I recently participated in a LIVE event on social media to discuss questions about Classroom management and group dynamics for teenagers with Montse Costafreda. This topic has always been important because of the challenges it presents, and opportunities for development it provides. Over the years the idea about our role as a teacher has changed in terms of classroom management, from a set of actions to maintain discipline, to ways of creating a positive atmosphere.
What is classroom management?
First, let’s look at what classroom management is. Classroom management is a set of teacher actions – which cannot be separated from the teaching process – to create, implement and maintain a learning environment within the classroom. As you can see, it is less concerned with controlling student behaviour, and more concerned with creating the right conditions where students flourish.
However, the picture is complete only with the students themselves. So, I did a quick survey among teenagers I know to find out the greatest challenges they face in their learning, what makes a learning environment somewhere where they can flourish, and some solutions they see for each of these. The difficulties and obstacles they highlighted seem all to have been connected to vulnerability.
I am sure you remember the emotional roller-coaster you went through as a teenager. Today’s teenagers are going through the same states. These are the years when they are working hard on getting detached from their parents, on finding their own paths towards a fully independent life. Imagine a bird growing its wings and trying to fly for the first time. How safe do you think they are feeling at that moment? How much self-confidence do they need to set off on their own? Deep down today’s teenagers tend to be extremely fragile and vulnerable. They talked about fear a lot, fear from not being accepted the way they are, and of not knowing how to get started in their lives. Here are some examples of the things they said:
“I am afraid of being bullied by my classmates. I’d better not ask my questions in front of the class.”
“I am afraid of making mistakes.”
“I am afraid of looking silly in front of others.”
“Others must be better than I am, so I’d better not say anything.”
“I am afraid of making decisions. I am not sure what is going to happen as a result.”
“Neither the teacher nor my classmates are interested in what I would like to say, in my questions.”
Besides talking about their – quite normal – fears and worries, they were also quick at describing the solutions they would welcome.
One of my teenage students said about her history teacher: “I knew that we must be in a safe environment because I saw she almost started to cry when she was talking about the holocaust.” This shows how important it is for our students to see that we, teachers accept and express our own feelings, and therefore we will also be ready to open up to the way they are feeling too.
Talk about emotional self-regulation strategies
Do regular emotional check-ins as we discussed in the LIVE event. Make sure all students are given space to talk and/or write about their feelings. For example, anxiety, and possible ways of dealing with it.
Do not allow any form of disrespect towards each other. If you notice any such instances, start a discussion about the effects of disrespect towards each other in a completely non-judgemental way, first in small groups, then as a whole class. If necessary, feel free to conduct this in L1.
Talking about challenges you have faced and the way you have overcome them can be quite liberating for your students. This can serve as a great example of strategies to be used.
Talk about the role of mistakes
Praise ideas, creativity, thinking, openness, respect, collaboration, and other values before you start correcting mistakes. Also, discuss how allowing mistakes in any kind of learning, whether that is learning to cycle or learning a language, helps them towards the next step. Talk about the mistakes you have made and ways they helped you learn.
Incorporate more pair and group work
Small group work gives teenagers a safe environment to share their ideas, to check their language use before they talk in front of the class. Teenagers reported how important the intimacy of such pair or group work, and the support they experience, helps them prepare to express themselves in front of a larger audience.
Teenagers told me how much more responsibility they feel towards their own learning if the teacher asks them what they would like to achieve by the end of the term/year/in two years’ time, instead of just telling them about their teaching aims. Ask students to identify their own aims first. Students then discuss their aims in small groups and as a class to harmonise class learning goals. Then they can be invited to look at the coursebook to see which topics/units help them towards achieving their aims and identify learning paths together.
Project work with responsibilities
Project work with set roles and responsibilities is one of the most efficient ways of developing responsibility. Not only for their own work but also towards the group outcome. It is an ideal way to teach them the power of trust and the ability to rely on each other.
Feedback and appreciation
Finally, do really listen to them. Listen to their ideas, to their questions and express your appreciation towards their interests, knowledge and life skills. These are essential for them to feel that they can safely move towards becoming more independent. Give greater space to self-assessment through guiding questions, such as “What made your writing good, do you think? What are some areas you could improve? How do you think you could make it better?”
Looking for more advice on classroom management?
Find out how to create the best learning atmosphere for your teenage students with Erika and Montse!
Erika Osváth, MEd in Maths, DTEFLA, is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. Before becoming a freelance trainer in 2009, she worked for International House schools for 16 years in Eastern and Central Europe, where she worked as a YL co-ordinator, trainer on CELTA, LCCI,1-1, Business English, YL and VYL courses, and Director of Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching very young learners, young learners and teenagers.
Her main interests lie in these areas as well as making the best of technology in ELT. She regularly travels to different parts of Hungary and other parts of the world to teach demonstration lessons with local children, do workshops for teachers, and this is something she particularly enjoys doing as it allows her to delve into the human aspects of these experiences. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed Ability Teaching (Into the Classroom series).