Today I taught a class to teachers-in-training on Classroom Language. It basically centers around the teacher being an effective communicator for their students. Without effective communication then, obviously, the rate of success declines in pulling off your lessons.
Although I was teaching a group of newbies, I thought I’d also put it out there for those already out there in the field. I’ve taught in many classrooms in the States as well as throughout the world and invariably there is that veteran teacher that comes busting in the teachers’ lounge wanting to vent their frustrations at whoever is there. “I tell you, these kids. They can’t even follow simple directions!” It usually moves to an extensive list of things their students did wrong.
Sure, we all get fed up with different behaviors or when our students fall short, but it’s important to keep in mind that, in a lot of ways, these problems that are frustrating us are our own doing. Therefore, we should be always cognizant of our language, how we deliver instruction, and how we setup our activities. Here is my approach to setting up my lessons. It’s nothing scientific, just simple good practices.
Get their attention
Before jumping in to a new activity make sure the class is with you. It goes without saying that if only 60% of your students are engaged then you’ll be repeating yourself a lot or the students’ work won’t be at the level you’re expecting. How can you do this? Most teachers try to talk over their students. It may work, but it seems like it turns into a yelling match and the one that is loudest commands the room. Some teachers clap their hands or start a countdown. I remember a few teachers of mine that would flip the lights on and off. My favorite is always giving them the silent treatment. I just cross my arms and put on a very exaggerated bored look. Sometimes I’ll let out a huge sigh. More times than not, the “good” students will notice and take action by getting on the disruptive students. It’s great when students can police themselves!
Set the physical arrangement
Ok, now that you have their attention you can get things set up. Depending on the activity you’re doing, now would be the time to move chairs or tables. Maybe you’ll be assigning students to particular computers? If you’re doing group work, you could set the groups as well.
Now give the instructions
You can see that there’s a bit of time devoted to things before actually giving out the instructions. But now that you’re diving in, there are a couple points to be made. Keep your instructions simple, clear, and check for understanding periodically. It’s always good to physically model your instructions when you can. Some students need to SEE something to really get it. I’m a huge believer in doing the first problem together with the class as well as demonstrating a finished product (if doing a project). And one last request, try to be polite about it. That can go a long way with your students.
Give out your materials
Now you can give out any materials. A lot of times teachers distribute their materials (worksheets, etc.) from the very beginning. Typically students take their attention off the teacher and direct it towards whatever is in their hands now.
Inform the class of any time restrictions
You may only want them to give them 5, 10, or 30 minutes for your activity. Sometimes it’s “due at the end of class. Not only let them know, but also remind them as time goes by.
Again, this is my take and what I've found to work best. Of course, you may have your own approach. Feel free to share your best practices in the comments! Keep on keeping on out there!