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How to Understand and Address Discipline in Adult Learners of EFL

How to Understand and Address Discipline in Adult Learners of EFL | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Discipline is an important aspect of classroom life when teaching EFL to adults. It affects the teachers and students and can hold a classroom together. Lack of discipline creates chaos and diminishes the ability of students to learn. In this essay, I will seek to explore what kind of discipline problems there are among adults, why a lack of discipline exists, and some strategies to solving a lack of discipline.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Eva A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

To begin with, I'd like to review some literature about common problems which exist among students.

In a 2016 study done in Saudi Arabia titled, "The Undesirable Behaviors of Students in Academic Classrooms, and Discipline Strategies Used by Faculty Members to Control Such Behaviors from the Perspective of the College of Education Students in King Saud University," the author identified discipline problems as "cheating and plagiarism regarding homework and research, replying with a rude manner, using cell phones, side talking, and arriving late to lectures (Al Qahtani, 2016)."In How to Teach English, Jeremy Harmer identifies discipline problems among adults as not focusing on the lesson, talking to the person next to them, being tardy to class, disagreeing with the teacher, and not doing their homework (Harmer, 2007). I believe that all of these problems can pose great difficulty to the teacher and other students in the class. Being late to class, although maybe not intentional, interrupts the classroom dynamic and sometimes forces the teacher to start all over again. Students who reply rudely question the teacher's authority and then the other students start doing the same. When talking to the person next to them, although again maybe not intended maliciously, students force the teacher to break the flow of the lesson. All these issues present a great problem for the teacher.

Going a little bit deeper into the area of discipline, makes one consider why these problems exist. While Chapter 19 of our text talks about the reason for children's problems, I believe that a lot of these reasons can apply to adults as well. Maybe the adults are bored in the classroom. Maybe they arrive late because of child-care obligations or work-related reasons. It is possible that they have severe problems at home and cannot focus on the lesson. It is also possible that the teacher is not treating everyone fairly. In her article, Dr. Ewa Krawczyk points out a different problem -- cultural differences. She states that it may be hard for the teacher to understand their students if they do not take the time to learn more about the student's culture and if the textbook they are using is not culturally appropriate (Krawczyk, 2019). If I was a student in a classroom and a teacher did not understand certain cultural norms, I would feel left out or bored or rebellious.

a male teacher having a lesson with adult students

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With all these reasons for lack of discipline in mind, what solutions can be implemented?

Al Qahtani points toward establishing a common rulebook, by which students agree to abide and which can be cited later when students misbehave. Thus, as our textbook says, students can have input into creating the rules and then obeying them. Harmer offers several solutions by saying that a teacher should not take anything personally and realize that teaching is just a job (Harmer, 181). Krawczyk says that it is important to check our inherent cultural biases and to learn as much as possible about our student's culture: "There is no doubt that you as teachers need to learn about your student's cultures and learning needs (Krawczyk, 2019).“

Also Read: Does Punishment Benefit Learning Discipline?

I believe that two things are very important. First, I think it is very necessary to put oneself in the students' shoes. What would I think as a student is fair? If I have child care issues and check with the teacher, is it possible for me to come in late? The burden then of course would be on the teacher in how to distinguish between the approved tardy and not approved ones. Also, I find it very important that the teacher is consistent in their approach to students. Nobody likes favoritism (except the favorites!) and when a teacher allows one thing but doesn't allow something else, the result is plain confusion. The second thing I think is very important is for the teacher to realize that most of these discipline problems can be solved by them. Perhaps if students talk in class, they can rearrange the seating. Perhaps they can, as our textbook says, make the lesson more engaging so that even the tired adults will participate. It's important that the teacher not give up on discipline and search for as many resources as possible to fix problems that can be dealt with.

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In conclusion, some of the discipline problems I addressed in this essay had to do with arriving late to class, talking on the side, and not focusing on the lesson. I discussed why I think these problems exist by exploring reasons for being late, reasons for not paying attention and looking at cultural differences. I also finished by pointing to several solutions such as creating a rule to follow, realizing that teaching is a job, and checking our cultural bias. In the end, discipline can be a hard topic for EFL teachers when faced with adult learners. But when we begin to understand the logic behind the behavior and implement the solutions, there is no reason why the classroom can't function well.

All of the activities mentioned above can be successfully used with any language point. Be creative and try them out to see which work best for your EFL classroom.

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