Greetings! My name is Esther Raizen, and I am the current Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin. I have a PhD in Foreign Language Education and teach Modern and Classical Hebrew language and literature.
In this module I would like to discuss with you some aspects of classroom management, and come up with practical notions and questions that you might ask as you design your own curriculum with classroom management in mind.
The discussion on classroom management in higher education and elsewhere focuses primarily on issues of discipline and conduct, and its main purpose is to identify classroom problems, understand where they come from, and propose a variety of strategies for addressing or preventing them. In this conversation I would like to broaden the scope of “management” to include critical issues of class and classroom organization, among them the physical classroom (seating, technology, lighting, mobility of instructors and students and so on); discuss the reasons for striking a balance between strict planning and improvisation, which, I believe, is one of the most essential strategies for designing a successful language curriculum; and explore the ways in which we might lead our students in a culturally responsive environment and create a synergy between the various cultures that students, instructors, the institution, and the field bring into the classroom.
The basic tenet of my discussion of the physical classroom is adapted from the Classroom Design Manual published by the University of Maryland, which maintains that students have a fundamental right to a classroom learning environment that allows them to see anything presented visually, to hear any audible presentation free from noises and distortions, and to be physically and emotionally comfortable regardless of the method of instruction used. In terms of the balance between the planned and the improvised, I suggest that language teachers should define their expectations and plans very clearly for individual classes and the curriculum as a whole, but leave about 20% of the time unplanned, to allow for improvisation. As for the culturally responsive environment, I provide examples of the ways in which personal and other cultures come to bear on what happens in the classroom, and suggest that training in cultural awareness and the intentional fashioning of a unique class culture are likely to contribute to the success of our educational mission.
My goals in putting together this module are to raise awareness of critical issues in the discourse on classroom management that are very often pushed aside, or taken for granted because they are obvious — so obvious, in fact, that we rarely think about them — and to highlight the importance of faculty and student involvement in institutional decisions that affect classroom management.
1 Management, Discipline, and Control
Thinking beyond “discipline” and “control” as we make our plans for successful classroom management.
2 The Physical Classroom
How can we plan for an optimal classroom experience and take ownership of our classrooms?
3 Between Planning and Improvisation
How far should we go in planning our language classes, and to what degree should improvisation be built into our lesson plans?
4 Class Culture
What does multiculturalism entail in a language classroom setting, and how can we create a class culture that is conducive to learning?
Classroom Management as a Field of Inquiry
In the opening chapter of their Handbook of Classroom Management (2006), “Classroom Management as a Field of Inquiry,” Evertson and Weinstein suggest that “classroom management is a topic of enduring concern for teachers, administrators, and the public. Beginner teachers,” they write, “consistently perceive student discipline as their most serious challenge; management problems continue to be a major cause of teacher burnout and job dissatisfaction; and the public repeatedly ranks discipline as the first or second most serious problem facing the schools.” (3) They decry the insufficient attention given to classroom management as a scholarly area of inquiry and the minimal time dedicated to classroom management in the course of teacher training.
Drawing on the work of a number of educational theorists, Evertson and Weinstein define classroom management as “the actions teachers take to create an environment that supports and facilitates both academic and social-emotional learning.” (ibid.) Their edited volume is thus predicated on the assumption that “how a teacher achieves order is as important as whether a teacher achieves order.” (ibid.)
Working with Evertson and Weinstein’s assumptions, the follow four areas of focus (covered in this module) are where teachers can take action as they shape the classroom environment:
• Discipline and control
• The physical classroom and our involvement in its design as we try to shape the learning environment.
• Designing the syllabus as an organizational tool which allows both careful planning and improvisation.
• Building cultural sensitivity into our curriculum as a component in our quest for social and moral growth of both instructors and students.
For the various theoretical aspects of topics included under the broad rubric of classroom management, see Evertson and Weinstein and other studies listed in the Resources section.
Discipline: Student Conduct and Classroom Management
Discipline problems do arise in the college classroom. What would you consider a discipline problem? Why do they arise? How would you address them?
Gerald Amada in his Coping With Misconduct in the College Classroom (1999) identifies common misconduct issues. Among those are:
• undermining teacher authority
• spacing-out or sleeping in class
• frequent absences/tardiness
• food and cell phone disruptions
• plagiarism or lying
• disrespectful behavior
• refusal to participate
• too much chit-chat
Undesirable student behaviors experienced by language teachers.
Lisa Rodriguez, in her article Classroom Management, suggests strategies for addressing such issues by way of maintaining discipline in the classroom, but also by trying to identify their root causes. She offers tips to addressing such behavior and lists “positive impression givers” and “negative impression givers”. Positive impression givers include sitting at the front, maintaining eye contact, and being prepared. This as opposed to negative impression givers: rolling one’s eyes in response to a statement by the teacher or by a peer, leaving course materials at home, and so on.
Strategies for addressing discipline issues:
• Define your expectations and the policies of your institution on the first day of the term, and respond in a consistent, decisive manner.
• Be careful not to embarrass a student in front of his peers unnecessarily.
• Before you respond to what looks like a conduct issue, consider possible causes. Could there be a reasonable explanation?
• Create a class culture that encourages appropriate behavior and discourages disruption.
• Remember that most problems are, after all, what you make them out to be. Stay cool, don’t take everything personally, diffuse tensions, exhibit a good sense of humor and much flexibility, but make sure to draw lines..
• Document disruptive behaviors. Create a paper (or electronic) trail; share your concerns with your supervisor or department chair.
Think about and identify local resources for classroom management: Does your institution have a special unit that deals with behavioral concerns such as plagiarism, harassment, frequent absences, and low performance?
Classroom Management as a Complex Endeavor
Discipline, of course, is only one of the many components that figure into classroom management. The variety of interpersonal relationships and personalities within the classroom and many more aspects can play a critical role. To quote Evertson and Weinstein in their Handbook of Classroom Management (2006:5), classroom management is not merely a “bag of tricks” that is passed on from one teacher to another–it is “a multifaceted endeavor that is far more complex than establishing rules, rewards, and penalties to control students’ behavior.”
Remote Control: Classroom Management Software
Web-based applications like WebCT and Blackboard have long been used as organizational tools to:
• facilitate communication between instructors and students,
• provide the capacity for posting documents and for efficient recording and retention of class data, and
• allow systematic tracking of student activity and progress.
In recent years, management software has made its way into the actual classroom, where it has been used for a variety of purposes from automating tedious classroom tasks (e.g., taking attendance) to gaining real-time access to students’ work and assessing learning outcomes. Two models of software are commonly used:
• Classroom monitoring software allows an instructor to access, in a lab setting, computers used by the students, supervising their work and communicating as necessary with individual students or with the class as a whole. Students may be asked, for example, to write a short composition and peer-edit it, while the instructor follows on her own computer and comments as necessary.
• Student response system software equips students with hand-held devices and allows them to provide immediate input that is processed on the central computer used by the instructor. The instructor may, for example, tell a story and then pose a yes/no comprehension question. Students respond by pushing a button on their hand-held devices, giving the teacher an immediate indication of whether or not he got his point across.
Read the excerpts from infomercials for classroom management software:
“As a teacher…it is incredibly important that I have the ability to see, in just a flash of an eye, what every student is doing at any given time…The main benefits I get from using this software are time management, classroom management, student management, and my own time and personal life management.” (SynchronEyes)
“I can easily engage students in collaborative learning activities… I can randomly organize my students into small groups. After they have worked individually on an assignment, they can team up with each other, sharing computer screens and using the chat feature to agree on a group answer.” (SMART Sync)
Do you agree with the claims of these infomercials? What would you add? Listen to what language teachers tell us about their experiences with classroom management software.
Language teachers discuss the infomercials for classroom management software.
As our language teachers suggest, both systems have definite benefits for student-teacher communication, but they can only go so far. They promise control, but may or may not deliver–not a good idea for a language class, or any class for that matter. In a language class geared toward production skills, technology must remain a small component in the overall profile of classroom activities. The question, then, goes back to some of the critical points in the discussions on technology in the classroom: Is the investment in a software system worth the benefits it delivers? Is the confined setting of a lab suitable for a language class?
[Module Instructor Esther Raizen PhD]. 2010. [Classroom Management]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.
Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. 2010. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin