Classroom Management is an essential part of any YL classroom but it takes many shapes and forms which vary from teacher to teacher. Generally speaking, managing the classroom involves using organized systems to motivate students while keeping their behavior in check. Rules and expectations help to create a safe environment that’s conducive to learning. In my experience the key factor in good classroom management is being consistent; it is also the most difficult to carry out. In the following post I will outline some of the techniques I use in my classes. Every teacher has their own style but I hope you’ll find something useful or at least thought-provoking.
In my classes with the four and five year-olds I use fish bowls to guide their behavior. The first day of class we discuss ‘the rules of the classroom’. We do this in L1 so that they can fully participate in the conversation and so that they know exactly what’s expected of them. I try to keep the rules simple and logical: raise your hand to speak, sit properly, look at and listen to the teacher or to the student whose turn it is to speak and keep your hands to yourself. We talk about how to behave well and why it’s important. For example, it’s important to raise your hand if you want to say something because if we’re all talking at the same time no one will understand anything. We even role-play some situations so they can see the difference between what they should and shouldn’t do.
I have two ‘fish bowls’ (they’re really just laminated cardboard). One is a pretty blue with some marine life and the other is an ugly brown with a shark. You can probably see where this is going. I write the name of each child on a paper fish. After we discuss the rules, the children color their fish and each one places their own fish in the blue fish bowl. From then on, their fish reflects how they’re behaving in class. If they don’t follow the rules, I place their fish in the other bowl with the shark. If their behavior is disrupting the other students, I may also ask the child to sit apart from the rest of the class and think about how they can improve their behavior. After a few minutes, I ask them if they’ll behave well and if they can return to the group. I think this step is important because it’s showing them that their behavior is their own responsibility.
Another management technique that I use with the pre-schoolers is the concept of ‘helpers’. Each day two children are my helpers in class. They hand out the worksheets and collect the folders when we’re finished. We announce who the helpers are at the beginning of class and they put on their helper badges. I encourage the other students to applaud in an attempt to create an environment in which we feel happy for other people. Children at this age are very self-centered so it doesn’t always work but at the very least I’m setting a good example.
The helper turns serve as a sort of reward for good behavior. At the end of class I talk with each student whose fish has been placed with the shark. If their behavior has improved, I return their fish to the blue bowl. If their behavior has not improved, their fish stays with the shark until the next class and they lose their next turn as helper. They begin the next class with their fish in the shark bowl and must show improvement in order to return to the other bowl. It’s difficult for pre-schoolers to think about long-term objectives or consequences because they’re very focused on the here and now. However, this system appears to be effective because they really want to be one of the helpers. They’re not very good at keeping track of when it’s their turn or if they’ve lost a turn, but they do know that they don’t want their fish to stay with the shark. They soon realize that if they follow the rules, their fish will stay in the blue bowl. And if for some reason their fish has to be placed with the shark (we all have our bad days), they know that better behavior will fix the situation. My hope is that through this system the children are developing a sense of responsibility for their own actions as well as the notion that their behavior has consequences.
Primary grades 1 and 2
I use two main classroom management strategies with this age group. The first strategy is a daily mark. At the beginning of the school year we discuss the rules and how to follow them. The rules are nicely summarized on a poster (see picture) that I put on the board during every class. The students can look at it whenever they want to and I can refer to it if I feel they need to be reminded of anything. Based on how well they fulfill these expectations, students earn a daily mark from 0 to 10. I have an A4 size chart with their names and a square for each day of class. I call each student up at the end of class to discuss the mark they earned for that day. They write the number in their square. This last step is important because once again they are seeing that their behavior has consequences and is their own responsibility. It also helps students reflect on what they did well and what they should improve in the next class. The key to this system is being consistent and fair, both of which can be extremely difficult sometimes. The average of these daily marks is also included in the progress reports sent to parents.
The other main strategy I use in these classes involves stickers. We use Activity Books in our classes. In order to track their progress, making it visible to them as well as to me, I started putting a sticker on the front page whenever they correctly completed all the pages in a unit. When I correct their work, I draw a smiley face if everything on the page is correct. If I notice a mistake, I underline it or circle it in order to draw their attention to it. When they have corrected the mistakes on the page, I draw the smiley. When all the pages in a unit have a smiley, they earn a sticker which goes on the front of the book to show how many units they’ve finished. It is especially difficult for the children in first grade but with this system I try to promote revision and self-correction. Little by little they begin to understand the concept of going back to correct their work and why it’s important.
Primary grades 3 and 4
I also use a daily mark and stickers with these age groups but in slightly different ways.
The expectations for these students are similar to the first and second graders but they also include homework and remembering to bring their books (the younger students leave their books in the classroom). We discuss the rules at the beginning of the school year and I put the poster on the board every day so that we can refer to it if necessary (see picture).
The main difference with this age group is that I write the marks they’ve earned on the chart mostly because of time limitations. In order for them to see how they are progressing, I sometimes show them a summary of their marks and the average is also included in the progress report at the end of the trimester.
I use the same system of smiley faces and stickers on the front of their Activity Books to track their progress. Students at this age tend to have a better understanding of why revision and self-correction are important. I also keep track of whether students finish homework tasks for the day they were assigned or not. As an incentive to complete homework on time, those students that finished all tasks for the days they were due can choose one of the bigger stickers as a reward.
Classroom Management is an integral part of teaching young learners. They need to know what is expected of them and how to meet those expectations. Motivation is also key at this age because young learners often do not understand why learning English is important. Relying on elements of extrinsic motivation such as fish bowls and stickers helps create a sense of purpose as well as track the progress of younger students. It’s important for a teacher to find and implement strategies that work for them and their students.
I enjoyed writing this post because it has helped me to reflect on the management techniques I use in my classroom. I think there are some strong points to the systems I use but there are also ways I could improve them. For example, the students in third and fourth grade don’t write their daily mark on the chart in order to save time in class but after writing this post I’m beginning to consider changing that next year so that they have a better sense of how they are progressing.
Please share your experiences with Classroom Management here. Thanks for reading.