter 6). If all the students are focused on a task, the whole class gets the same messages.
When teachers are working with the whole class sitting in orderly rows, it is vitally important to make sure that they remain in contact with the students and that they keep everyone involved. So, if they are asking questions to the class, they must remember to ask students at the back, the quiet ones perhaps, rather than just the ones nearest them. They must move round so that they can see all the students to gauge their reactions to whats going on.
One trick that many teachers use is to keep their students guessing. Especially where teachers need to ask individual students questions, it is important that they should not do so in order, student after student, line by line. That way, the procedure becomes very tedious and the students know when they are going to be asked and, once this has happened, that they are not going to be asked again. It is much better to ask students from all parts of the room in apparently random order. It keeps everyone on their toes!
In many classrooms of the world, teachers are faced with classe^ of anywhere between 40 and 200 students at a time. In such circumstances, orderly rows may well be the best or only solution.
Circles and horseshoes: in smaller classes, many teachers and students prefer circles or horseshoes. In a horseshoe, the teacher will probably be at the open end of the arrangement since that may well be where the board, overhead projector and/or tape recorder are situated. In a circle, the teacher’s position - where the board is situated - is less dominating.
Classes which are arranged in a circle make quite a strong statement about what the teacher and the students believe in. The Round Table in the legends about King Arthur was designed by him specially so that there would not be arguments about who was more important than who — and that included the King himself when they were in a meeting. So it is in classrooms. With all the people in the room sitting in a circle, there is a far greater feeling of equality than when the teacher stays out at the front. This may not be quite so true of the horseshoe shape where the teacher is often located in a central position, but even here the teacher has a much greater opportunity to get close to the students.
If, therefore, teachers believe in lowering the barriers between themselves and their students, this kind of seating arrangement will help. There are other advantages too, chief among which is the fact that all the students can see each other. In an ‘orderly row’ classroom, you have to turn round - that is, away from the teacher - if you want to make eye contact with someone behind you. In a circle or a horseshoe, no such disruption is necessary. The classroom is thus a more intimate place and the potential for students to share feelings and information through talking, eye contact or expressive body movements (eyebrow-raising, shoulder-shrugging etc.) is far greater.
Separate tables: Even circles and horseshoes seem rather formal compared to classes where students are seated in small groups at individual tables. In such classrooms, you might see the teacher walking around checking the students’ work and helping out if they are having difficulties - prompting the students at this table, or explaining something to the students at the table in the corner.
When students sit in small groups at individual tables, the atmosphere in the class is much less hierarchical than in other arrangements. It is much easier for the teacher to work at one table while the others get on with their own work. It feels less like teacher and students and more like responsible adults getting on with the business of learning.
However, this arrangement is not without its own problems. In the first place, students may not always want to be with the same colleagues: indeed, their preferences may change over time. Secondly, it makes ‘whole-class’ teaching more difficult, since the students are more diffuse and separated.
The way students sit says a lot about the style of the teacher or the institution where the lessons take place. Many teachers would like to rearrange their classes so that they are not always faced with rows and rows of bored faces. Even where this is physically impossible - in terms of furniture, for example - there are things they can do to achieve this as we shall see in the next section.
What different student groupings can teachers use?
Whatever the seating arrangements in a classroom, students can be organised in different ways: they can work as a whole class, in groups, in pairs, or individually.
Whole class: as we have seen, there are many occasions when a teacher working with the class as a whole is the best type of classroom organisation. However, this does not always mean the class sitting in orderly rows; whatever the seating arrangement, the teacher can have the students focus on him or her and the task in hand.
Groupwork and pairwork: these have become increasingly popular in language teaching since they are seen to have many advantages. Groupwork is a cooperative activity: five students, perhaps, discussing a topic, doing a role-play or solving a problem. In groups, students tend to participate more equally, and they are also more able to experiment and use the language than they are in a whole-class arrangement.
Pairwork has many of the same advantages. It is mathematically attractive if nothing else; the moment students get into pairs and start working on a problem or talking about something, many more of them will be doing the activity than if the teacher was working with the whole class, where only one student talks at a time.
Both pairwork and groupwork give the students chances for greater independence. Because they are working together without the teacher controlling every move, they take some of their own learning decisions, they decide what language to use to complete a certain task, and they can work without the pressure of the whole class listening to what they are doing. Decisions are cooperatively arrived at, responsibilities are shared.
The other great advantage of groupwork and pairwork (but especially groupwork) is that they give the teacher the opportunity to work with individual students. While groups A and C are doing one task, the teacher can spend some time with Group B who need special attention.
Neither groupwork nor pairwork are without their problems. As with ‘separate table’ seating, students may not like the people they are grouped or paired with. In any one group or pair, one student may dominate while the others stay silent. In difficult classes, groupwork may encourage students to be more disruptive than they would be in a whole-class setting, and, especially in a class where students share the same first language, they may revert to their first language, rather than English, when the teacher is not working with them.
Apart from groupwork and pairwork, the other alternative to whole-class teaching is solowork.
Solowork: this can have many advantages: it allows students to work at their own speed, allows them thinking time, allows them, in short, to be individuals. It often provides welcome relief from the group-centred nature of much language teaching. For the time that solowork takes place, students can relax their public faces and go back to considering their own individual needs and progress.
How much teachers use groupwork, pairwork or solowork depends to a large extent on teacher style and student preferences. Do the students actually enjoy pairwork? What do they get out of it? Do the advantages of groupwork - cooperation, involvement, autonomy - outweigh the advantages of whole-class grouping - clarity, dramatic potential, teacher control? Do the students work conscientiously during solowork sessions?
Good teachers are able to use different class groupings for different activities. While they do this, they will monitor which is more successful and for what, so that they can always seek to be more effective.
How can teachers evaluate the success or failure of their lessons?
All teachers, whether at the start of their careers or after some years of teaching, need to be able to try out new activities and techniques. It is important to be open to such new ideas and take them into the classroom.
But such experimentation will be of little use unless we can then evaluate these activities. Were they successful? Did the students enjoy them? Did they learn anything from them? How could the activities be changed to make them more effective next time?
One way of getting feedback is to ask students simple questions such as ‘Did you like that exercise? Did you find it useful?’ and see what they say. But not all students will discuss topics like this openly in class. It may be better to ask them to write their answers down and hand them in.
Another way of getting reactions to new techniques is to invite a colleague into the classroom and ask him or her to observe what happens and make suggestions afterwards. The lesson could also be videoed.
In general, it is a good idea to get students’ reactions to lessons, and their aspirations about them, clearly stated. Many teachers encourage students to say what they feel about the lessons and how they think the course is going. The simplest way to do this is to ask students once every fortnight, for example, to write down two things they want more of and two things they want less of. The answers you get may prove a fruitful place to start a discussion, and you will then be able to modify what happens in class, if you think it appropriate, in the light of your students’ feelings. Such modifications will greatly enhance the teacher’s ability to manage the class.
Good teacher managers also need to assess how well their students are progressing. This can be done through a variety of measures including homework assignments, speaking activities where the teacher scores the participation of each student, and frequent small progress tests. Good teachers keep a record of their students’ achievements so that they are always aware of how they are getting on. Only if teachers keep such kinds of progress records can they begin to see when teaching and learning has or has not been successful.
In this chapter we have
• discussed the teacher's physical presence, saying that we should pay attention to our proximity to the students, think about how much we move around the class, and consider the appropriacy of our behaviour in general.
• said that teachers need to make contact with their students, especially eye contact.
• discussed the fact that teachers need to be clearly audible without
shouting in a disagreeable way and stressed the need for variety in the way teachers use their voices. Different activities call for different voices, and the varied use of the voice makes for more interesting classes.
• mentioned that it is important for teachers to conserve their voices, perhaps their most important instrument.
• emphasised that teachers need to mark stages and changes of activity clearly so that students know what's going on. We said that successful teachers knew how to start classes and also how to close them so that there was a feeling of completeness.
• looked at different ways of arranging a class physically, from orderly rows to separate tables.
• discussed the uses of 'orderly row' classrooms and said that teachers need to keep in touch with what's going on and involve all the students in such a situation.
• suggested that circles, horseshoes, and, especially, separate tables make a class less regimented and teacher-dominated, whilst recognising that rows have their uses, and that the other arrangements are not without disadvantages.
• looked at the way teachers group students: whole class, groupwork, pairwork and solowork. We have stressed the advantages of groupwork and pairwork and looked at times when solowork comes as a great relief to students. Whole-class teaching is extremely beneficial in certain circumstances too.
• said that teachers need to try out new techniques and that, crucially, they need to evaluate them too. In particular, they need to be able to find out whether the students found them useful and/or enjoyable. We showed ways of doing this.
finished by suggesting that teachers can use a variety of means to keep track of their students' progress - an important part of class management.
• In many of the activities in Chapters 6-10, we will be suggesting the use of groups or pairs. Many of these activities will also work just as well if not better with varying seating arrangements of the kinds we have discussed here.
• When considering lesson planning in Chapter 12, issues of variety, marking stages, seating, groupings etc. will be of vital importance.
• For all the suggested activities in Chapters 6-10 (and in Chapter 11 about using textbooks) it will be vital for the teacher to evaluate how successful the activity has been.
• In Chapter 13 What if? we will look at what to do if students become disruptive - a major management issue.
• The next chapter suggests a model for teachers to follow and briefly discusses other models which have influenced the practice of English language teaching.
How to describe learning and teaching
• What do we know about language learning?
• What elements are necessary for successful language learning in classrooms?
• How do the three elements of ESA fit together in lesson sequences?
• What teaching models have influenced current teaching practice?
What do we know about language learning?
Outside the context of any classroom, all children who are repeatedly exposed to a language will in normal circumstances learn it. They do this unconsciously - rather than as a form of study.
Most adults can learn a language without studying it, providing they are in the right kind of contact with it. Though they may have more trouble with pronunciation and grammar than younger learners, they may still be able to communicate fluently.
However, not all adults who come into contact with a foreign language learn it. They might not want to. Perhaps the language they come into contact with is, in their view, just too complex for them. Perhaps, they don’t hear or see enough of it or have sufficient opportunities to try it out.
Children and adults who do acquire language successfully outside the classroom seem to share certain similarities in their learning experiences. First of all, they are usually exposed to language which they more or less understand even if they can’t produce the same language spontaneously themselves. Secondly, they are motivated to learn the language in order to be able to communicate. And finally, they have opportunities to use the language they are learning, thus giving themselves chances to flex their linguistic muscles - and check their own progress and abilities.
Babies and children get endless exposure to their first language coupled with emotional support. Adults living in a foreign country get continual exposure to the language at various different levels and can get help from the surrounding language speakers.
All these features of natural language acquisition can be difficult to replicate in the classroom, but there are elements which we should try to imitate.
Classroom students don’t usually get the same kind of exposure or encouragement as those who - at whatever age - are picking up’ the language. But that does not mean they cannot learn a language if the right conditions apply. Like language learners outside schools, they will need to be motivated, be exposed to language, and given chances to use it. We can therefore say what elements need to be present in a language classroom to help students learn effectively. We will call these elements (ESA\ three elements which will be present in all - or almost all - classes. They are:
Nhat elements are necessary for iccessful language learning in classrooms?
Engage: this is the point in a teaching sequence where teachers try to arouse the students’ interest, thus involving their emotions.
Most people can remember lessons at school which were uninvolving and where they ‘switched off’ from what was being taught them. Frequently, this was because they were bored, because they were not emotionally engaged with what was going on. Such lessons can be contrasted with lessons where they were amused, moved, stimulated or challenged. It seems quite clear that those lessons involved not only more ‘fun’, but also better learning.
Activities and materials which frequently Engage students include: games (depending on age and type), music, discussions (when handled challengingly), stimulating pictures, dramatic stories, amusing anecdotes etc. But even where such activities and materials are not used, teachers will want to ensure that their students Engage with the topic, exercise or language they are going to be dealing with. They will ask students what they think of a topic before asking them to read about it, for example. They will look at the picture of a person and be asked to guess what their occupation is before they listen to that person on tape, they will have been stimulated by the fact that the teacher (who normally dresses very formally and always stays in the same place in class) suddenly arrives in class dressed casually and moves around the room with unaccustomed ease, and so on.
When students are Engaged, they learn better than when they are partly or wholly disengaged!
Study: Study activities are those where the students are asked to focus in on language (or information) and how it is constructed. They range from the study and practice of a single sound to an investigation of how a writer achieves a particular effect in a long text; from an examination and practice of a verb tense to the study of a transcript of informal speech to discuss spoken style.
Students can study in a variety of different styles: the teacher can explain grammar, they can study language evidence to discover grammar for themselves, they can work in groups studying a reading text or vocabulary. But whatever the style, Study means any stage at which the construction of language is the main focus.
Some typical areas for Study might be the study and practice of the vowel sound in ‘ship’ and ‘sheep’ (e.g. ‘chip, cheap, dip, deep, bit, beat’ etc.), the study and practice of the third person singular of the present simple (‘He sleeps, She laughs, It works’ etc), the study and practice of inviting patterns (‘Would you like to come to the cinema/to a concert?’ etc.), the study and practice of the way we use pronouns in written discourse (e.g. ‘A man entered a house in Brixton. He was tall with an unusual hat. It was multicoloured ...’ etc.), the study and practice of paragraph organisation (topic sentence, development, conclusion) or of the rules for using ‘make’ and ‘do’.
Successful language learning in a classroom depends on a judicious blend of subconscious language acquisition (through listening and reading, for example) and the kind of Study activities we have looked at here.
Activate: this element describes exercises and activities which are designed to get students using language as freely and ‘communicatively’ as they can. The objective for the students is not to focus on language construction and/or practise specific bits of language (grammar patterns, particular vocabulary items or functions) but for them to use all and any language which may be appropriate for a given situation or topic. Thus, Activate exercises offer students a chance to try out real language use with little or no restriction - a kind of rehearsal for the real world.
Typical Activate exercises include role-plays (where students act out, as realistically as possible, an exchange between a travel agent and a client, for example), advertisement design (where students write and then record a radio commercial, for example), debates and discussions, ‘Describe and Draw’ (where one student tries to get another to draw a picture without that other student being able to see the original), story and poem writing, writing in groups etc.
If students do not have a chance to Activate their knowledge in the safety of a classroom, they may find transferring language acquisition and study into language use in the real world far more problematical.
These ESA elements need to be present in most lessons or teaching sequences. Whether the main focus of the lesson is a piece of grammar (in which case there will be opportunities for Study and Activation), or whether the focus is on reading (where there may be a lot of Activation of language knowledge in the processing of the text, but where, at some stage, the students will also Study the construction of that text or the use of some language within it), students always need to be Engaged, if possible, so that they can get the maximum out of the learning experience. Most students will want to have Studied some aspect of language, however small or of short duration, during a lesson period.