Troubleshooting TEFL: How do I Maintain a Healthy Classroom Culture?
When beginning work with a new group of English Language Learners, there are many factors to consider. For example: How do I assess their prior knowledge? How do I engage in the classroom? How do I make sure my students are comfortable to ask questions? All these questions are all hinged on the instructor’s ability to create a positive classroom culture and troubleshoot potential problems.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Maria H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
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The Beginning of Study
The first few lessons are critical to this process. It is imperative that instructors set the tone of their class. They need to establish a positive rapport with students so that they can fully participate in lessons. Students need to be encouraged to have a growth mindset and not be afraid to make mistakes. Without this comfort level, open participation will be a struggle. The teacher needs to make sure that they structure some sort of “warmer” activity at the start of class. This should be a non-content driven task that helps to build students’ confidence. ESL students are particularly shy when exploring the usage of a new language. They should be treated with lots of positive reinforcement to be successful.
These first few lessons are also a time to run any diagnostics that are needed to create scaffolded lessons in the classroom. If the instructor is teaching one on one, then this process is very straightforward. When dealing with groups, teachers need to be conscious that some students may come equipped with more experience than others with their new language. Teachers should administer surveys, verbal or written, or have students share something about themselves to glean vital information about what level each learner has attained. Once this information is gathered, the teacher can group students and tailor lessons to suit the needs of their students. Correctly assessing the student needs will help to ensure that all learners are developing the skills they need to be successful in English.
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After these diagnostics are administered, appropriate differentiation is key to encourage participation. If students are misaligned with the curriculum, then they might feel a lack of motivation either because the challenge is too great or because they are not being challenged enough. This may mean that teachers must find multiple versions of classwork for a given lesson. Some groups may be working on essential vocabulary where others are using those words in full sentences. The content is similar, just leveled for the needs of the students. Successfully scaffolding lessons give students the best chance for individual growth and improvement.
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Once this positive rapport is set, students need constant reinforcement to not be discouraged. Learning a new language is challenging. It is very important to support students through this process. Small group practice, as opposed to whole group practice, can build confidence for shy students in the room. Teachers should make sure to circulate when small group work is taking place to support this process. Most students will feel much more comfortable receiving feedback when it occurs in a less public way. Role-plays, for example, are helpful tools for students to engage with the curriculum in a low-pressure environment.
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With these elements in place, the classroom will be a warm, inviting place for learning. Mutual respect will exist between students and teacher, in spite of a language barrier. There is much that a smile and positive reinforcement can offer in the classroom. All members of the classroom community must feel safe and enthusiastic about learning.
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