Monitoring Technique

Have just read Hana’s post on her blog and felt an urge to respond with a comment. After drafting my reply I realized that I have written too much for a comment and decided to post it on my blog.

Hana writes: ‘Monitoring the class while the students work in pairs or groups is one of the classroom management techniques every teacher is expected to do‘.

A true story to illustrate this, especially the part ‘expected’: when I completed my initial training course for teachers almost 20 years ago, I was confident that ‘monitoring’ meant walking around the room while the students were doing their task. Could I explain the reason(s) or rationale for doing that? No. I knew that monitoring closely might interfere into a conversation and that ideally I ‘should’ be doing it discretely, or from behind (so that students could not see me)

Fast-forward to five or six years later: I am training to receive my training license and together with my coach (ToT) we are delivering a listening lesson to language learners (and are observed by all the teachers on the course). I am setting a listening task, the recording is playing, and I am walking around quietly (yes, monitoring). My co-teacher asks me in whisper how the students are doing with the current task, and whether or not I think we need to re-play the recording. Guess what? I have no idea about that!

  • Zhenya, weren’t you monitoring them?
  • I was, of course! But I was not reading what they were writing in their notes…

So… it was a big learning moment to me to find out that ‘monitoring’ was not about me moving around the room, but that it was about observing student learning, their insights, challenges, mistakes, etc. Yes, it could be done quietly, and without ‘stepping into’ the conversation. Since that day, I have a piece of paper or a small notebook in my classroom or training room, for notes to make while I am really monitoring (or listening).

Which tasks need to be monitored? To me, these are the new ones (if students have never done them before, they might have questions in the process, and those can be addressed immediately and not distracting everyone else); if the tasks are ‘anticipated challenge’ for various reasons (new language, new exam skill, games with complicated rules, etc.); if the tasks are ‘key’ for the teacher to make a decision whether or not to move on or to stay on the point longer.

Also, large classes to me is a place where I would be moving more, just in case I missed something during the time the instructions were set, or if someone is not comfortable to ask a question to the whole group.

Hana writes: ‘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 I agree. It is sad to realize that teacher standing close by could be the only motivation to do a task, but if it works for some groups of learners, it is a possible solution.

Something that made me think about my presenting style was this sentence from Hana: ‘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.’ – I would like to reflect more on the way I behave (stand or move) in a presentation I give. I do move around for a task set in pairs, and oftentimes the reason is to see if everyone is ‘on’ and if the task is manageable or needs extra clarification. My next presentation is at the end of October, so it is good to have a small action point now.

While writing the above, I realized that my ‘monitoring activity’ is often done without moving around. One example is when students are listening to a recording, or watching something, I sit or stand at the ‘far’ side of the room, or in the corner, so that I could see everyone and no-one would be looking at me. This way I can see who is struggling with the task (for possible meaningful grouping later).

Another idea is about the time while students are talking in pairs or small groups, I sit down in the middle (taking someone’s chair) and ‘disappear among students, listening to various pairs in turns and not distracting them with my comments and questions.

A colleague of mine taught me to ‘zoom in‘ by focusing on one specific pair of students while they are doing the task. It can be done from a good distance, or even from the ‘default’ position near the board. I found this especially useful in a class with beginners, who are very sensitive and aware of their mistakes and sometimes teacher’s close presence may shut them down.

Also, there are times when I am explicit about NOT monitoring the task (with students or teachers) asking them to go in the ‘far corners’ of the classroom, and even playing loud background music with a device in the middle of the room. This way a real Information Gap is created and every group (and me as a teacher!) have a genuine reason to listen to each other.

How do you monitor student (or teacher) learning) in your classroom? And in the online courses you run? (I often feel that ‘stepping into’ a discussion where a group is working may feel the same way as coming too close to students in class)

Thank you for reading!

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
This entry was posted in Teacher Reflections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Monitoring Technique

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    Thank you for writing this up, Zhenya. It’s very useful to hear a different perspective. I think you’ve come up with some very useful tips, which I’m definitely going to adopt, such as zooming in on a particular pair of students (although this must be done very carefully, especially with teenagers) or using background music. 🙂


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Hana
      Thank you for reading and leaving your comment to continue this conversation!
      I agree that lots of ‘rules’ of managing a language class need to be broken or adapted when we talk about teaching teenagers: this age group is usually sensitive to adults’ attention to them (and their conversations) and a good distance + thinking space shows respect to them as humans, and learners.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Zhenya,
    Thanks for writing this. I’m not going to write a separate post, as I think a lot of my monitoring is similar to yours.
    I’m not sure I used to do the walking around thing – I think I probably didn’t do anything and just kind of ignored what was happening! I’ve heard it called ‘G&T monitoring’ – as in, you might as well have a G&T in your hand for all the good it’s doing 🙂 I also call it ‘helicopter monitoring’ sometimes – the teacher walks around the outside, especially if they can do a full circle around the students (i.e. they’re arranged in the centre of the room with space around them) – and it’s like they’re just hovering, waiting for a chance to land. I’ve also been known to tell trainees they were making me dizzy because they were walking around so fast 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Sandy
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment! I had to look up the ‘G&T’ part of the term you shared, and first ‘Gifted and Talented’ came up (with gin and tonic being second) 🙂 On a serious note, it reminded me of the importance to watch quieter students, or those who don’t jump with the ideas immediately and might need a bit of time to get started. That can be a good ‘landing’ excuse for a helicopter, perhaps.
      Something else I remember is not to make loud noise (high heels won’t help if it is a listening activity and students are trying to focus)
      I will certainly get back to this post as my ‘idea catcher’ in the future.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Nice discussion here! I monitor quite a lot really, but in different ways – it all depends on how (in)obtrusive I want to be. Sometimes it’s good for the students to know that they are being observed (for formative assessment, for example); sometimes, just like in your story, I need to know if they have completed the activity; sometimes I need to do some error correction on the spot. Nothing fancy really, just different methods for different situations. Horses for courses 🙂


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Kate,
      Thank you for the comment! Yes, ‘horses for courses’ (another new piece of language for me), I like it! It now occurs to me I rarely ask teachers on my courses how they feel being ‘monitored’ (or how it feels to be on the ‘other side’ of the teacher-learner environment and experience a technique they are ‘taught’ to implement)
      It reminds me how uncomfortable we have all (at least once) felt being observed in class, but that has never linked to monitoring students and their learning. Hm, food for thought!
      Thank you for continuing this conversation and making me think further!


  4. Svetlana says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this piece of information. I ame also agree with u about monitoring the students. I am teaching adults and most of them just like sitting on internet, chatting with their friends so always i have to control the students while they are doing tasks individually or pair work by moving around or just standing in front of the desk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Svetlana
      Thank you for reading and leaving your comment. As I understand, you are teaching offline now (what a gift, right?) and that’s how these ideas look useful. Between 2020 and now, have you had a chance to also teach ‘live’ online (e.g., on Zoom)? I am curious how you experienced monitoring their learning in that setting. It is interesting how some of our colleagues reflect that it is easier online (when you join a breakout room and/or when you observe collaboration on a Google document, etc.) and some say that it is much harder to do without sharing the same space in the room.
      Hope you are enjoying your teaching week!


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