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Research shows that students learn more by doing Bennett Dunne, 1992, as cited in Bezzina Fenech, 2002. This means that students learn when they are actively engaged in the learning process Bezzina Fenech, 2002, p. 75, through assigned tasks or activities (Hattie, 2003). Does this mean that the teacher should then just assign the work to the students at the beginning of the lesson, and allow the students to work on their own? What if the students have difficulties while working? And, what if certain students start disrupting lessons, not allowing other students to work?
In this essay, I will focus on the theme of classroom management, as this enables me to focus more about areas and skills that can help me during my teaching practice, and ultimately my profession.
The teacher's role in the classroom
As described in Hoover (2003), student centred activities, such as debates, should be included in the lesson. In such activities, the role of the teacher should be that of a facilitator of learning (Hoover, 2003). However, the teacher also needs to manage both lesson and class.
In olden days, teachers were not considered as having the above mentioned role, but as described in (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002), the teacher's role consisted of two distinct tasks: i) that of maintaining order, and ii) the transfer of knowledge, with the first being considered as the most important. As explained in (Purkey & Avila, 1971), the methods used to keep discipline in the class were quite negative, and in my opinion a bit extreme, as in many schools, physical punishment was considered as the norm.
Gradually, educators started realizing that their role should not focus only on order and good behaviour in class (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). Consequently, the focus started to shift from discipline to other strategies and teachers' skills that facilitated the process of teaching and learning, while maintaining classroom management (Purkey & Avila, 1971; Bezzina & Fenech, 2002).
What are the techniques that can be used to improve classroom management?
The following sections explain and give concrete examples of the skills and techniques, mentioned by Bezzina and Fenech (2002), as their implementation can help the teacher to manage the classroom better.
The establishment of rules and procedures
Research, and experience, shows that the establishment of rules is quite important. One of the conclusions drawn by the study of Azzopardi (2010), was that the established rules help in controlling the students' behaviour as each of them knows what is expected and what is not. However, many agree that the rules should not be imposed by the teacher, but rather discussed (Sadlers, 2009). As explained by Sadlers (2009), students would be more motivated and willing to follow rules if they were given the opportunity and consulted about what the rules of the classroom should actually be. In this way, the students would not have to follow them rigidly, but rather understand the need for such rules. Sadlers (2009) further explains that rules and procedures should be established at the beginning of the year and then reinforced (Wentzel, 2003) when necessary.
During my observations, I noticed that a particular teacher had a number of small charts listing rules and procedures that had to be followed during the scholastic year. When I asked him whether it was he who had established them, he informed me that during the first lessons, he had discussed a number of rules with the students. When they came to an agreement, he printed rules and procedures that they had agreed upon and hung them up in the lab so that he could refer to them whenever any rule was breached or a procedure not followed. This technique corresponds to what Sadlers (2009) states and explains.
In order to enforce certain procedures and rules, the teacher can make use of adequate rewards (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). For example, the teachers I used to observe used blue cards which are given to students upon improvement and exemplary behaviour, because, as explained in (Purkey & Avila, 1971), reinforcements can also be used to promote positive behaviour. The school used yellow cards that were given in extreme behavioural circumstances.
The ability to establish a good rapport with the students
Wentzel (2003) explains how good teacher-student relationships can help in creating a caring environment. This type of environment can instil a sense of belongingness, and this can motivate the students in exhibiting appropriate behaviour (Wentzel, 2003). In addition, the study conducted by Azzopardi (2010) indicates that teachers' characteristics such as fairness, friendliness and a good sense of humour can help in creating a positive behaviour. Female students also expressed that a good relationship between teachers and students also leads to mutual respect (Azzopardi, 2010).
During my observations, I noticed that students seemed more relaxed and enjoyed learning whenever they had a good relationship with the teacher. During my first couple of days during the teaching practice, I tried to be assertive. However, once I realised that I could loosen a bit, I did so and this helped me in getting to know the students better. I also noticed that as the lessons progressed, the students started participating and asking more questions, I tried to implement the characteristics mentioned by the teachers and students in the study of Azzopardi (2010) and these characteristics certainly bore fruit.
Effective time management
McLeod (2003) states that "time management is critical to student achievement and attitudes toward learning" (p. 20). Lesson planning is essential, and as explained in (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002), this should not be considered as something that is separate from classroom management but something that helps and enforces management, as the activities can be planned in a way that help create a "productive working environment" (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002, p. 64).
Students learn more when they engage in their own learning (Bennett & Dunne, 1992, as cited in Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). That is why, McLeod (2003) promotes a plan of how the lesson should be devised, with the main sections being: (adapted from McLeod, 2003, p.28)
Preparing the materials and resources to be used in the lesson
This plan does allocate time for the students to be engaged in their learning as the teacher needs to introduce the lesson and give instructions that establish what is expected to be done. McLeod (2003) emphasizes the fact that the teacher must ensure that enough time is allocated in explaining and completing activities in order to allow learning take its course.
During my observations, I noticed that a number of teachers, especially ICT teachers, were adopting this type of plan which I implemented during my teaching practice. I used to inform the students about what they were about to learn and then explain their tasks. Then they could use the worksheet to discover what was needed, while at the same time learning about how certain things could be done. During the concluding session, I used to ask questions to determine whether the objectives were understood and learnt through the task. During Computing, I tried to make use of more activities such as web quests, games, quizzes, surveys and pair work that helped the student to engage in learning rather than listen passively to my lecture for 80 minutes.
During a particular history lesson, the teacher used a direct teaching approach, with minimal hands-on tasks. I realised that many students were not following. Whenever the teacher asked a question, the students were unable to answer correctly. Therefore, the way time is managed and used does have an effect on the students' learning.
Use of a variety of resources
The way concepts are planned to be learnt and the use of appropriate resources "is an enabling factor in the successful management of the classroom" (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002, p. 61). Resources can help the teacher, both during the instruction and the activity part of the lesson. As explained by Sadler-Smith (1996), students in the same classroom, might have different ways of learning. Therefore, it is empirical to use strategies, create activities, and use resources that cater for every student (Muijs, 2001). If the teacher is to use a video to cater for the "auditory learners" (Clark, 2011), then I think that the use of subtitles would also enable the "visual learners" (Clark, 2011) to clearly understand what is being said.
During my observations, I noted that many teachers try to vary the resources that they use, especially when it comes to technological resources, the most commonly used being presentations and video clips. I also realized that whenever I used something different during my lesson, the students used to notice and ask me how they can create something similar. This fact has helped me to manage the class positively as the students were always attentive to my instructions.
The organization of the classroom or lab space
Even though McLeod (2003) explains the importance of organizing the classroom at the beginning of the year, as this helps in reducing the time needed to prepare for activities, the layout of all of the classes in which I did my observations were the same, single file tables and chairs. In fact, during a particular history lesson, the students had to arrange the desks in order to be able to work in groups, and then rearrange them again once the lesson was over. Although this caused some disruption during the lesson, the teacher could manage the groups better during the activity.
Figure : A plan of the computing lab (the other labs were similarly structured)
The layout of the computer labs were similar to the one shown in Figure . I found this layout quite effective as I could reach out to the students quite easily. During the development part of the lesson, I could easily perceive whether someone is not attentive or even disruptive. Throughout the activities, I could easily go round the lab in order to help the students in their difficulties, while still monitoring others.
All of the previously characteristics can help in the management of the classroom, not only in trying to maintain discipline, but in creating an environment that helps the students in their learning (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). In order to manage a learning environment, one must realise that this does not consist of furniture and students, but is in fact a learning place containing a number of properties that are in effect when learning takes place.
What are the characteristics of a learning environment?
Doyle (1986, as cited in Bezzina & Fenech, 2002) identified six properties that characterize the learning environment and which any classroom manager, that is the teacher, should be aware of. These include: (Doyle, 1986, as cited in Bezzina & Fenech, 2002)
During my observations and teaching practice, I noticed that these characteristics do play an important role in the learning environment. As regards to multidimensionality, I noticed that teachers try their best to address the different needs and abilities of the students. During an ICT lesson, the students were advised to work in pairs to complete the assigned task. After the lesson, I was informed that many of the students had reading and writing difficulties (Westwood, 2004) and so the teacher decided to create this activity so that they can combine their respective talents to complete the task. I found the simultaneity and immediacy characteristics quite challenging during my teaching practice. During the ICT lessons, I used to distribute an activity worksheet, containing instructions which the students needed to follow. During such an activity I had to deal with distractions, difficulties of misunderstanding, deal with failure of technological hardware and so on. McLeod (2003) suggests that when a group work activity is to be done, then the names of the members of each group should be prepared before the lesson. However, unpredictability is another factor that constitutes the learning environment. While I was preparing for a specific lesson, I organized a list of the names of the students and the input device that they were going to research about during the web quest. However, during the day, five pupils were absent and so I had to make some modification to the list.
In order to be able to cope with such characteristics, the teacher needs to nurture some skills to be used during the lesson (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). The following section discusses such skills.
Skills that help the teacher in becoming an effective classroom manager
The following are some techniques and skills that can be used in the classroom to enhance classroom management, because as Bezzina and Fenech (2002) state "the best class manager possesses an assortment of low-key tactics for gaining student attention, maintaining a smooth and productive flow of activities, and responding to inappropriate behaviour." (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002, p. 67).
Patience can help in taking appropriate decisions and solve problems (Cunningham, 2003), even those having to do with classroom management. Cunningham (2003) explains that positive behaviour can result from calm and patient interventions. During my observations I noticed that when there is some form of distraction, teachers normally stop for a bit until the students calm down, instead of shouting more to get their attention. During my teaching practice, I used to talk to the misbehaving students after the lesson and most of the time, certain incidents were not repeated.
Effective use of non-verbal communication
Good use of non-verbal communication also helps in classroom management (Alber, 2012) (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). Eye contact (Alber, 2012) (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002) (Wang, 2009) is used because, as explained by Harrison (1974, as cited in Wang, 2009), this can indicate whether the teacher is happy with what is going on in the class, even in terms of behavior. The teacher can also raise one hand to lower disturbances (Alber, 2012), and facial cues (Wang, 2009) can transmit information to/from the students, as the teacher can, for example, either indicate that he/she is not happy with their behavior, or determine whether the students are understanding what is being said. Many of the teachers that I observed usually stop for some time whenever there is a lot of distraction in the classroom and continue once there is silence, a technique also mentioned by (Alber, 2012). Furthermore, Alber (2012) states it does take time for such communication to be understood by the students. I tried to use such techniques with a particular ICT class, however, they usually ignored such clues, and this might be the fact that they did not have time to get used to such a technique because of the short duration of the teaching practice.
Awareness of the events in the learning environment
The teacher needs to be continuously aware of what is going on during the lesson (Kounin, 1970, as cited in Doyle, 1977) (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). This skill was named "withitness" by Kounin (1970, as cited in Doyle, 1977, p. 184). The teacher needs to continuously see what the students are doing, even when trying to focus the attention on a particular student who needs help (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002).
Such an awareness can help in determining whether students are interested and learning, or, whether they are not understanding certain concepts (Mansor, Eng, Rasul, Hamzah, & Hamid, 2012). The teacher can use questions to determine the level of understanding of the students (Mansor, Eng, Rasul, Hamzah, & Hamid, 2012). Forsyth and McMillian (1991, as cited in Mansor, Eng, Rasul, Hamzah, & Hamid, 2012) claim that this type of acknowledgment and the ability to show care will help the student feel valued. Such a caring environment enhances the students' sense of belongingness which in turn can help in the engagement of positive behavior (Wentzel, 2003).
I noticed this skill being mastered by a number of teachers during my observations. Teachers tend to ask specific questions to students who seem lost or not paying attention, in order to determine whether they have actually understood. Students who have been distracted will eventually realise that they have to pay attention in order to be able to answer properly.
Handling concurrent events
Another skill is "overlap" (Kounin, 1970, as cited in Doyle, 1977, p. 184). This skill entails the handling of events concurrently (Kounin, 1970 as cited in Doyle, 1977) (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). During the ICT lessons, I used to assign to students worksheets with instructions which they had to complete. During this activity, I had to apply this skill frequently as I had to help students in their difficulties, acknowledge students who raise their hand for help, ask the students who were not working out the sheet whether they have any difficulties, and look out for misbehaviour.
Maintaining a good lesson pace
Another skill which an effective classroom manager should possess is "movement management" (Kounin, 1970, as cited in Doyle, 1977, p. 184). Bezzina and Fenech (2002), explain that the teachers should maintain a regular lesson pace, while engaging the students in a number of tasks and reducing waste of time. Based on my observations, I used to ask the students to get out their files, writing material and diaries at the beginning of the lesson. While taking the attendance, I used to ask three students to distribute the name tags. While the students were going to their computers, I used to ask a student to help me distribute the worksheets. Thus, the students had no idle time in which they could cause disruptions.
Creating collaborative activities
The final skill that Kounin termed was "group focus" (Kounin, 1970, as cited in Doyle, 1977, p. 184). This skill helps the teacher to come up with activities and tasks that allow the students to participate in, without excluding any student in particular (Kounin, 1970, as cited in Doyle, 1977). Activities can be classroom based. As explained by Bezzina and Fenech (2002), the teacher can start asking questions to certain students. During my observations, I realized that a number of teachers use such a technique during the introduction, where they ask questions about the concepts learnt in the previous lesson. This is an important activity of revision work. The activities can also be group based, where as described in (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002), the task of the teacher is to determine that every team member understood what has to be done and to help when in difficulty. A particular history teacher used to incorporate group work within the lessons that I used to observe. While the students were on task, she used to go round the groups and ask them whether they had any difficulties.
Undoubtedly, there are a number of techniques and skills that need to be mastered to manage a class adequately. One must keep in mind that management does not only entail the corrective measures that are taken to correct an undesired behaviour (what Purkey and Avila (1971) refers to as discipline), but the measures that are considered and taken to enhance the learning environment, and the type of activities prepared to engage students in their learning (Bennett & Dune, 1992, as cited in Bezzina & Fenech, 2002) with the aim of maintaining order and good behaviour in the process (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002) (Purkey & Avila, 1971).