MANAGING THE INTERACTIVE
LANGUAGE LEARNING CLASSROOM
- The active learning environment
- Motivation for Language Learning
- Learning by doing
- Responding to learner level
- The Teacher's meta-language
- Openings and closures
- The Teacher's voice and position
- Managing pair and group work
- Timing and pace
1. The active learning environment
The classroom is a learning community in which there is both verbal and non-verbal interaction.
The teacher must constantly be aware of the presence, contribution and needs of the learner.
The teacher is almost always attending behaviour e.g. assessing the effect of using students' names, eye contact, facial expression, stance, verbal prompts, reprimands etc.
Some factors may influence the teacher's attendance to students = sex of student, seating arrangements, ability of student, nature of the task etc.
2. Motivation for Language Learning
Instrumental motivation = wanting to learn a language because it is useful in achieving practical goals.
Integrative motivation = wanting to understand and to relate to or communicate with others.
These factors can influence the learner's willingness to synchronise and co-operate with the teacher e.g. putting hand up to answer questions, involvement in the task, concentration span, willingness to persevere, tolerance of others, participation, willingness to work when not directly supervised.
3. Learning by doing
The more the learner is engaged by the lesson, the greater will be the of impact the lesson.
Active learning allows learning to be both more personal and more memorable.
Teachers therefore often incorporate tasks that require learners to do something e.g. with the language and/or with each other.
These can be cognitive, affective and physical activities e.g. acting, interacting, making judgements, negotiating, consulting etc.
Teachers need to be aware of the balance between these activities in their lessons.
4. Responding to learner level
No class is ever completely homogenous in terms of level.
The notion of level is a complex one, subject to a diversity of contingent factors e.g.
people learn in different ways
at different rates
with different styles and
exposing different strategies.
There are also cases of 'anomaly' where the risk-avoiding, accuracy orientated student might appear to be a higher level than a rather garrulous, risk-taking, fluency or communication-orientated student who is less perturbed by a display of error.
Various teacher strategies, conscious or unconscious may accommodate learner level e.g.:-
varying speed/complexity/length of language
calling on stronger students to respond first so as to provide a model for the rest of the class
pairing and grouping arrangements.
The teacher thus needs to be aware of the level of difficulty of a task vis a vis the learner.
The level of difficulty of a task needs to be appropriate so that the learner is challenged by an attainable goal.
Indicators of challenge need to be monitored by the teacher e.g.:-
- non-comprehension in facial expression
- student wait time before response
- first respondent does not offer the correct answer
- sideways look at neighbour before starting to write
One investigator says that if indicators of challenge are present in about a quarter or a third of the class, then the level of challenge is about right!
Indicators of under-challenge or ease might be:-
- student gets started quickly
- plethora of responses to the teacher's questions
- expected time for completion over-calculated
The teacher may wish to consider grouping students according to various criteria such as ability, potential, participation, type of learning strategies used etc. in order that individuals might benefit from working with others.
5. The Teacher's meta-language
This section is concerned with teacher talk which is not related to the language being presented i.e. the language of organising the classroom. This includes:-
- response to questions
- giving praise
- correction etc.
While it is a general aim to minimise teacher talking time so as to encourage student talking time, meta-language itself is an important source of learning because it is genuinely communicative and therefore, potentially, a rich source of input.
Teachers need therefore to look carefully at their meta-language and consider :-
- its communicative purpose
- the generalisations that learners might make about the target language
- whether it needs to be adjusted downwards etc. to increase ease of comprehension
- the value of sticking to certain patterns so that over time it develops into a type of authentic, communicative drill
- using contextual clues
Teachers need not only to plan their questions in terms of the lesson's content, but also in terms of the cognitive and linguistic demands made on the learner.
These demands relate to both decoding the question and encoding the response.
Teachers must consider the notion of difficulty from the learner's point of view, and the factors which contribute to the relative ease or difficulty of a question.
These are the responses given by the teacher to what learners produce in the classroom.
Teachers are aware of feedback in terms of its motivational value.
However there are also cognitive and linguistic reasons why the teacher's response may have an important influence on the learning process.
Feedback must be genuinely responsive.
It must be more than just empty or automatic encouragement.
8. Openings and closures
There are certain predictable conventions or routines that accompany the entrance and exit of the lesson.
Teachers should try to refine their understanding of the purposes served by these routines.
Consider the significance of:-
- differences in teacher talk with one or two students and with the whole class
- student exposure to natural language in genuine communicative situations such as teacher greeting a student individually on entering the classroom
- linking the coming lesson to other lessons, previous or forthcoming
- reviewing previous work before plunging into new work
- students' mental and physical state at the beginning of the lesson
- informing pupils of the aims and targets for the lesson
Consider the significance of:-
- routines for easing the end of an activity into the end of the lesson
- making time for questions
- finding out how students feel as they leave the classroom
- routines for reviewing the lesson's aims and content at the end of the lesson
- linking this lesson to previous and coming ones.
9. The Teacher's voice and position
A number of qualities are relevant to the teacher's voice:-
lack of distortion
range (of tone / volume / emotion / mood etc.)
The physical position of the teacher in the classroom can vary according to :-
presentation from front or from other parts of the classroom
furniture arrangement or size of classroom compared to number of pupils
sitting / standing
movement and gesture and non-verbal signals
the use made of visual support and teaching aids
the need to engage the class's attention
the presence of foreign language assistants, support teachers, inspectors etc.
10. Managing pair and group work
Using a range of teacher-led activities, pair work and group work requires the teacher to move in and out of different interactive patterns smoothly and efficiently.
Efficient transitions through various lesson phases are integral to effective classroom management.
Pair and group work also requires different teacher skills from those involved in teacher-led activities. These include three areas:-
- organisational skills involved in the transition between activities
- the characteristics of teacher intervention during pair or group work
- the management of information transfer, specifically in the report-back phase following pair or group work
1. Moving into an activity
- organisation of groups and seating
- giving instructions, including modelling and checking
- appointing and briefing group leaders
2. Monitoring pair/group work
- methods of monitoring used
- under what circumstances and for what purposes does the teacher speak to a group
- the teacher's voice, position, proxemics, posture etc.
3. Moving out of an activity
- winding down the work
- signalling for everyone's attention
- re-orienting groups to new phase of lesson
- organising and monitoring report-back phase
Consider the following statements:-
- a teacher monitoring a group is there to listen, help and monitor but not to teach
- any teacher comment must be preceded by the teacher listening closely to the group to find out how they are getting on
- any interaction should be instigated by the group or its members but not by the teacher
- the teacher must give equal time to the groups
- the teacher must try to give equal time to individuals within the groups
- proxemics, eye contact and tone of voice are necessarily different from those in full class activities
Consider the ease with which members of the pair or group are able to:-
- relax and be comfortable
- concentrate on the activity
- see the board
- see/hear the teacher
- work silently
- be included as an equal member
The focused instructional cycle of Presentation - Practice - Production; the relative central focus of the teacher, diminishes while that of the learner's increases.
asss PRESENTATION PRACTICE PRODUCTION Teacher controls monitors/corrects facilitates/guides Learner understands manipulates produces/communicates
It is important to note that the order of the three 'P's may vary, e.g. to establish with clarity areas of need and motivation, the production stage could come before the presentation.
However, wherever in the lesson the production might occur, the relative and interconnected roles of teacher and learner remain the same i.e. facilitator/guide and producer/communicator respectively.
11. Timing and pace
Predicting the length of time a phase or activity will last in a lesson is called "timing".
Good timing will allow you either to keep to the course set out in your lesson plan or to follow side-tracks judiciously.
With more experience, teachers become more adept at planning the time and more able during the lesson to make choices that affect the timing.
The initial planning concerning a lesson's timing, combined with spontaneous decision-making in the course of the lesson, add up to what we call a lesson's 'pace'.
Pace is crucial to keeping students alert, motivated, engaged and 'on-course'.
Avoid restlessness and uncooperativeness.
Maintain a reasonable working atmosphere.
Anticipate the stirring or settling effect of an activity.
Keep the class working effectively by involving the learner, so bare in mind:
1. Mental engagement by appealing to their:-
sense of fun
appetite for competition
interest in 'working things out'
offbeat sense of humour
2. Physical occupation including:-
writing / copying / drawing / colouring
speaking / rehearsing / giving instructions
listening grids / worksheets to follow
games / activities requiring physical response / movement
3. Classroom activities that:-
ensure that all the class are engaged in the activity
give each pupil something to do
keep everybody actively engaged and on task
make them feel that they will be assessed / made to give account / give feed back
For listening comprehension work, you can get pupils to settle quickly by using an answer sheet which looks like a test with a space for them to put their name, class and date, school or departmental heading / logo and mark out of x at the bottom.
For oral pair-work activities, set time limit and walk around with a class list on a clip board for formative assessment.
Give a specific target, such as learning to say using only symbols on cue card, replacing words in italics with alternatives etc.
At the end of the activity ask for feed-back. Use feed-back as listening comprehension for rest of class or rest of class, gives marks for clear voices.
N.B. These techniques can be used sensibly and sensitively. Over use will reduce effectiveness. Overkill will result in restless resentment from some and inhibiting stress in others.