Let me paint a picture…
A classroom flooded with light from a huge, wall-length window. Not a single desk, only tables to encourage collaboration rather than isolation. And students looking at me with anticipation in their eyes, waiting for the kernels of wisdom I will bestow upon them.
Sigh. Nice dream.
I do have a big window and I do have a classroom full of tables (which I love,) but my students are less like appreciative apostles and more like hungry mosquitos. They come buzzing into the classroom full of questions, emergencies, and conundrums.
I’ve taught both American students and international students and they can all be high need. My heart goes out to the international students more so because I know how anxiety ridden life can be in a foreign country. You never quite feel like you know what’s happening or what’s about to happen. What if you misheard a teacher? What if some health record has expired? What if you have a toothache, but you don’t want to be a bother at your host home. What if you need to buy a plane ticket to travel half-way across the world, the rates are about to shoot up, and you don’t know the school calendar?
I believe strongly that English language learners of all nationalities need special help. They have a lot to negotiate in their daily life without the comfort of linguistic mastery. These students need someone at school that can answer questions about daily life. They need someone they trust. I love being that person, but it makes it very difficult to teach them dependent clauses, transitional phrases or the Great Gatsby.
So, back to the beginning. What is my classroom really like? A small group of Asian kids sitting around a table vying for my attention, answers, promises and resources. I’m trying to prepare them for academic success and they have practical needs with which they trust me. It feels like a constant stream of emergencies are pouring out of them at all times.
I feel strongly that half of my job is to serve as their guidance counselor, to help them learn to navigate the world of the American school system (some schools have the resources to employ both, but not mine.) These kids don’t have their parents with them. They have been sent to the other side of the world as young teenagers, and they need someone to help.
The question then arises: How can I teach them academic content? It is possible to corral the conundrums of the students, help them find solutions to problems AND make it through my lesson plan.
In my next post, I’ll give you some tips and tools that I use to make that happen.
A lifetime ago I taught preschool. Half a lifetime ago I taught in elementary, and I’ve also taught middle school. I’ve worked with English speaking high schoolers and now I’m working with English learning high schoolers. All of them respond to this classroom management technique every time I do it.
That’s it! There’s a few spins you can throw, but it’s never complicated. Here’s how and when I use it.
When I want a class (again, ANY age ANY language) to quiet down, I’ll hold up three fingers and count down out loud.
When I want a class to get out materials, hand in papers, or any other short transition, I count down from 10.
When I give students a slightly more complicated task (for example, getting into small groups,) I’ll count down from 30.
I even count down when a student says they must absolutely or-they’re-going-to-die go to the bathroom. I’ll tell them they have 60 seconds once they cross the threshold. It works!
You can add rewards or restrictions based on their success if you want (if they are ready by the time the countdown is complete, they earn a marble/bingo chip/penny OR if they aren’t ready they lose a …something.)
It may seem too easy, but it can quiet a class, create fast transitions, get students on task, even save your sanity when your subbing.
Stop talking, stop warning, stop thinking of creative programs to focus the attention of your students-it’s all wasting valuable teaching time! Count down and your done.
I was trying to teach a unit on directions. We were supposed to be learning location words, prepositions, learning to give and receive locations. My kids were NOT interested. This class loves to be together. They love to talk, joke, chat and tease. They love to get off topic, create drama and laugh. Have you every had one of those classes? I needed to be strategic in my lesson plan.
The first two days I gave it the direct approach: pull out your books, open to page blah blah blah… It was as exciting as it sounds. Disrespectfully (and yet a little understandably) they tuned me out. I knew what I had to do.
There are three keys to make a lesson grab the attention and imagination of a chatty class: add personalization, risk, and reward.
Here’s how it worked for us:
I wanted to teach them how to give and receive directions. The map in the book held no interest to them so we made our own map.
1. Personalization: I gave each of the students their own house which we added to our “town.” All the kids were given jobs and places of employment which we also added to the picture. Their attention level shot up. Now we have a shoe store, a gas station, a bank, and a department store. I asked them to name their businesses. Now the lesson was becoming personal.
2. Risk: I told them that someone was going to make more money…Soon they were asking for more vocabulary words so they could navigate the map, throw up road construction to sabotage each other’s businesses, make more money, build larger houses, and take over the town. Now there was risk.
3. Reward: They student with the most money or biggest house or the last man standing, won. Each lesson might have a different reward. It isn’t necessary to have an actual, physical prize. There’s nothing like the thrill of the win to encourage learning. Now we have reward.
Students learn best what is relevant. Making a lesson personal, risky and rewarding will create intrinsic motivation and they might even forget they’re learning! Use your imagination.
I would love to hear your experiences. How have you adjusted a lesson to make it personal to your students?