Transforming classroom management for ELLs: Strategies for success
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
In Part 1 of this article, we discussed the numerous issues that impact classroom management skills, in general terms, but also when working with students who are English learners or who come from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Classroom management is a phrase and concept all teachers are familiar with and know intimately.
There are numerous classroom management strategies that benefit all students, but that may be especially beneficial for culturally and linguistically diverse students. This population in particular requires additional considerations as we work to develop a classroom culture of learning and mutual respect.
Consider the following concepts and strategies as you reflect on your own classroom management style and classroom culture.
Interest in students
Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist is thought to be the first to discuss the unconditional positive regard for patients. In teaching, we can apply the concept as having an unconditional positive regard for children. This includes taking interest in our students, including their interests, hobbies and cultural norms and backgrounds.
Just as parents love their children unconditionally, when we view students with a positive regard, we do everything we can for them to improve their social and emotional health, including using discipline and classroom management strategies that help them to see what appropriate behavior looks, sounds and feels like.
Celebrating students' languages and cultures
Celebrating that students speak other languages and have culturally diverse backgrounds is as easy as encouraging students to speak their native language at home with their families, or in class as appropriate.
Students may be encouraged to speak in their native language when discussion a topic with a partner or clarifying instructions or concepts, for example. Ask students if they are familiar with vocabulary words or concepts in their native languages, and if they are comfortable, ask them to share those words.
Examining our cultural lens
As we celebrate students' cultures and linguistic backgrounds, it is important that we also begin to think about our own cultural norms and biases. How we understand the world and students can lead to misunderstandings of behavior displayed by students.
One way to consider this is to question if what we expect a classroom to look like is the same or different from what our students believe and expect. Do our practices align with what students are used to and believe school should be? While we do not necessarily need to completely change our system, it is important that we begin to recognize how our own cultural lens can cause misunderstandings.
Creating a culture of learning
Keep the affective filter low by encouraging risk-taking in the classroom. Celebrate when students make attempts at applying concepts or language skills, even if these attempts come at inopportune times.
Keep it positive
Perhaps the most important strategy teachers can use to effectively manage classrooms is the notion of public praise and private conversations. This refers to publicly recognizing students who are behaving appropriately, rather than students who are behaving in undesirable or disruptive ways.
The adage "what you permit, you promote" holds true in that teachers can and should make explicit the kids of behaviors they expect to see in class, and publicly acknowledge those behaviors. Phrases such as "thank you for staying quiet while others are speaking" and the like show students what you expect from them.
This does not mean that unacceptable behavior is ignored. But rather when the redirection of students by pointing out positive behavior does not work, a private conversation with the student is necessary.
Some students only know how to gain attention from the teacher by acting in disruptive ways. When we shift the paradigm and publicly acknowledge students when they are doing something correctly — especially recognizing positive behavior in students who have behavior challenges — we can begin to shift the paradigm of negative attention seeking behaviors.
Developing norms or agreements
In a positive classroom community, students and teachers can work together to collaboratively develop norms for behavior. Students at all levels know the types of behaviors that are helpful or harmful in learning and working with others. Students from diverse cultural backgrounds may have differing perspectives that will enrich the discussions.
If students are a part of developing the norms of behavior and agreements in the classroom, they are more likely to follow the norms as they had a hand in creating them.
Explicit teaching of social skills
Students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may have differing expectations on how to behave in the classroom, as we have previously mentioned. Behavioral expectations should be explicitly taught to students so that they understand what the behaviors are, what the behaviors look like and sound like.
One way to explicitly teach this is by using a three-column chart. The behavioral norm or social skill is listed at the top of the chart. In each column, list — with the input of the students — what the skill looks like, sounds like and feels like.
While this may seem tedious, students may not be able to immediately articulate what empathy, listening, respect, collaboration, perseverance or other skills actually look like. Specific examples of what a particular skill looks like, sounds like, or feels like can be added over time.
The second column, "sounds like," is especially important for English learners. These students may need explicit instruction in the words and phrases that help demonstrate the social skill or behavior being taught.
Many teachers are familiar with writing instructional objectives and sharing those objectives with students. When working with English learners, the addition of language objectives is a widely accepted practice to help students develop academic language skills.
Social objectives that focus on the behavior students will engage in during the lesson are another way to make explicit the types of behavior students should engage in. For example, a social objective may focus on nonverbal cues speakers give when listening to a partner, such as nodding, asking clarifying questions or appropriate eye contact.
Active student participation
Effective instructional techniques will assist in keeping students engaged, thereby minimizing behavior issues. When scaffolding is used appropriately, students are met at their instructional level and supported to meet the objectives for the lesson.
Using techniques such as choral calling, frequent student conversations on academic topics, hands-on activities, and getting students up and moving around, students will be more highly engaged and less likely to behave in disruptive ways.
Implementing these strategies and concepts will likely not eliminate all behavioral issues in the classroom. However, as we strive to meet the needs of all students in the classroom, careful consideration of how we manage student behavior and carefully considering our students' experiences and cultural backgrounds will help us to ever move in the direction of helping each child to excel.
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