Monday, 21 July 2014

Workshop No. 5: Class Management & Lesson planning

          My third instalment in a series of reports on the IIEEC Teacher Training Program. I do apologise for such a big wall of text in advance, if any of you are able to go through the ordeal of reading my ramblings I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Class Management & Lesson planning was presented by Naoko Saitio and it's an area of my teaching that I currently wish to develop the most 

         Classroom management is crucial to creating the most optimal learning environment for your students, whilst a solid lesson plan is something every teacher should be equipped with in order to transition between activities smoothly and to avoid spiralling into a state of panic when things don’t quite go how you imagined. This workshop covered how to manage our classes in the most effective manner as well as how to build lessons plans that give the students the motivation and incentive to improve their English. A good lesson does not solely depend on the teaching ability of a teacher, having a successful lesson means that you must be able to plan accordingly and have the ability to stay composed and encourage your students no matter the circumstances. I must confess that classroom management is probably the aspect of my teaching that needs to be improved the most so I listened very intently and was very busy scribbling notes throughout this session.
            We covered several key topics when considering classroom management such as; discipline, praise and motivation, the use of classroom language and also the use of the mother tongue. Let’s start with discipline. It’s usually quite straight forward to spot the “problem” pupils; maybe they prefer to roll around on the floor instead of take part in the lesson or would rather continually blabber on in their native tongue. A good way of avoiding these situations in the first place is to make sure the students are always engaged and focused on the task at hand by having active student centred lessons (a good lesson plan comes in handy here!). However times will arise when you will have to discipline your students, and we were instructed to consider the “good” and “bad” ways of disciplining our students. We should avoid comparing the student’s behaviour to each other’s whilst not continuously scolding a repeat offender as your words will fall on death ears.
            Instead of resorting to scolding students, we can establish a set of classroom rules that outline the teacher’s expectations and what constitutes as acceptable or inappropriate behaviour. The students, as well as their parents, should be made aware of these rules and it is important to remain consistent when enforcing them. Additionally we can have the rules written and clearly displayed in the classroom to serve as a friendly reminder to the students, it is much easier to remind the students, or let them remind each other, what is expected of them rather than having to resort to disciplining them continuously. Telling students off should be kept as a last resort and avoided as much as possible. I always find changing your tone of voice when addressing misbehaving students works wonders, it also doesn’t hurt to arm yourself with a mean glare either.
            As for giving praise, we have to be very careful. If we give too much praise, especially undeservingly, students will begin to ignore praise as it becomes something that is expected and not earned. We were taught the importance of praise to promote motivation, as praise serves as encouragement, whilst being aware of “praise junkies” who become dependent on praise and recognition. By praising each student conditionally and subjectively based on their individual progress we can instil confidence and the desire to challenge themselves. By giving specific praise to individual accomplishments, we can show our students that the praise is genuine and that we are investing a real interest in them and what they are doing. This will lead to intrinsic motivation that comes from within, the students will become more willing to complete tasks and take genuine joy in doing so rather than doing them out of necessity.
            The point I found most interesting about classroom management from this workshop was the use of L1 within the classroom. Japanese parents typically prefer to send their children to classes taught by native speakers and this is reflected in many English schools in Japan primarily hiring native English speakers, with little to no focus on their Japanese speaking ability, due to the demand on behalf of the parents. However if we consider classroom management objectively, most of us will come to the conclusion that economical use of key words in L1 will in fact benefit the students as well as avoiding confusion when understanding the meanings of certain words or phrases. I always make a note to confirm the homework task with my students in L1 to avoid instances with uncompleted homework with the excuse “I didn’t know what to do”.
I am in complete agreement with this stance of teaching young learners, even though I sometimes have a bad tendency in overusing L1 when it comes to introducing a new game or activity. Let’s consider a situation I experienced where the use of L1 helped clear confusion: in one of my classes we were learning the phrase “I like” with items of food, the students came to a reasonable conclusion that the phrase was only associated when talking about things we like to eat as those were the only examples we covered during the lesson. When I asked them whether they like cats or dogs they all responded with looks of distaste and called out in unison “No I don’t!”, even though they regularly comment on how “kawaii” the illustrations from the textbook are. In this instance a quick clarification of “like” = “suki” resolves any confusion whilst minimising interaction in the native tongue. All it takes is picking out the key word from a sentence, not translation everything word for word, for the students to come to a better understanding of the English language.
Following in from the use of the mother tongue we considered the importance of classroom English. There are two types of classroom English that we must be aware of: a teacher’s classroom English and the students’ classroom English. Now hopefully the teacher’s classroom English the students are exposed to are along the lines of “Take out your homework please” and “Close your books”, rather than “Shut up!” or “Stop punching each other!” Classroom language is the most natural form of speaking that can occur within the classroom and should be used at every available opportunity, even if they are not taught as a part of the usual curriculum. Once the students become familiarized with the common expressions it deters the use of L1, there is nothing more infuriating to me than hearing “Nann pergi?” (What page?) for the umpteenth time having repeated “Open you books to page X” several times.  However, through responding to and using classroom language on a regular basis, these expressions will eventually become second nature to young learners allowing them to react automatically to instructions (or as the case may be being told off).
The final point to be covered was creating the ideal lesson plan, no easy feat as there is much to consider. Firstly we must look at the different kinds of lesson plans: long term plan, year plan, unit plan and daily plan. Considering all four of these lesson plans allow us to set realistic short long term goals for our classes and whether or not you and your students are able to reach these goals can also be used for self evaluation. If you were able to hit your target, what were you doing well and how were the students responding to your teaching. In contrast if you were unable to reach your targets you may be able to identify which areas of your teaching need improving or changing.
I was rather encouraged by the fact that my current lesson plans coincided with the suggested daily plan presented in the workshop, although the time I usually spend on the main part of a lesson (i.e new material) exceeded the recommended time allowance by two-fold. I’m unsure whether I am not using class activities efficiently and effectively or my teaching ability is not up to par but I find myself spending 20 minutes or so teaching and practising the main language focus of the lesson. Personally I believe that spending 8-10 minutes on the main part of a lesson is too brief to be able to sufficiently cover the topic and practise for fluency. So as on open question to put forward to those of you reading: How much time do you believe should be spent covering the main language focus of the lesson? Can it really be done in 8-10 minutes or is that an idealistic dream that most teachers may be chasing after for their entire career?
Getting back to the lesson plan as a whole, take careful consideration on how you will approach each lesson. How do you intend to teach the class: drills, group work, pair work, and extra resources such as games or worksheets? What extra resources/material will you need? There’s nothing more panic inducing than realizing halfway through your lesson you don’t have the right. How will transition smoothly between activities? What are your students going to be doing while you prepare for the next activity? Will your lesson be student centred with over 80% speaking time for the students? Or will they be jabbering away about how cool the latest episode of “Yo-kai Watch” was. This is just a brief list of seemingly endless things to consider for each lesson. And let’s not forget an after lesson checklist. How did your students respond? What needs adjusting?  What did your students learn? Mulling over your lesson plans afterwards grants you an opportunity to reflect on how well you managed the class and how you can make improvements to update your lesson plans for the future.
On some occasions however no amount of planning can prepare or save you from unforeseen circumstances that may suddenly spring up. Perhaps over half of your class falls ill, a student slips, falls and bursts into tears or having a busy day at school just takes its toll. Sometimes you have to accept that you cannot be prepared for everything and hope you can act on your feet confidently and automatically when the situation arises.  When I was put in these circumstances early on in my career I wish I had the understanding and hindsight I do now, but it’s the mistakes and bad experiences in which we can learn the most from.
 I feel that I have hugely benefitted from attending this workshop and by consolidating my thoughts onto paper by writing this report. Although my approach to lesson planning may not alter too much, I have gained a better understanding of how to manage my classes more effectively and highlighted my areas of weakness. Hopefully I can take all these and past experiences in my stride to improve myself as a teacher and a human being.