The classroom management session rewrite

Do we all get caught in the same traps ? Me and the CPs ?
Are they inevitable ? Are they traps ?
Maybe you should just tell people things.
I really ought to try and dig out research to support learning by doing as more effective … it might feel instinctively right to me, but it clearly doesn’t to everyone (going by many lessons I’ve watched), shall add it to the to do list.
But actually it felt better that they did things in that session, even if the outcomes were not so clear.
And when I get a chance to do it again, I could make a work a fair bit more smoothly and can work at making the outcomes clearer.

Going back to something that you haven’t done for a while makes you see it with new eyes. I hadn’t done a session on classroom management for a couple of years but I had notes from the last time. (The new version used below is here). When I read them over the week before I was due to do it, two things struck me

  1. It was trainer centred in that activities fed information to the CPs about or led them through a couple of areas I wanted them to know about, but didn’t ask for much from them.
  2. Where learners can use language a lot in lessons, you can’t always get teachers to teach in sessions (‘teaching’ each other a language you all already know is rarely helpful, ‘teaching’ each other what you know about teaching works for some things in some ways, but is limited). But one thing you can get them to do is the classroom management.

In the original version, the idea about different ways of running feedback is interesting (and useful for LSAs), but you could probably run a 60 minute session on that alone (with different kinds of feedback throughout to illustrate). Class layout has some scope for interesting discussion, but it is not an end, just a tool to achieve other ends and it does seem to come down to what or who they need to be able to look at easily. But instructions – I’ve watched lots of lessons where learners have been blamed for being uncooperative, activities for being too difficult, or trainers for expecting miracles, but actually the instructions were not clear. The good, sound idea in the teacher’s head was never going to come into being because they didn’t get it across to the learners (ouch, the irony, shall just remain grateful no one was ‘assessing’ that classroom management session).

So I figured the thing to do was to get the CPs to set things up – the same things I would have done (feedback, groupings and layout), but via systems that needed some thinking about in the instructions. They would get the chats about things in the activity, but they’d also get the hands on experience of setting their peers up in activities. I did think about getting them to set up complicated language activities from books, ones that needed thinking through, but then I’d have lost the other elements from the session as there is definitely only time (75 minutes)  to prepare, set up and run a couple of things. You couldn’t then go on to work on groupings / feedback etc.

I often use cross over groups in sessions (start in AAA, BBB, CCC then change to ABC, ABC, ABC), but see it carried out in observed lessons with widely varying degrees of success, so that was one contender. It works best with a multifaceted discussion subject. So the idea of stronger / weaker students and pairings was useful as it comes up a lot in post observation feedback. Should you pair strong with strong or strong with weak, when and why ?
I also use moving circles (or lines) where people change partners at frequent intervals and for that to work well you have to take control of the room and people quite firmly (especially so in the current ITI premises if all 26 are in) or the space defeats you.  I thought that would work with the list of different ways of delivering feedback. They could discuss different points each time they moved.
I wanted one more thing, but thought those first two might actually be quite easy to do (why ? would it have hurt to do something else ‘easy’ ? the worst possible outcome was that we would have finished five minutes earlier … not a problem.  Do more with less – how often do I say that to teachers ?). I thought of an old team game with aural pelmanism. It works well, but takes some thinking about to set up. So that seemed like a good candidate for layout as really I can’t see that there is much in layout, you just want people to realise it is something they can affect / exploit.
In 75 minutes there would only be room to prepare and run three, but I wanted everyone involved, so I figured I should split them into six groups and at the last minute we’d draw straws to see which group actually did an activity of the two who had prepared. If I collected notes and scanned them anyone who was interested could have a look at what led to more or less successful outcomes (and it would encourage clear notes, fostering an atmosphere where it actually got written down, not just thought of … irony again).

In the ethos of Delta
What went well ?

  • Having six smaller groups and then drawing straws for who actually did things is excellent – shall use that again. All groups were on task, all wrote out something.
  • They worked on things hard.  While there will always be variations, the jeopardy of having to ‘perform’ did lead to a pretty good level of effort, especially in a final session of a 4 hour afternoon, which comes for many of them after a morning’s teaching. Final sessions frequently flag, but this one didn’t.
  • Some of the points I wanted to come up came up. E.g. one group checked instructions (and then realised there was a problem) and the slight tangles around that made it clear why you should check instructions and how easy it is for things to be less clear than you thought they were.
  • The buzz in many of the groups was positive – could hear ideas about how things should be said or what would need to be said being thrashed out between peers – lots of different ideas and levels of expectations. Will any of this translate into better thought through instructions in lesson plans ? Who knows. But I’m not sure me leading feedback and ensuring a list of ‘rules’ for instructions gets collectively written is any more effective. Maybe this will have been for some people.
  • They are much more entertaining than me and made each other laugh quite a lot in the doing.

What would I change ?

  • I did not make my intentions clear enough with regard to the fact that I wanted them not only to set up the activities, but to do them – that the whole session was kind of double layered. So I didn’t make my overall aims clear enough. So some things were stopped earlier than I intended.
  • As highlighted by the moving circle group, some of the activities didn’t fit as well as they might have with the systems I was asking them to use. They seemed to want to get people to sit with the worksheet and compare the ideas on it, but didn’t have the copies to get them to do that. It would probably have worked better than my idea in terms of quality of output, but they hadn’t made further copies so couldn’t make it actually happen (and that would have taken very little setting up in classroom management terms), so I ended up pressurising them back to where I had originally envisaged them being and neither of us was really happy with the outcome. Again, if I had made my overall aims clearer, they might have stayed with the original brief (or told me they wanted to change it and then I could have got one of them to go and make the copies they needed).
  • The third activity should have been something they had seen done.  It worked in CM terms, but they took rather longer than they needed to setting it up (and no one took any notice of the meaning of the sentences they succeeded in matching, they turned round and asked if they should match the rest, but with no visual record of what they had matched there was no information being conveyed about layout – too complicated – so that would either have to be built into the instructions, or perhaps I should take my own advice and stick with simpler, cleaner things).

What did I learn

My own instructions at a micro level worked (they got on task), but I didn’t make my overall intentions clear enough. If they had understood the overall idea well some elements would have worked a lot better.
I could probably make a whole other separate session on feedback that is truly learner centered / CP run and make this session  purely about instructions. Another thing for the ‘to do’ list.
Doing any one bit of it well takes all the time.This was better that past versions on instructions, but they didn’t explore any of the other options. So perhaps now we have what feels like infinite amounts of space and potential on line, the way to go is to make activities CPs can use on line to explore topics like layout / groupings etc. They can be part of the main course Moodle, on the week of the CM session and people could be sent to do them by tutors in feedback if they need them.
But the best activities would include some kind of interaction / producing / trying / doing something … could we ask them to join on with group activities on line ? they are already trying to deal with so much. How can I make it optional but still useful (good way to address differentiation though).  And of course need the time to make things …

What do you think ? were you in that session ? did you learn anything ? Your notes are here.
Would you do ‘extra’ activities on the Moodle if I could make them ? Or do you not have any time to do what we are asking you to do as it is ? What kinds of activities might help ?

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3 thoughts on “The classroom management session rewrite”

  1. Sally, from the learner perspective I can say that your observations are astute. As you’ve pointed out, trying to integrate so many components of Classroom Management into a 60 minute session is a classroom management challenge in and of itself.

    What I found the biggest challenge of the CM activity was being hemmed in by the written instructions given on the handouts, which basically told us how we needed to do the activity in addition to what. In my mind, if that “how to do” part of the equation had been left open, we would have had greater freedom to organize the elements of classroom management we were meant to practice, like instructions and grouping. That way the groups working on the same activity could have had a more fruitful feedback session by comparing different approaches to the same activity.

    In the layouts demo in particular, the activity of the game itself took such prominence that the objective of the activity was lost on us. The activity itself is great and I myself use it once and a while to review collocations. Perhaps one of the groups might have taken a similar approach or have found a different way to present the sentences. In any case it would be a different kind of challenge but one that could yield some interesting outcomes or in the very least lead us into considering the implications of the decisions we make about how we go about CM.

    This has been enormously helpful, Sally, at least for me. And this is a fine example of reflective practice for everyone. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for taking the time Guy. I think you are right that I still have two different things tangled together in there (despite taking out the consideration of feedback – if people were at all interested in those sentences there is an article link on the Moodle on the CM week that goes through different ways of delivering feedback). I could have a session that gets CPs to set up activities where the activity is fixed (but the doing of the activity is simpler / clearer and just fun, not with its own educational outcome) and the setting up / instructions are what is important then something different in another hour that is about giving groups things / information / texts and the group works out what the best way of delivering it to everyone is. In fact this latter comes up in a watered down version in some of the more practical sessions that are coming up, but usually has a particular restriction. How would you use this for lexis ? for noticing etc etc.

  2. The version I’ve used is mainly for review. I draw a grid on the W/B and number them (1 though 16). I’ll have a list of the corresponding lexical items on a sheet; number 1 on my list will be “break” and number 5 will be “law”, for example, if we’ve seen the expression “break the law” in a previous class. Phrasal verbs are also work really well; it’s also tricky because of multiple combination possibilities, like “break in, break out, break up”… Using smaller lexical items works best as they’re easier to remember and you can easily write them up on the board once they’ve been uncovered. When a group of students gets a correct match, they have to use the expression in a sentence in order to earn the full point. Students usually enjoy this game a lot.

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