Last year, I had the opportunity to watch some videos of a teacher’s rough class—you know, that class we kinda wished would just go away, or fix itself over time, but that won’t because that’s not reality. We need concrete steps to take in order to regain MGMT (classroom management) in all classes, and the first one to work on until it’s solid is eliminating opportunities to talk.
In general, transitions are usually when teachers lose kids, even one as simple as collecting and distributing papers. For this reason, assign students to do these jobs so you can keep class going.
Sometimes kids get too excited and want to share their ideas. Most of the time that’s going to be in English, and most of the time that English will be yelled out. I’ve seen people try to fight this. Instead, I say let them! Let them release that energy, but in a controlled way. Allow 10-20 seconds to turn and talk about whatever grabbed their attention. Count quietly back from 5 with “shhh” in between. You’ll come back to a much more focused class. This might almost count as a brain break. Thanks Mike Peto! Also, consider Communication Breaks to pause or reduce input, allowing students to get that energy out by briefly interacting in ways that lack a communicative purpose (e.g. students working together in pairs to complete a Cloze activity).
Many instructions in the target language are too complex, leading to incomprehension. Simplify, or maybe type them up ahead of time in English. When the expectation is that students will read instructions and begin the activity immediately, you’re free to move about and monitor. At the very least, just say them briefly in English! Also, if you need to be giving such complex instructions with multiple steps in the first place, reconsider the activity entirely! Keep things simple.
It’s easy to check out of an incomprehensible message in a second language. When kids check out, they start talking. Maintaining comprehension is THE priority to avoiding MGMT issues.
For anything other than a physical or emotional harm-inflicting moment, just be quiet. Every “c’mon guys” pep-talk has never been more effective than just pausing, calmly staring at the MGMT issue, and waiting for students to realize they’re the only ones not paying attention. In fact, classmates will help you out, and you get to save your voice. Nothing we say or are about say in the target language is worth ruining the connection with a student by calling attention to their behavior in a negative way.
Take a cue from Aikido, and other martial arts that redirect an attacker’s energy. That is, there isn’t one MGMT that can’t suddenly become the focus of class. For example, when a student has their phone out, start asking questions to them and the class about sēcrēta! When two students are talking, start asking questions. It’s really that simple, but requires starting with the calm pause above.
I’ve shared how including short writing tasks throughout class keeps students engaged and focused. It’s easy to sit back and let a peer respond to a teacher question, but if every student has to write down their own response, even just one word, that ability to “check out” is diminished, if not eliminated.
The Unplanned Plan
All of these new strategies can be implemented any time a “reset” needs to be done. The thing about resets of rules & routines is that students don’t ever have to know you’re adjusting. Choose a new grading period, after a holiday, or even the next Monday and enter class like you’re managing it (because you are), announcing something like “Now that it’s ____, here’s what you’re expected to do.” This also works even if you change NOTHING, instead just reminding students of what they might already know, but you act like the reminders have been planned all along.