Classroom Management for World Language Classes

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving, Everyone!

This week’s post is to present a summary of our weekly Twitter professional development as well as announce an exciting new development from #langchat. In early December, from all the participants of our weekly meetings, we’ll release an e-book on the best electronic resources for world language classrooms.

The e-book is a collection of materials, activities and resources pulled from nearly a year’s worth of #langchat meetings. It’s an extensive collection of online tools for all 21st-century teachers, but especially tailored for world language educators. We’re thrilled to produce this book for everyone’s benefit, so stop by soon for your own free copy!

Classroom Management

In other news, this week’s #langchat topic was classroom management for communicative classrooms. Participants shared lots of fantastic ideas over Twitter and in-person at #actfl11 in Denver, and you’ll find the summary below. The full archive is available here.

When we speak of classroom management, we’re referring to keeping students on task and engaged rather than swapping plans for the weekend with their partners. In contrast with most subjects, in language class we want students speaking as much as possible — so long as it’s on topic and in the target language. How do we guide students in this direction?

Keeping It Structured

One way to keep classrooms in control is to keep everything ordered. @alenord has very structured acts and strategies, and as a result has few problems with classes getting out of control. @suarez712002 agrees; she learned that she needed to plan in advance for every minute of her inner-city high school classes.

  • Try scaffolding activities in the same way you scaffold lessons. Students quickly understand that you have to start simple and work your way up (@alenord).

A lot of the time, classroom problems are a result of students not knowing what’s expected and teachers not making it clear (@SECottrell). Provide clear instructions so everyone understands the tasks. Ensure that there is an understood time to complete the activity, and call on students to share at the end (@petreepie).

  • @suarez712002′s formula for good classroom management is simple: clear expectations and transitions. She uses “I can…” statements for each class so kids know the objective.
  • @alenord has a rubric up on the wall so that students can clearly measure themselves and their efforts. She refers to it often to remind students that the basic response is not enough for the grade they want.
  • Students also sit up and pay attention when @alenord describes how they are going to be assessed.
  • Every day, @Watermelonworks reiterates to students the class expectations for respect. Then they get to work.

Gestures and basic routines are essential for immersion classrooms and for younger kids.

  • @SECottrell uses actions to demonstrate whether she wants a whole-class response (hand to ear) or an individual one (raised hand).
  • @nnaditz teaches basic routines for materials distribution and collection, entering and leaving, and changing partners. Teach these at the beginning of the year; repetition and understanding supports learning the target language, too.
  • Several participants’ schools have school-wide gestures for routines such as silence (right hand up).
  • To get students’ attention, @muchachitaMJ says (in the target language) “Your attention — 1-2-3 — clap your hands!” Students clap their hands twice and they continue with class, no time wasted.

Keeping It Moving

Keep the class flowing so that kids are constantly engaged. The same routine or class setup continued for too long will bore kids and make them restless. This goes for you, too! Always be on your feet walking around the classroom (@jklopp). This keeps class lively and you near the students; proximity is enough to get some students to focus (@pamwesely).

Try using stations or activities with set time limits. Changing stations gets students up and moving and gives them a chance to refocus (@petreepie). This approach also gives you opportunities to connect with students on a more personal level (@WatchKnowLearn).

  • @jklopp spends about 10-15 minutes on an activity, then she changes things up. She uses sounds — clappers, horns, bells and whistles — to change from one activity to the next.
  • @WatchKnowLearn uses 20 minutes per station with groups of four, and marks changes from activity to activity by flipping the light on and off. If the lights stay off, kids know it’s a no-talking period. This helps to calm them down at the end of the more lively activities and before sending them to the next class.
  • @profesorM plays Spanish music while kids are working. When the music stops, so do the kids.
  • For stations in large classes, @WatchKnowLearn keeps the relevant materials in folders as much as possible so that the materials move every 20 minutes, rather than 24 students at once.

Several teachers suggest that a good tool for keeping activities and groups on task is a timer, both so students know how much time is left and so they’re involved in racing the clock. Try anything from a tea timer to an online app. Promethean and SMART™ boards usually have helpful programs that are easy to run.

Keeping it Organized

Classroom setup and seating charts can really benefit your management efforts. @SECottrell ensures she sits students with other students of differing abilities, and manipulates seating as abilities evolve. Try some of the following layout strategies and then tweak to match your unique needs.

  • For the stations and centers mentioned above, @WatchKnowLearn sets up centers each Monday for use throughout the week. Each center should have an even number of students, but not too many.
  • @AudreyMisiano has a large aisle down the center of the room with two rows of students on each side, facing each other. Makes it easy to keep track of all the kids. Other participants mentioned rows being easier to pair up students or make groups of four.
  • In @dr_dmd’s French 1 classes of 36 students, he organizes kids into tables of four, which he considers the perfect number for small group work on projects and conversation practice. Several other teachers expressed good results when working in tables of four desks put together.

Dealing with Troublemakers

Some kids just want attention — so give it to them! @jklopp gets her trouble students to talk about themselves in the target language. Other times, students act up because of some of the issues above. If kids are creating trouble, how else can we control the class?

Groups of all kinds, including stations or centers, are great. Students hold each other accountable when in groups. Teams, too. When competing for points, team members keep other students in line — but keep it civil.

Consistency is important. You can’t treat some kids differently or constantly pass out warnings without an action (@WatchKnowLearn).

Tried-and-true teaching tools still have a place in these modern times, too. Strict tones and the classic “teacher’s look,” for example.

  • @alenord’s dark secret? A metal ruler she slaps against her palm in a threatening manner.
  • Silence tends to make Americans uncomfortable, and it often works to get students to refocus and pay attention.

You may at times dread the thought of administrators or fellow teachers watching your troublesome classes. Don’t! Seek outside assistance, they might pick up on something you’re missing. Ask observers to check out your challenging classes instead of the ones that are highly motivated (@suarez712002).

Good Habits for Classroom Management

Participants shared a lot of their personal tips and tricks for connecting with and controlling students. Lots of varied ideas, and all effective.

Many participants believe that good rapport is a great way to control kids. You’re the boss, but you’re also a mentor, friend and role model.

  • @jklopp finds something to love about each of her students. Also, when she teaches, she teaches to each student’s eyes, not the empty space above their heads.
  • Invest in your students outside of class, too. Many participants like to speak the target language with students wherever they see them: in the hall, at the gym, while shopping.
    • @klafrench finds that the more of her students’ games, concerts and matches that she goes to, the better they get in class.
  • Join the students! They really like it when you participate and work through activities with them.
  • At the same time, you might find it useful to start the year tough and lighten up as you go. You can squash any potential troublesome issues in this way, and you’ll become students’ friend while maintaining the teacher aura.

Praise is a simple class-control tool that sets expectations and patterns of behavior for students to follow while motivating individuals to continue doing well.

  • @SECottrell has been told to say “I love how…is sitting” to get others to emulate that student. Not her favorite technique, but it works.
  • Be specific when you praise for the best effect. “Great attention to the past tense!” versus “Good answer!” (@suarez712002).

Requiring that students use the target language is a great, on-topic method to keep the volume down in class.

  • @SECottrell’s students settled down when they had to start “paying” to speak English.
  • @klafrench’s students have to stand in the “English box” in order to speak English.
  • @klafrench also has a stuffed snail named “Gaston” that gives students permission to speak English. A student must ask the snail whether it’s ok to speak; another student interprets whether the snail says “oui” or “non.”
    • (Note: Students love telling their classmates “non,” so great way to maintain the target language!)

In addition to their many other advantages (which you can read about in this post on authentic resources for novice learners and this post on presenting culture in the classroom), authentic materials are also great for maintaining discipline. Students really need to pay attention to comprehend these materials, which keeps them focused in class.

  • Same goes for a total-immersion classroom. If students need to focus on you and your gestures to understand what they’re expected to do, they will naturally follow class more and communicate in English less.

Empower your students! @sonrisadelcampo often plans two activities and lets students choose the order. Having a say in the class organization gets kids participating and keeps the need for control down.

Further Resources and Information

Thank You!

In the end, communicative classrooms are a good thing. You can’t learn a world language by reading a textbook like you can world history. If the class is noisy because the students are speaking the target language, good job! If it’s out of hand, however, we’re confident that the tips provided by your colleagues above will help you take back control.

Do you have any more suggestions? Did you miss the online #langchat because you were busy catching up with fellow #langchatters at #actfl11? Please, share your comments below! Your colleagues would love to hear from you.

Coming Soon…

Next week we will not hold a #langchat as everyone celebrates Thanksgiving with their loved ones. Hope everyone has a great holiday! Here at #langchat, we’re very thankful for all the teachers that share, challenge and inspire us every week, and this is why we’d like to give back to the community by providing easy access to all your great online resource suggestions since the beginning of #langchat in one convenient book.

What are you thankful for?

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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2 Responses to Classroom Management for World Language Classes

  1. Spanishplans says:

    Thank you so much for this summary. I wanted to reference the communication rubric @alenord had posted, but I had it saved on my home computer and not my school computer. I was able to do a google search and found it on this page! Thanks!!

  2. Amy Lenord says:

    Great summary! It’s nice to go back and read all the comments in an organized fashion. Thanks!

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