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!