To monitor or not to monitor


Monitoring the class while the students work in pairs or groups is one of the classroom management techniques every teacher is expected to do. In a language classroom, we usually monitor activities to listen for the learners’ accuracy and fluency and also to check if everything is going according to plan.

However, I’ve recently realized that when I am in the role of a student/trainee/attendant of a workshop, a close physical presence of the teacher (or the presenter) is not pleasant to me. From this perspective, I often find monitoring distractive and intrusive, especially if the presenter is somebody I don’t know well. I simply can’t help the feeling that sometimes it’s as if the presenter is only pretending to be interested. The questions addressed to us sound like a small talk you have with strangers in the street – nice but totally pointless. It’s as if they knew that they are expected to be monitoring and that’s the only reason why they are doing it. I understand that sometimes they just need to blow off steam and thus they pace the room, distracting the attendees.

I prefer it when during pair work, the teacher/presenter stays in their default position, getting ready for the next stage of the lesson/workshop, for example, rather than monitoring us by closely listening to what we are discussing, occasionally asking a redundant question or giving unsolicited advice. I know I’m being harsh here but that’s how I see it now. 🙂

I mean, monitoring can and should be done only if it’s natural and absolutely necessary. I know that even adult learners like to have somebody nearby who they can ask a question if they come across a problem. However, I prefer it when we discuss the problem in the pair (that’s what we were asked to do after all) and we ask for clarification later – when we share the insights as a whole group and everybody can a have a say. This is what autonomy means to me. And if we believe in sharing and the benefits of peer work, i.e. we don’t do it just because it’s cool, we should simply leave the students alone. Thus, they can better concentrate on their tasks. I believe that the time during pair/group work should be the students’ private space, safe from the prying eyes (and ears) of the teacher.

I know there needs to be a certain amount of trust between the teacher and the students. If you believe your students will go on Facebook instead of doing the assigned work, you’ll probably need to monitor them every minute of every practice activity. And let’s be honest, we teachers are suspicious creatures. However, if you believe they can do well without the teacher being around all the time, you can relax and eavesdrop monitor from a distance.


About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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6 Responses to To monitor or not to monitor

  1. Pingback: Monitoring Technique | Wednesday Seminars

  2. SarahP says:

    Hi Hana! Enjoyed this post as I always feel that monitoring is sthg we’re expected to do – observation criteria where I work, training sessions etc. Saying that, I often find it hard to hear exactly what my ss are saying in a noisy classroom and yes, I feel that I am at times interuppting the natural flow of conversations when I hover near ss. Perhaps I’ll remind ss that I am there for help, they just need to signal to me. I could lurk in the shadows at the back of the room and see what happens 😉 And as you say, whole class feedback can be the time to deal with any issues, language work etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sarah. Yes, if you have a large group of students, it’s almost impossible to hear what they are saying and so your feedback is likely to be very inaccurate. On the other hand, if you are teaching a very small class, monitoring can get even more disruptive. Sometimes students stop speaking immediately once I approach them. I don’t take it personally, though. I think they just feel that I might hear some of their mistakes. If you think about it, it’s all right for them to feel this way. You assigned pair work after all, which through monitoring changes into close scrutiny.


  3. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Hana,
    I think we have to pay attention to what students are doing and the language they’re producing, but I agree that I don’t like the situations you’ve described above. Two bits of feedback I often give teachers on monitoring:
    – Try to make your monitoring as unobtrusive as possible. Don’t interrupt unless the student requests it. Avoid staring at students. [If you interrupt, you are no longer monitoring. You are joining in.]
    – Stay at the same level or lower than your students. Don’t loom. [Tips for this: if you like/applicable, sit on the floor in the middle of the horseshoe of students. Or sit on a chair. Or sit behind them.]
    There’s also a task on monitoring in ELT Playbook 1, because I know it’s a challenge for new teachers (and clearly for experienced teachers too!):

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Hana, I really like what you said here: “monitoring can and should be done only if it’s natural and absolutely necessary”. Just like many other things we do in the classroom – it has to be justified, offer learning benefits and as little discomfort as possible. And yes, sometimes it’s ok to distance yourself from the students to foster autonomy and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tehila Moskowitz says:

    It’s amazing at how your perspective changes when you sit in the ‘students’ shoes’. Being hovered on while working can make students feel like there is a lack of trust between the teachers and students. If the students do not complete their work while working in pairs then they are losing out. This is very well said, Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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