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Research shows that students learn more by doing. This means that students learn more when they are actively engaged in the learning process, through assigned tasks or activities. 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 others, not allowing to work?
In this essay, I will focus on the theme of classroom management. The reason I chose this theme was to learn 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 needs to also manage the lesson and class, and this is where classroom management comes in.
In the olden days, the teachers were not considered of having the above mentioned role, but as described in (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002), the teacher role was made of two distinct tasks: i) that of keeping 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.
As time went by, educators started realizing that their role should not only focus on order and good behaviour in class (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). Therefore, the focus started to shift from disciple to other strategies and teachers' skills that facilitated the process of teaching and learning.
What are the techniques that can be used to improve classroom management?
The following sections explains and gives 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 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 behaviour of the students as each of them know 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), student 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, as in this way, the students would not have to follow them by force, but rather understand the need for such rules. Sandlers (2009) further explains that rules and procedures should be established at the beginning of the year and then reinforced as necessary.
During my observations, I noticed that a particular teacher had a number of small charts listing rules and procedures that are needed to be followed during the scholastic year. When I asked him whether it was him who established them, he informed me that during the first lessons, he discussed a number of rules with the students and when they came to an agreement, he printed rules and procedures that they agreed upon and hanged them up in the lab so that he can refer to them whenever any rule is breached or a procedure is not followed. This technique corresponds to what Sandlers (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
A sense of belonging can help in the motivation of the student to learn. improve, and to work to achieve aims (Goodenow, 1993; Wentzel, 2003 in Mansor, Eng, Rasul, Hamzah, & Hamid, 2012). In addition, the study conducted by Azzopardi (2010) indicate that teachers' characteristics such as fairness, friendliness and a good sense of humour can help in creating a positive behaviour and female students also expressed that a good relationship between teachers and students also leads to mutual respect.
During my observations, I noticed that students seemed more relaxed and enjoyed learning whenever there 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 and this helped me in getting to know the students better. I also noticed that as the lessons went by, the students started participating, and asking more questions as I tried to implement the characteristics mentioned by the teachers and students in the study of Azzopardi (2010) and thee characteristics did have an effect on a more successful delivery of the lesson.
Effective time management
"Time management is critical to student achievement and attitudes toward learning" (McLeod, 2003, p. 20)
In order to make the best out of the allocated lesson time, planning is essential, and as explained in (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002), lesson planning should 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 helps create a "productive working environment" (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002, p. 64).
As previously explained, students learn more when they engage in their own learning (Bennett & Dunne, 1992 in Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). That is why, McLeod (2003) promote 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
As can be noticed, 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 establishes what is expected to be done. McLeod (2003) emphasize the fact that the teacher should ensure that enough time should be allocated in explaining and completing activities in order to allow learning take its course.
During my observations, I did notice that a number of teachers, especially ICT teachers, were adopting this type of plan. I also used a similar plan during my teaching practice. I used to first inform the student about what they were going to learn about during the lesson and explain their tasks. Then they could use the worksheet to discover what was needed to be done, 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 to my lecture for 80 minutes.
During a particular history lesson, the teacher used a direct teaching approach, with minimal hands-on tasks, and I realised that many of the students did not follow as whenever he teacher asked a question, the students were not able 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 part and the activity part of the lesson. As explained by Sadler-Smith (1996) in (Mansor, Eng, Rasul, Hamzah, & Hamid, 2012), the teacher needs to keep in mind that students might have different ways of learning. Therefore, it is empirical to create activities and the respective resources that cater for every student (Muijs, 2001 in Mansor, Eng, Rasul, Hamzah, & Hamid, 2012). For example, 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 help 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, with 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. I think that this fact helped me to manage the class a bit more as the students used to be attentive to what I have to say.
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, that is, single file tables and chairs. In fact, during a particular history lesson, the students had to arrange the desks during the lesson in order to be able to work in groups, and then rearrange them again once the lesson finished. This in fact caused a bit of disruption during the lesson, however, 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 a typical computer lab is 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 determine whether someone is not attentive or being 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 managing an environment that helps the students in their learning (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). In order to manage a learning environment, one must realise that this environment does not consist of furniture and students, but is in fact a learning place containing a number of properties that are in affect when learning takes place.
What are the characteristics of a learning environment?
Bezzina and Fenech (2002) refer the review of Doyle (1986) who 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 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" (Doyle, 1986), during my observations I noticed that teachers do 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 have 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" (Doyle, 1986) and "immediacy" (Doyle, 1986) 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 as some students were causing noise in which others could not perform, deal with difficulties of misunderstanding, dealing with failure of technological hardware and so on. McLeod (2003) suggest 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" (Doyle, 1986) 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 of the students during the lesson.
In order to be able to cope with such characteristics, the teacher needs to nurture some skills that are to be used during the lesson. The following section discusses such skills.
Skills that help the teacher in becoming an effective classroom manager
"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)
The following are some techniques and skills that can be used in the classroom to enhance classroom management.
Patience can help in taking appropriate decisions and solve problems (Cunningham, 2003), even those having to do with classroom management. Cunningham (2003) explain 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). Non-verbal messages can be used to correct inadequate behavior without causing further distractions (Rinne, 1982 in Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). Eye contact (Alber, 2012) (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002) (Wang, 2009) is used because, as explained by Harrison (1974) 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, 1971 in Doyle, 1977) (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). This skill was named "withitness" by Kounin (1970) 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 else, 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) in Mansor et al. (2012) claim that this type of acknowledgment and the ability to show caress will help the student feel valued, and as described previously, a sense of belongingness helps in motivating the student to learn (Goodenow, 1993; Wentzel, 2003 in Mansor, Eng, Rasul, Hamzah, & Hamid, 2012).
I noticed this skill being mastered by a number of teachers during my observations. Teachers do ask specific questions to students who seem lost or not paying attention, to determine whether they have understood. I think that this technique also manages the behaviour of the students as if the students are distracted because they were talking, then the student starts paying attention after the question is asked.
Handling concurrent events
Another skill is "overlap" (Doyle, 1977, p. 184), originally termed by Kounin (1970). This skill entails the handling of events concurrently (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002). During the ICT lessons, I used to assign worksheets with instructions to students 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 inappropriate behavior.
Maintaining a good lesson pace
Another skill, which according to Kounin (1970) an effective classroom manager should possess is "movement management" (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 their files, writing material and diaries at the beginning of the lesson. While noting down the attendance, I used to ask 3 students to distribute the name tags, and while the students are going to their computers, I used to ask a student to help me distribute the worksheets. In this way, the students had no idle time in which they could cause disruptions.
Creating collaborative activities
The final skill that Kounin (1970) termed was "group focus" (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 (Doyle, 1977). Activities can 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, which I believe is an important activity as they are revising. 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 are on task, she used to go round the groups and ask them whether they have any difficulties.
As explained, there are a number of techniques and skills that are needed 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 in Bezzina & Fenech, 2002) with the aim of maintaining order and good behaviour in the process (Bezzina & Fenech, 2002) (Purkey & Avila, 1971).