Action plan

IMG_20150811_204153In 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:

  1. This is not a final-exam-oriented course, but …..
  2. As far as homework is concerned, …
  3. Regarding coursebooks, ….
  4. As for mobile devices, such as mobiles, laptops, etc., …
  5. My view on side conversations is this:
  6. My motto is better later than never. However, ….
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. I hope that this activity will help me quickly gauge the level of the learners’ spoken English.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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’:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. 🙂

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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11 Responses to Action plan

  1. Joanna Malefaki says:

    Trying to discipline older students. Now, that’s a tough cookie :). Good luck with your class!!!
    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marc says:

    I second that!

    You could consider guilt tripping the students by being overly nice like “If you’re late for my lesson I’m sure there must be a valid reason for it so if you’d like to stay behind after class and we can discuss a way for you to make up the minutes lost so you don’t fall behind in your work.” It worked with one of my university students last year. Perhaps because they hate English (scientists!).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ven_vve says:

    Sounds like a good plan! I’m always on the lookout for strategies that won’t result in more work for me, so I hope that those who get (extra) homework if they don’t participate in class won’t eventually create more work for you. Maybe you could add a sentence starting with “Students who don’t participate actively in class should/will…”, to get some ideas on what they think is fair to ask of students in this case. Then you could introduce the idea that this should ideally create no extra work for the teacher. 🙂 As you said, they _are_ supposed to be adults at 19.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Haha. Thanks for your tips, Vedrana! I absolutely agree that ideally, the rules and restrictions should never result in more work for me. I’ll keep that in mind and adjust the wording a bit. By the way, it’s so nice to see the *likes* and comments coming in gradually as you are catching up on my posts. 🙂 Thank you very much for the time to read and respond.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Hana,

    Thank you for the post. It is indeed the right time of the year for all of us to revise our practice on such matters.

    Setting class rules is something I do every year with all my classes (even the ones that I know and whom I’ve been teaching for many years). Out of all the ‘techniques’ I use to do so, here is my favourite one:

    I give each learner four post-it papers (the yellow square ones).
    Then, I post four paperboards on the wall. Each of them have the following titles:
    -Expectations from the teacher
    -Expectations from the self
    -Expectations from the course
    -Expectation from the school
    Each post-it should be posted on each of the paperboards. So, all learners have to do is complete each post-it paper with their expectations and post it on the relevant paperboard.
    Once I collect them all (and after holding a discussion about their expectations), I type them and distribute the final ‘classroom contract’ in the following lesson.

    As with the task you have described above, this is a student-generated set of rules which makes the teacher much less ‘authoritative.’

    Best,

    Angelos

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Angelos. It seems that you’ve found an effective way of dealing with class rules. And I like it. In my case, though, I’d have to leave out ‘Expectation from the school’ because I teach at a state school. I mean, by eliciting answers from your students, you implicitly promise that you’ll try to do you best to take their opinions into consideration. However, there are things you know you won’t be able to change, simply because it’s not in your power – due to your school’s policies, to give an example. In other words, I can adjust my approach, my methods, and the course content to a certain extent, but I can’t change the number of English lessons the students get, for example.

      Like

  5. Sara Wood says:

    Hi Hana, I like reading yr blogs (introduced to me by Sandy Millin) and have been very grateful for some of your ideas. Ah, the perpetual challenge of teens, older and younger! I’m no expert but here are some of my thoughts, both as a teacher and a mother of 3 teenagers with some extremely challenging behaviour. I always take away mobiles at the beginning of the class as , generally speaking, I have found that teenagers cannot trust themselves with their ‘phones and therefore neither can I!

    I am slightly sceptical about presenting teens with a list of rules @ beginning of class even as a prediction task. They tend to turn off. Maybe you could ask them to prioritize the rules and put them in the order they think you would I.e. things that will absolutely not be tolerated (serious crime!) & things that get on your nerves (not so serious). You could get them to suggest potential silly punishments e.g.spelling 5 words of your choice backwards etc. You could also ask them to discuss how different types of behaviour (positive & negative) impact on the class & learning processes. If that results in stuff that’s interesting for you as a teacher, keep it somewhere where the kids can see it and review it on a monthly basis.

    Do you hope to do any work on crime & punishment vocab? You could weave parts of it together to talk about why societies have laws and schools have rules? It could lead on to some interesting discussion work on ‘successful’ strategies/rehabilitation etc. By the way, I have never tested this stuff out. I am discovering that constant experimentation is a strategy that often pays off with teens.

    The other thing that I have been thinking is that sometimes our lumping together and imposing definitions on classes roughly by age blinds us to their true needs. After all, teenagers are just people who come with their own individual baggage like everyone else. What is unique to them is their learning situation and motivation and perhaps it is this that we should be thinking about?

    I will be facing my own little darlings in October – every year they present me with new (and some of the same old) challenges. Sometimes they bring me (figuratively) to my knees, other times we make it through with grace, dignity and a few laughs. Who could ask for more?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi, Sara!

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I really like your ideas above. I absolutely agree that teenagers can’t trust themselves with phones – I am a mother of two youngsters myself so I know what I’m talking about. In the past, I considered taking mobiles away from students at the beginning of each lesson, but for some inexplicable reason, I actually never got to applying this draconian measure in the end. My colleagues sometimes take phones away from students who’ve been using them ‘illegally’ in the lesson, and they give them back at the end of the day. This works in some cases. Surprisingly, not all students eventually turn up to pick up their phones on the same day, which makes me believe that they can easily survive without them once they’re out of reach (or they are too proud to show up).

      I’ll definitely consider all your tips on possible improvements of my ‘method’. I particularly like your idea of talking about why societies have laws and schools have rules. Thanks for sharing.

      Anyway, good luck with your little darlings! 🙂

      Hana

      Like

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