Zero tolerance

I’m normally a fairly laid-back guy, and I am probably a ‘nice’ teacher. I see my role as being a coach, someone who can provide training, encouragement, and advice to my students so they can learn the skills of English. At university, I set clear (high) expectations and show my students how to meet them.

In children’s classes though, something wasn’t right.

I’ve been reading a lot recently. Kindle on a phone makes reading anywhere, anytime a breeze. I think I have probably more than doubled the number of books I read since I got it.

Two standouts: Teach like a Champion, which I have talked about before, and more recently Work Hard, Be Nice (about the Knowledge Is Power Program in the US).

Both of them talk about high-energy, high-expectation, zero-tolerance classrooms. I don’t have big problems with discipline in my classes, but they could definitely be better, and perhaps the techniques in these books could help me…

I want my classes to be exciting, the students to be motivated and enthusiastic, and the results to be spectacular. I have some students who end up amazing users of English, and some that don’t, but I think it is possible to increase the numbers of those that do.

Recently I have been experimenting with a two-pronged approach:

1. keep the students busy with achievable, interesting activities
2. firmly jump on any form of undesired student behaviour immediately

Examples of undesirable behaviour: hitting, verbal attacks on teachers or other students, moving around without permission, talking about things not germane to the lesson, playing with pencils or other objects, not singing, not participating in speaking activities, not doing homework, not following instructions, etc.

So far it is going really well. I think students like to know what is expected of them and what they should be doing. Being firm in enforcing the rules allows the students who are into the lessons to enjoy them more, and makes life easier for the teacher. The flipside, of course, as alluded to in number 1 above, is that it is also essential to keep students challenged and busy in class.

I am going to continue with my ‘firm teacher’ experiment and see how the students progress. I’m very excited to see how the classes go over the next few months until March.

How do you enforce the must-sing rule? At Devon’s workshops his thought was it’s ok to let it go because they are listening and might produce later (at home maybe). Shy students might react badly to being forced to sing. Just wondering about your take on that.

Actually, this only came up because I have a class of new 7-year-olds, one of whom is too cool for school. At first, all the students except her were happy to sing, but upon observing her not singing, they have slowly (seemingly reluctantly) stopped singing!

What I did was have a brief chat with her about how important it was to sing all together, then made a point of practicing the chorus before the song and saying ‘I want to hear all of you singing the chorus at least’. It seems to have worked, although I’m sure I’ll have to remind her.

I have reframed singing from an optional, ‘fun’ activity to a compulsory, necessary one in my own mind and will have a go at making that transition with my students. If they don’t like singing, that’s fine. We only do it for five minutes in each class 😉


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