Classroom management and the happy class

Children test their boundaries. It’s their job, it’s how they learn. I, on the other hand, get the inglorious task of pointing out those boundaries while keeping the lesson going at a productive clip. How do I do this in L2 (the target language), when the children are used to being taught in L1 (their mother tongue)? This is a challenge I’ve been faced with time and again. Armed with years of experience under my belt, I can now tell you how to be just as successful as I am (cough).

Let me correct myself: let me give you a few tips that work for me, and who knows? Maybe they’ll work for you, too.

Tip #1: rapport with the classroom teacher

The classroom teacher is the boss. Very often, the children will work very nicely and quietly for the classroom teacher, only to prove quite disruptive the minute another teacher (like me) shows up. It’s important for the class to understand that we teachers are always on the same page, especially when it comes to the rules. So when I enter the classroom, we greet each other and have a short, simple conversation the children can follow. How are you, what a nice shirt you have on today, how are the children today, is there anything special going on, that sort of thing. At the start of the lesson, the teacher may even take one or two children aside and give them special instructions on how to behave, especially if they have proven repetitively disruptive.  At the end of the lesson, we have another short conversation:  what did we learn, how did we work, who gets a special compliment.  The classroom teacher compliments the class for a job well done and I thank the teacher for having such a clever, wonderful class.

This may sound like too much sunshine and compliments. The point is, however, what the children are taking away from these short conversations. First of all, they see that we are in agreement as to what is considered acceptable behavior. They also see that we communicate about them and expect good behavior, no matter who the teacher is at that moment.

Tip #2: keep it simple

For any of my lessons, I have three rules.  No more than that. I have found that three rules cover pretty much whatever I need the children to do.  In all other cases, I refer to the classroom rules, which are often posted somewhere in the class.  Not that I read it aloud, but I can point to it and ask someone to explain what that rule is.

For instance, for my pre-schoolers:

  1. sit and listen quietly
  2. raise your hand
  3. no copy-catting

For an older class, the rules are different:

  1. speak English
  2. raise your hand
  3. have fun!

I have these rules illustrated on laminated card, and when I find children are having a hard time following a rule, I simply hold up the card and state “we’re forgetting rule number …” No need for long discussions that disrupt the pace of the lesson. On very rare occassion, I will actually pull out three blocks and put them next to the picture.  Every time the rule is forgotten, I simply snap my fingers, point at the child, then the rule, and take away a block. I don’t say a word, there’s no need to. When there is still a block left at the end of the lesson, I praise the child for learning to remember that particular rule. A simple “I know you were having a hard time (sitting on your chair/keeping your hands to yourself/etc), but you remembered later on. Well done,” is sufficient.

Tip #3: keep it positive

Children love compliments. When an entire class is being noisy, I point to the picture of a child sitting quietly (yes, I have this on the whiteboard), and when I notice one other child sitting just like that, I give him or her a thumbs-up. And then the next child, and the next. Until entire rows or tables full of children are sitting quietly, ready for the lesson.  A simple “Wow, look at Johnny, he’s sitting nicely” works wonders among kindergarteners. They may not understand what I’m saying, but they do get the fact that I’m quite pleased with Johnny and now they all want to be just like him and get compliments.

Children like to be noticed.  When I notice a child catching himself and correcting his behavior, I say so. “I saw how you stopped laughing at your neighbor and helped him, instead. Very good.” Compliments inform them of what I want to see.

Remember, “don’t do that, darling” is not concrete. Tell children what you do want to see. “Oh, Julie is sitting quietly. Can you sit quietly, too?”

That’s enough of my soapbox for today. Do you have any methods that work for you? Let me know! 

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