In my last article, I suggested a few teaching methodologies and strategies when working in EFL classes. While appropriate strategies, applied to learning, work; all is for naught when there is no set classroom environment. In other words, what are the classroom rules and goals that allow you, the teacher, to effectively use proven methodology to teach? And not just to teach, but to accomplish unit objectives and daily goals that you set for your students? This month, I will share some basic classroom rules and goals that I use every day, and my reasoning behind using them.
When discussing overarching goals and objectives that I set for my students, it is important to review both my central focus, and how that focus relates in creating my ideal learning environment. The central focus of my classroom should not be entirely on me, as a teacher and a fountain of knowledge. Instead, I want to share the focus of the class with informational finding and understanding. To accomplish this, I want to set the student's feet on a particular path of knowledge, and let them (the students) lead the way. My role then becomes facilitator, answering questions and keeping students on the chosen path of the day. While the central focus of my classroom is student understanding, that understanding comes through my intervention in making curriculum knowledge accessible. In short, I plan the route, and let students lead the way through discussion, acting, writing, and various exercises. This focus, in turn, leads to creating my ideal learning environment that stimulates learning through teacher/student interaction, gives students hope through having a teacher listen to them, establishes trust between students and the teacher through the teacher working with, instead of against, the students, and has limited, but directed, teacher intervention. This paragraph, then, establishes my overarching goals as a teacher. Let us now see how my goals define various student expectations, expectations in student behavior, classroom climate, and academic goals.
Student behavior is nothing more than the rules teachers establish to govern students. For many teachers, these rules have one thing in common - they all begin with the word "NO." The problem with this rationality is when a teachers states what cannot be done, no positive statement is made as to what will be done in a class - all negative rules do is highlight the bad. With this in mind, I have established a few rules highlighting positive, rather than negative, behaviors.
1. Be Respectful - many teachers have rules stating "no talking back," "no gum chewing," "no writing on desks." Cannot all this negativity be summed up in one positive statement? Yes, it can, and that is what "be respectful" means. It also means more than just no talking, chewing, and destruction. It is a method of treating other students as well. If a student is respectful to his/her teacher, his/her fellow students, and the school's property, than you have a well-behaved student whose life is not governed by a list of "no's."
2. Be Informed - when a student walks into my class he/she needs to be ready for anything. Being informed is more than having homework completed; it includes reading (assigned material as well as outside material), classroom awareness (what are we doing, and where are we in the grand scheme of things), and news awareness (being aware of school, local, state, and national events). Being informed helps in literature interpretation, since many texts relate their stories to events that happened in Thailand or world history.
3. Be Prepared- like the Boy Scouts, a student should be prepared when s/he walks into my class. This preparedness is more than just having a pencil and some paper (although that is nice); it includes being ready for a changing classroom dynamic. Some days may include acting out scenes from the currently studied literature, working on group projects, demonstrating a knowledge base and understanding of material on assessment day, and/or anything my educationally directed mind thinks of. Being prepared for class allows a student to better prepare him/herself for the world.
4. Participate - a student can be as respectful, informed, and prepared as s/he can, and I will never know it unless the student opens his/her mouth in class. My classes are loud, for much learning and understanding comes through interaction between the students and me. One method of assessment I use is how a student responds, orally, to questions I pose to the class. Participation also includes reenactment of literature, drawing, reading aloud, sharing ideas, debate of topics and concepts, and anything else I can think of which brings learning and understanding more accessible to the student.
Combining the aforementioned rules with my central focus let me now describe to you the climate of my class; that is, what can you expect when you walk in to my class? This is the physicality of the classroom environment, how I take my ideas and physically implement them. An important aspect in my ideal learning environment is room layout. Rather than have desks regimentally lined up with no room for deviation, I believe that desk layout should be flexible. My room normally has desks arranged in either a horseshoe or a "V" shape. This allows me instant access to any student who needs immediate help on any project. In my opinion, when a student has a question, it should be answered immediately, and not having rows of desks to navigate aids in that, thus furthering the creation of an ideal learning environment. Desks in a horseshoe arrangement allow another facet in an ideal learning environment - that of performance freedom. With a large, empty space in the middle of the room, students can perform plays and scenes out of books without the stigma of being in front of the class. It also allows me to move freely when lecturing, personally addressing all students, and making them feel like they are part of the learning process, rather than something being "spoken to."
A learning environment should be colorful. Posters, student works, and relevant materials need to be displayed to facilitate learning and understanding. It is important to frequently change wall displays, depending on units taught. All these things, open communication, room layout, and room design, help create what I consider an ideal learning environment.
Through all this, it is my goal to have students achieve certain academic standards related to my central focus as a teacher. Since my central focus is to promote an overall understanding of an English curriculum as provided by a given school, it is my desire to aid students in achieving the following goals:
1. Students will question - question what, you may ask. Anything and everything. The way students learn to interpret literature is to question what the author is trying to say. Through questioning, students learn to create their own interpretations of literature, thus making the story theirs (this means that instead of a teacher dictating interpretations, students question, learn, understand, and develop their own correct interpretation).
2. Students will interpret literature, and be able to link various interpretations to their own lives - in my opinion, people write to share experiences and to inform others. If students can read, understand, interpret, and link a story to their life, then that student can understand more of the world around him/her, and hopefully be able to accomplish goal number three.
3. Students will learn critical thinking - two important aspects of critical thinking are questioning and interpreting. When a student can do these things, s/he can critically think through and analyze anything. For me, the question is, why should students (or young people) have a herd mentality when it comes to forming opinions. Just because "everyone else is doing it," or something is popular, does that make it right for everyone? My students should be able to question, interpret, and critically analyze whether an idea is right for them or not; and if not, how to inform people as to the negative side of something. This leads to:
4. Students will be effective communicators - the above three goals are for naught if a student cannot communicate his/her ideas to the outside world. For me, communication includes both written and oral communication. Students learn how to write essays, plays, and stories in my class. Students learn oral communication through question and answer time, oral presentations, and mock debates. All this prepares students to effectively be rational thinkers, able to take ideas and either make them their own, or discard them as useless. Thus, these four goals could be combined into one overarching goal - that of helping students reach their full individualistic potential, to become a person in their own right, and not just another follower.
The goals that I have for students may seem lofty, and some may doubt whether all of them can be accomplished in a single school year. What is important is that I, as a teacher, implant these ideas into the minds of students.