Continuing off from yesterday’s post about micro skills and management that can really decrease the distance between teacher and student — I thought I’d continue and post up some helpful “small” and practical advice that I’ve gleaned from my diverse 17 years of EFL / ESL teaching.
I do so because (and I’m repeating myself :)) it is the small things that make such a BIG difference. It is the subtle things that count. The quiet things that make one say, “ah, ha! That guy knows what he / she is doing!”. It is much like the method school of acting. I’m one who really bought into this from the first year of teaching – the thought that teaching in a sense is acting. All through teacher’s college I was told — “just be yourself, you’ll do fine!”. What garbage however sincere from the professors and experts.
Teaching I quickly learned is doing whatever it takes to overcome the “situation”. The classroom posing ongoing and ever changing dynamics and the teacher better wear many hats/disguises/voices/postures/methods/minds. Soon enough, my first few times practice teaching, I realized I had to change or change jobs! So I made a pact with myself. When I walk through the classroom doors, I’ll change and do whatever it takes to get my students to succeed. With one be the task master and slave driver – with the other, the guy handing out candied apples. If it works, it works! Be an actor.
So here are some things, some very practical and some just things I found useful — that you can use in your classroom to good effect. They are the “small” things that lead to effective teaching.
1) Use a yellow/ red card system and have a time out area if you are teaching high school or younger. This symbol is universal. You don’t need a long list of rules (though i do advise making one WITH students at the start of the class/course). Yellow is a warning. Red is a time out area. Exclusion. It is human nature not to like this and it works in many cultures.
2) Acoustic signaling device. I’ve seen so many signalling devices but the only successful ones are those that are auditory. A bell works great. But it must be two step. First ring – students freeze (the boys love doing the Mr. Freeze!). Second, softer and relax/regroup. Train them from day one and practice this with students.
1) Pause/Wait. — I’ve had the honor of being in literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of classrooms. One of the biggest “wrongs” I see is that teachers simply don’t “wait” for students to think and respond. They either answer the question for the student or jump for someone to answer immediately. Let us reflect upon the fact that in studies of classrooms — students typically answer a question every 10 hours! (and ask one even less seldom!). They need to think to answer, particularly in EFL / ESL situations where they are using an engine they are not used to driving. WAIT! Be deliberate about it. Lots of the juice and potency is formed during these moments….
2) Praise — if you haven’t praised many students during a lesson, you’d get poor marks from em. I don’t care if your Robin Williams or whoever you are. This is the number one feature that many teachers must work on. For some it comes automatic but for many, it is forgotten. Let’s even praise mistakes!!!! This is crucial in EFL / ESL — reward any act to communicate! Make it a class ritual to celebrate together.
3) Time out signal. This is crucial and very useful. Make your students know you have one and use it. It should always be used when transitioning to L1 (so the brain can separate and handle the inputs) but can also be used for many situations. It gives the students a clear idea of what will happen – it makes the class a group. I just use the basketball referee signal but use whatever your students will understand. It is a great way to transition from one kind of activity to another.
4) Keep your arms open. Just like eye contact you need body contact. Don’t cross your arms or put them behind your back like the serious professor. Keep them open. And I’ll also suggest – touch your students! Now don’t get in an uproar — but it can be done humanly, safely. Just lightly tap them on the head / shoulder. Get a bodily signal of endearment. This is so important. It creates trust and touch is part of the learning dynamic, really is. I remember having a very difficult grade 4 student Cherika. (I hope she isn’t reading this). We had so many tussels and she was having such a hard time at home. Then one day, in the midst of bedlam she hugged me! We were never the same after that. We had connection and a committment to each others well being in that class. We started to work together and not from our various teacher/student vantage points.
More still to come from this “Dogme” school of teaching skills…… I suggest take one of the many things I mentioned and make it a point to work on that for a whole week or two. Consciously try to make it “part of you” . In time, it will become ingrained and subconscious….
I’ll end with a fav. clip of Robin Williams (seeing I mentioned and maybe maligned him on this post 🙂 . Here he shows how to use emotion and control it for the purpose of learning….. It’s called – Rip It Out.
Rip It Out