Home > My thoughts on ELT > Take care of the little things first

Take care of the little things first

I must say I was quite jealous when I read about this classroom here. It does seem to me to be the kind of classroom that surely enables learning. All learners are actively engaged in whatever it is they are doing, they’re “saving the trees”, learning life-skills, and all that with little interference from the teacher. I mean, isn’t this just wonderful?

But then, reality check – I still can’t have such a classroom in my teaching context for myriad reasons. So, instead of sulking, I’d better think about the things that I can manage to do in my own classroom. I’ve also thought about how other teachers I’ve observed manage their own classrooms in order to achieve what they want to by the end of the lesson. Here are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about:

  1. Seating arrangement does matter – if I want to foster communication in the classroom, I can’t expect that to happen naturally if learners are sitting in orderly rows. Jeremy Harmer is one of the authors who write about that and questions what is the rationale behing the seating arrangement of a classroom. Every time I walk into the classroom, I ask students to sit closer to me and to each other. “I feel lonely,” I usually tell them, and they do all the rest. However, I’ve seen many teachers simply letting learners sit wherever they want in the classroom. OK, learners are free to decide, but if I expect them to talk to a partner, or to share something in group, this will be more easily achieved if they’re sitting close to each other, or won’t it? By sitting far away from one another, with empty chairs between them, they’ll naturally share less with each other. Add to that the fact that they’re not allowed to talk in their regular schools classes, you’ll end up with a group of passive learners who will rely on you for everything in the classroom.
  2. Make sure they’re listening to you when you talk – Many times teachers have to repeat instructions simply because they didn’t notice students weren’t listening to them. If they don’t listen, they obviously won’t be able to do what you expect from them.
  3. Do not put students on the spot unnecessarily – I really don’t believe that all learners always want to learn and will only be disruptive if they are not interested in the lesson. There are times in which we all, children, teens, or adults, are simply focussed on something else, or we’ve just remembered a joke we were told, a movie we watched or anything else that will take our minds off the lesson. And sometimes the cause of this is the lesson itself – a single word may trigger many different reactions from our brains. What if students simply want to be disruptive, or challenge you because they “don’t like you” and never even tried to listen to you? Well, talking to them in front of the whole class is likely to give you trouble if you’re talking to a disruptive learner. And if you’re dealing with a student who’s just been momentarily distracted, you risk embarrassing that learner in front of everybody. What can we do? What about getting close to that particular student and touching him or her on the shoulder? They’ll certainly look at you and stop doing what they were doing.
  4. Walk away, not closer, when you can’t hear them – If you couldn’t listen to what a student has said, it’s likely the other students couldn’t either. If you get closer to the student, he or she will speak even lower. If you stay away and ask him or her to repeat, they’re likely to be heard by the other students as well, which will probably allow for questions and comments from other students.
  5. Truly listen to your students and respond to what they give you – This has been discussed here before, so I won’t say anything else but that.

If we look at the list, it’s made up of little things which are usually discussed in any initial teacher training course (or so they should, right?). These little things, however, are sometimes overlooked even by experienced teachers. And sometimes novice teachers simply forget about them because they’re too concerned about that activity they’ve planned. Nah… take care of the little things first. It’ll make your job much easier. Maybe you’re teaching in an environment which will not give you much freedom to change, but you may still make it effective. Hasn’t it worked before?

What other “little things” do you take care of or pay attention to that do make a difference in your teaching?

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  1. April 4, 2010 at 11:51 pm | #1

    The fixed seat and table arrangement is the bane of my life, as is the poky room with no space for movement. Fortunately, we get some say in the room allocations at the beginning of the academic year so I get to pick the rooms which have moveable furniture, data projectors, internet connections and so on. You also make a great point about the quiet student. It’s tempting to let students get away with speaking quietly, mispronouncing, making horrible mistakes, just for the sake of harmony in the class. But sometimes we need to make them stretch a bit harder…

    Something I wish I could do is keep a room. In the university setting, both my students and I are running between classrooms all day. I would love to have one room which I could decorate and arrange appropriately.

    • April 9, 2010 at 1:36 am | #2

      Hi Darren,
      Fixed seat and table arrangement is definitely a no-no. It’s interesting to hear there are different classrooms with different furniture in each. Here, all classrooms tend to look exactly the same, and if there’s any difference it’s only a matter of the size of the room.

      And yes, if we let them get away with being quiet, or making mistakes, we’re actually getting ready for trouble in the future. There’s a reason why they’re in the classroom, huh?!

      I currently work in an environment which is not my own, so I can relate to your wish of having a room for your classes and not having to share rooms with other teachers. Perhaps one day this will come true for both me and you. It’d be great to be able to have students’ work on the walls, or anything else that might boost their learning.

      Cheers! :)

  1. April 5, 2010 at 1:31 am | #1

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