Managing classrooms at City’s Learning and Teaching Forum

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Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

This month’s lunchtime Learning and Teaching Forum focused on classroom management, a topic of concern for many staff at City. Staff and students all want learning to take place, but sometimes there can be a mismatch in expectations leading to frustrations on both sides.

We began by looking at the issues attendees had experienced – these roughly fell into two categories: either revolving around students not being there (not attending, arriving late, or coming in and out of a session), or not appearing to be engaged when actually present (talking, inappropriate use of social media, phone use, watching YouTube or using laptops to do work unrelated to the current class).

We then discussed the reasons for managing behaviour in the classroom: the need to ‘create and hold a space for everyone (including the teacher!) to engage, achieve, and enjoy themselves’. Nipping bad behaviour in the bud before it escalates can be part of establishing the kind of atmosphere where all students feel comfortable to take part in a teaching session – indeed, it is often students who express resentment at negative behaviours not being addressed.

However, there’s never just one appropriate response to a situation, and we discussed the effects of the relationship with the group of students you are teaching, the size of the group, the teaching methods you’re using, and the teacher’s own personality. Nevertheless, we noted that research has shown that teachers who show more ‘immediacy behaviours’ (essentially, showing warmth and friendliness towards students) experience less disruption in their classes (Boice, 1996). In a small class that you teach regularly, this might involve getting to know students personally and using their names, whereas with a large group this could mean smiling and greeting students as they come in.

For the main part of the session, we worked in groups to come up with solutions to problems that might occur in classrooms – including some of issues that were raised at the beginning of the Forum. These scenarios can be seen on the slides, and a Padlet was set up for participants to share their ideas: https://padlet.com/drjess/class

At the end, we came together as a whole group to discuss the scenarios and suggestions for dealing with these problems. We had some really fruitful discussions which represented a range of different approaches to classroom management. We talked about trying to understand the reasons behind student behaviour (are they talking because they’re confused? Are they using mobiles to look up terminology or wording they don’t understand? Are they restless because it’s difficult to concentrate for the duration of the whole lesson?). Agreeing shared expectations of behaviour was seen as really important, perhaps through initial discussions at the start of a module that might be returned to throughout the term where necessary. We also considered whether there might be some behaviour that we would want to make clear was unacceptable, particularly in relation to discrimination such as racism or sexism. We debated whether every problematic opinion should be seen as a learning opportunity, or if resulting discussions might instead appear to validate harmful views, and thus prove painful to students with relevant characteristics, or indeed increase the emotional burden on those students to be the ones to challenge them. As critical thinking is often seen as the key to learning at university level, there are no easy answers to these questions, but thinking them through as a group can certainly be productive.

One of the points raised was how emotional an initial response to bad behaviour can be. To conclude, we looked at Seligman’s (2006) framework for learned optimism which is one method for distancing yourself from these types of initial reactions. It involves looking at your interpretation of an adverse event, recognising the emotions that result from it, but then thinking about the adverse event from a more objective point of view. This entails challenging your initial interpretations (perhaps thoughts like ‘I’m a terrible teacher if I can’t stop those people at the back talking’ or ‘none of my students can be bothered to participate properly’) with a more realistic view, which will reduce the associated negative feelings, meaning that you can return to the classroom with renewed energy and positivity about teaching!

References

Boice, R. (1996). Classroom incivilities. Research in Higher Education, 37, 453-486

Seligman, M. (2006) Learned Optimism. Vintage Books: USA

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