In one of my previous posts, I shared my concerns regarding the upcoming academic year. I said that I was worried about one particular class – a group of upper intermediate senior students, whom I had never taught before and who have a somewhat bad reputation among my colleagues.
It occurred to me the other day that apart from considering an appropriate, engaging syllabus, I should also think about the rules and requirements for this class.
I already have some experience in teaching senior students so I can anticipate many of the problems which usually pop up throughout the school year. On the one hand, it can make me a little biased, but it also helps me articulate my requirements more easily. I never did this before, but I think that it would be a good idea to share my resolutions with my students in the very first lesson. This will help us avoid possible disagreements later in the course.
The first question is how to do that without looking too authoritarian. Besides, swinging the door open and throwing a set of rules at my students is not the coolest start to a new academic year. On the other hand, I do want my new class to know what I expect from them – and the sooner the better.
So this is what I’m planning to do … I’ll write the following hints on the board:
- This is not a final-exam-oriented course, but …..
- As far as homework is concerned, …
- Regarding coursebooks, ….
- As for mobile devices, such as mobiles, laptops, etc., …
- My view on side conversations is this:
- My motto is better later than never. However, ….
- Regarding Unit Tests, …
The above-mentioned points are somehow related to problems I dealt with when teaching senior students. As you can see, I deliberately made them a little unclear because I want my students to predict the sentence endings and discuss the rules in pairs/groups.
By eliciting the students’ answers, I hope to achieve several objectives:
- By approaching the issue of discipline slowly and carefully, I hope to make the class less teacher-centred. At the same time, however, I want to make it clear that I do have some expectations.
- I hope that this activity will help me quickly gauge the level of the learners’ spoken English.
- I’ll also learn something about the class dynamics – who dominates the group, who is shy or afraid to speak, who cooperates well with others, etc.
- By having them discuss the rules, I’ll make them more memorable for the class and I’ll be able to refer to this activity whenever a student violates a rule.
- Most importantly, I’ll learn what my students believe. Although they may come up with ‘wrong’ answers during their discussion, these will actually reveal what they think about the rules. By saying ‘Oh, I bet we won’t be allowed to use laptops in the lessons’, they’ll actually show me how they see this restriction. By saying ‘It would be great to get no homework’, they will express another belief.
Finally, by having written this down, I’ve created some future reflective practice opportunities because once the course is over, I’ll be able to look back and see what worked and what didn’t.
For those who are curious about the actual rules, here’s the ‘key’:
- This particular class has 7 lessons of English per week taught by two different teachers. This is the maximum of English lessons a class can get at our school. My colleague has taken the ‘exam-oriented part’ (3 lessons) and I have taken the ‘language practice part’ (4 lessons), and we want to stick to this scheme, especially approach-wise. This means that in my lessons, I’ll try to avoid any remarks related to the final exam, which is something that usually stresses students anyway, but I want them to realize that everything they learn in these ‘bonus’ lessons will eventually be useful for the exam. In other words, I don’t want to put too much pressure on them, but I also want them to take the course seriously. Based on my experience, it’s useful to make this clear right from the beginning.
- No homework will be assigned. Senior students are extremely busy throughout their final year so I don’t want to add extra load to their busy schedules. However, I will want high participation in the lessons in return. Low participation will result in extra homework assignments. Done deal?
- I don’t like it when students come to lessons unprepared – with nothing to write with, nothing to write in and no study materials whatsoever. It is unlikely that we’ll cover the whole coursebook, but we’ll use them frequently, so I want my students to have them at their disposal all the time.
- No matter how unpopular this may appear to some, mobile devices such as laptops and phones are strictly forbidden in my lessons unless we use them for educational purposes. Phones are great tools for language learning, but, based on my experience, students rarely use them in a responsible way. They often pretend to be looking words up in a dictionary, but they’re actually chatting on Facebook.
- As side conversations can be really annoying (not only for the teacher), I’m not very tolerant of notorious chatterboxes. I know that students sometimes discuss something interesting that popped up in the lesson, but in most cases they don’t. I keep telling my students that it’s pretty embarrassing for me to demand attention from adult learners (they are mostly 19 years old), and I kindly ask them to respect the fact that we are there to learn together.
- Tardiness is a huge problem, especially with older students. The situation gets worse when the lesson starts in the morning or after a lunch break. Latecomers must be strictly recorded in the class book. This is very important and leniency on the teacher’s part doesn’t pay off.
- There’ll be no Unit Tests. Completing them is time-consuming and I’m not convinced that they are a high learning payoff anyway. I only use bits and bobs of the ready-made tests because, as a whole, they are too challenging. Moreover, they presuppose that you’ve covered all the material in the coursebook. Instead, my students will practice writing lot. I believe that through writing personalized, coherent texts, students will learn more than by doing tons of run-of-the-mill tests.
I can imagine that many educators reading this will find some of the rules highly questionable, and I’ll be grateful for any comments. However, this post is a result of my experience combined with a specific teaching context, so I’ll probably end up defending my stance vigorously. 🙂