I contacted Cambridge University Press last month. I said ‘If you send me a book, I’ll review it on my blog.’ To my surprise, a copy of Classroom Management Techniques by Jim Scrivener turned up in my pigeon hole at work. This was very generous of them, but it’s been out for a while and reviewed plenty of times so I’m not going to stick to my promise (sorry). Instead, I’m going to write a few different posts about sections in the book, choosing things that I agree with, new things I will definitely try out, and some things that I feel differently about as a practising teacher.
Two things I should say. First, you can find a good overview of the book here, and a nice review here. Secondly, the fact that I disagree with some things written in the book doesn’t mean I dislike it. We had a copy of it at my last school (don’t tell CUP I’ve read it already), and I think it’s great – actually I’d say it’s an essential book for any staffroom.
I’m starting with the final section in the book which is about lessons. The last 50 pages of Classroom Management Techniques offer tips and activities related to 10 different topics, which are:
starting lessons low-tech resources
using the board working with computers
the coursebook post-task
time and pace closing lessons
handouts closing courses
I’ll take a look at 5 of the above and share some thoughts.
I totally agree with… starting at the very beginning of a lesson. Students need to be engaged straight away, whether they are doing a review task, a warmer that gets them settled, an energiser, etc. All these suggestions from Jim are great.
I’m going to try… adding more running themes into my classes. Scrivener mentions having things like ‘joke of the day/anagram of the day/headline of the day’ activities on the board to engage students from the off. I often have an anagram game as a settling activity but I need to mix things up a bit.
I’m not so sure about… ‘being the gatekeeper’. Scrivener suggests you position yourself next to the door as students enter and greet them as they arrive, tell them where to sit, give them a task to start working on, etc. This is a nice idea and is assertive, but it depends on your class. I can’t do this because my students filter in to class gradually during the first 30 minutes, depending on when their parents can drop them off! I have a task waiting on the table for them to do (normally either anagrams, cryptograms or crosswords that review vocabulary from the last class), and I have a set seating plan so they know where to go and what to do. For the ones that are really late, they enter with minimal fuss and I quickly tell them the task so they can get up to speed.
Using the board
I totally agree with… everything in this section, in fact it seems I unwittingly ripped it off in my own post on board work. I must have got most of my ideas from this book and forgot! Still, Scrivener mentions two important points that I didn’t cover. The first is the need to ensure the clarity of your writing. The other is to ask students if it’s ok to rub items off the board before you do it!
I’m going to try… writing ‘game show’ style. This is a tip to stop you writing on the board with your back to the students. You just need to develop the technique to both stand facing the students and write on the board at the same time. I’m rubbish at this, I need to improve!
I’m not so sure about… using an interactive whiteboard as an ordinary board. I think I might need interactive whiteboard training, because my ability to write on them is poor. I don’t have different colour pens, so I find marking stress, form, etc really cumbersome. It’s good to have words stored on a flipchart, but they are not always there on the board unless I flip back to them, which tends to disrupt the lesson a bit. I have both types of board in the classroom, and I’m very thankful for that!
I totally agree… that working with a coursebook involves being selective. You don’t have to use everything. Also, the idea that the order of coursebook activities is not set – although some coursebooks seem to follow very logical structures. Adapting and exploiting coursebook materials are two things I’ve done a lot of recently. It’s been fun trying this out as I’ve never really used a lot of coursebooks before. My recent post on multiple intelligences was the most successful lesson I’ve adapted from the coursebook so far.
I’m going to try… getting to know my coursebook. I normally start teaching from a book without giving much thought to the method that underpins it. This is bad practice. Obviously, after a while I start to see patterns and work out what motivated the writer to devise certain activities. I should probably take more time to explore the coursebook and read about it before teaching from it.
I’m not sure about… democratising the coursebook. Scrivener talks about asking learners their opinions about what they want to do, how they want to do it, etc. Sometimes I ask students how they want to do tasks, like in pairs or groups, but I normally consider what I think is best for certain activities at the planning stage. My students seem to prefer being told how an activity is organised, however another teacher in my school says he ‘democratises’ all the time. I wonder whether giving students more control over how we work with the coursebook might be useful in my classes…
I totally agree… with having a vocabulary box. Jim says:
keep a small box and a set of blank cards. When interesting or tricky vocabulary comes up, the teacher or student can write them on a new card: word on one side, notes on the other (meaning, pronunciation, difficulties, etc.). As the collection of cards grows, they can be used to revise and recycle the items (Scrivener 2012: 272)
Lovely. I mentioned before that I keep a word list for each class to help with revision. I might use a box now so students can contribute to it.
I’m going to try… flipcharts. As in, real flipcharts, with an easel, board pens, etc. I don’t know when I can try this as they don’t have them at my school, but I like the idea of students working together as a group and sharing ideas on a flipchart. It’s a good, permanent record of their ideas too. One thing I will say about flipcharts – I found them the WORST tool for teacher presentation EVER. One school I worked at chose to use flipcharts in place of whiteboards, it was the biggest waste of paper ever.
I’m not so sure about… posters. My students enjoy creating posters, and they take a lot of pride in their work. They also like collaborating on them. However…
1) taking pride normally means taking a lot of time
2) working together means they can’t finish posters for homework, meaning more class time
3) they never seem to use much English when they make posters
To be fair, the problem is probably the way I set up poster tasks. I should reflect on this I think.
I agree… that encouraging student reflection is a great way to close lessons. Jim suggests some great methods for doing this – see pages 285 and 286 of the book for these!
I’m going to try… getting pairs to write a letter to absent students, in which they summarise what happened in the lesson and what they learnt. This sounds really fun and great for reflection!
I’m not so sure… how well I actually close my own lessons. This section of Scrivener’s book is well worth a look.
This is a great piece of ELT literature to use for reflections. I’ll cover another section of the book at some point soon – and perhaps answer some of the ‘questions for reflection’ that appear in each chapter.