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by Erica Fischer on Oct 12, 2012

Best Practices for World Language Classroom Management

Last week, #LangChat participants shared their insights on the best classroom management practices and techniques. It was a dynamic discussion, and teachers with all levels of experience were able to come away with new ideas!

As @placido noted, the discussion was more focused on general goals and philosophies, as well as some helpful tricks and techniques. There was no “magic bullet” solution that automatically makes a classroom run smoothly. After all, as @sonrisadelcampo pointed out, “magic bullet” practices don’t exist: classroom management is an ongoing labor of love.

The Key to Classroom Management: Relationships

All participants agreed that the most important way a teacher can manage his or her classroom is by building a positive relationship with his or her students. @klafrench and others said that trust was a huge component in the positive teacher-student relationship, which is so crucial in making a classroom run smoothly and helping everyone succeed. Students feel at ease when they trust that it’s okay to make a mistake, and that good work will be recognized. @suarez712002 suggested that it is important not just to give praise (“Good job!”) but also to give specifics on how and why something was well done.

Humor can go a long way towards making students feel comfortable in the classroom. Both @msfrenchteach and @placido shared that it is important that teachers be willing to laugh at themselves and admit to their own mistakes.

While it is important that teachers maintain control of the classroom and their position of authority, teachers (and especially world language teachers) should not be afraid to relinquish some of the traditional symbols of authority to help make their students feel more comfortable. Several participants shared that they no longer stand and teach from the front of the room; instead, they walk around the room as they teach, and sit with their students in a circle and participate in discussions. When @fravan assigns an activity to his students, he does the activity with them instead of just supervising, which also allows him to give extra help to struggling students.

@klafrench shared a particularly poignant quote: “[Your students] won’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Teachers can show their students that they care in a myriad of ways. For example, @sonrisadelcampo suggested that teachers make it a priority to get to know their students by asking them about themselves in the target language. @fravan shows his students that he cares about them beyond the classroom by attending as many of their games and performances as he can. @LauraJaneBarber reminded participants that it is important as a teacher to be yourself; students can pick up on false positivity very easily, which does little to build a sense of trust.

This relationship-building should begin on day one. @LauraJaneBarber shared a post from her blog in which she discusses how she works to set a positive tone in the classroom starting at the beginning of each school year: http://t.co/bARh7kVB

The Importance of Consistency and Routine

Many participants shared their thoughts on the importance of consistency and routine in the well-managed world language classroom. When students know what to expect, they are put at ease. @cbdamasco pointed out that routine is important at any level of study. Several participants shared ways in which they use routines to manage their classrooms:

  • @cbdamasco creates consistency and routine in her classroom through daily warm-up activities, end-of-class activities, and by having a central location where students turn in all work.
  • @profesorM starts each class with a Spanish pop song.
  • @LauraJaneBarber begins her classes by introducing a Spanish saying, and sometimes offering a brief life lesson to go with it.
  • @CoLeeSensei starts her classes by having a student act as a monitor, and by going over the date, weather, and homework in the target language.
  • @sonrisadelcampo reminded us of the importance of privately thanking a particularly helpful student (who distributed or collected papers, or who volunteered as monitor) to let them know that their help is appreciated.
  • As a fun class tradition, @Marishawkins gives students a free homework pass on their birthdays.
  • @klafrench said that ultimately, routines should become so natural to students that they should be able to (theoretically) run the class without the teacher even present!

Consistency and Discipline

Having consistent behavioral expectations and ways of dealing with disciplinary issues is just as important as students routinely expect to have fun and enjoy class. @cbdamasco advised teachers to be consistent in enforcing classroom rules so that students understand that you as a teacher mean what you say. @Marishawkins expressed that it is important to be consistent with expectations, but still be understanding when necessary (for example, if a student is going through a particularly difficult time for personal reasons).

Participants shared their perspectives on how to handle behavioral issues and discipline when necessary:

  • When a student creates a problem in the classroom, @LauraJaneBarber recommends handling the issue with the student individually. Don’t publicly discuss an issue, as embarrassment leads to resentment and damages the student-teacher relationship.
  • Anger and yelling are never the answer when dealing with behavioral issues. Instead, @placido suggested that a stern look, a hand on the desk, and a firm tone of voice can be much more effective in getting a point across.
    Similarly, @LauraJaneBarber reminded participants to stay calm and matter-of-fact, keeping an even tone. The most important thing is making sure the student understands why their action led to a specific consequence.
  • @SraHeebsh has created a behavior checklist and she has students self-evaluate and comment on their own in-class behavior. She comments back and discusses the self-evaluations with the students’ parents at the end of each quarter.
  • @placido reminded participants to make sure students actually understand what you are saying in the target language. Students will be less inclined to misbehave if they can actually follow the flow of the class.
  • @suarez712002 reminded us to separate the student from the behavior: bad behavior does not mean the student himself is “bad.” It is important to reconnect with the student to keep them from feeling that their misbehavior has forever redefined the student-teacher relationship.

@placido advised that teachers be mindful of transition times and try to make them as seamless and quick as possible so as not to lose the class flow and students’ attention, as this can create opportunities for misbehavior.

To prevent any behavioral problems before they start, @CoLeeSensei has her students switch their seating every 1-2 weeks so that students end up interacting with the whole class.

Teacher Organization and Logistical Strategies

Participants shared their organizational tricks and logistical strategies for effectively managing their classrooms. For example, @SraHeebsh keeps her class organized by picking the most energetic student in the class and appointing him or her class “secretary.” It is his or her job to collect assignments and make sure that they all have names on them (saving @SraHeebsh lots of time later!).

Participants also shared lots of ideas to help keep students alert, engaged, and on their toes.

  • When students ask @LauraJaneBarber, “What are we doing today?” she simply answers, “All sorts of great things!” to keep them guessing.
  • @Marishawkins uses popsicle sticks to call on students at random; that way, everyone has to be ready to answer at any given time.
  • @SraHeebsh and @placido both like to move around and teach from different spots around the room. @placido also likes using a laser pointer to point to things around the room.
  • If students seem sluggish, @sonrisadelcampo has them all stand, just as she has to do when she’s teaching. Students may roll their eyes at first, but they perk up quickly after being on their feet.
  • Alternatively, when @SraHeebsh’s freshmen are too rambunctious, she turns off half the lights, which seems to calm them.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to desk arrangements and seating can completely transform a classroom dynamic. Participants shared some truly creative ways that they have rearranged their classrooms:

  • @placido groups her students at large tables of 4-6 and gives each table the name of a country. She calls on these groups by the country name.
  • @CoLeeSensei likes pairing her students; she finds that partners look after each other.
  • @LauraJaneBarber likes to keep her students moving by changing the seating. She plays music and has students move around the classroom; when the music stops, students pair with the person nearest to them.
  • @sonrisadelcampo has eliminated desks from her classroom; she finds that students are distracted by them, and they actually prefer not having them. @trescolumnae plans to do the same in his classroom.
  • Now that all of @msfrenchteach’s students are using iPads, she has swapped desks and chairs for bean bags. Students are still just as focused, but more comfortable than they were before.

Insights from Experienced Teachers

Finally, co-moderator @placido asked experienced teachers how they developed their classroom management skills over the years, and what they continue to struggle with. Participants gave insightful and honest answers:

  • @CoLeeSensei shared that she is where she is today as a teacher from many years of trying, failing, and asking veteran teachers for their input.
  • @SurviveSpanish studied his teachers that had great classroom management skills and tried to figure out what made them successful so that he could imitate them.
  • @SraHeebsh said that when she started to put responsibility back on students, her classroom management skills got better. Students can’t argue if expectations are made clear from the beginning of the course.
  • @dwphotoski found that two books in particular have really helped him develop his classroom management skills. He recommends Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones and Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay.
  • @SraHeebsh recommends that every teacher get a good mentor teacher and not to be afraid of sharing mistakes with him or her. She also has found that serving as a mentor teacher has helped her strengthen her own management skills.
  • @BHS_Doyle admits that he tends to begin faltering as soon as he starts to think that he has it all figured out.
  • @msfrenchteach struggles with classroom management on days when she isn’t feeling well; at those times it is harder to be patient with certain behaviors.

Participants also shared that they always learn a lot whenever they get a chance to observe their colleagues teaching. It was recommended that every teacher take advantage of any opportunity to watch others teach.

Many thanks to all of our participants for sharing their experiences and insights last week! A special thanks to co-moderators @dr_dmd, @placido, and @msfrenchteach for helping to make the discussion particularly informative.

While we bid farewell and good wishes to @SECotrell, who will be taking a leave of absence from the #LangChat team, we welcomed Cristy Vogel (aka @msfrenchteach) as the newest #LangChat team member and co-moderator! Congratulations, Cristy!

We also want to wish congratulations to @SenorG, who is a finalist for the ACTFL teacher of the year award!

Join us this Thursday, October 18th, at 8pm EST (5pm PST) for the next #LangChat! And don’t forget to vote in the poll to help choose Thursday’s discussion topic!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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