When visiting another school or another colleague’s classroom I will always praise the group on finding a lesson running smoothly with every single student on task, knowing what to do, sharing ideas, being respectful towards one another. When learning is actually happening you will find out that these wonderful students’ skills didn’t appear by magic but that they were carefully, cautiously and cleverly taught by an efficient long-term thinking teacher. These types of classroom actually exist within the teacher’s willingness to create a safe learning community.
Without divine intervention, we can only count on ourselves to shape the kind of learning environment our students and us deserve.
The first step to develop a classroom where students are willing to share, to experiment and to learn requires a long-term vision. Before even thinking about creating new resources, you should sit down before the start of the year and define what you want for yourself and your students. Basically we all want the same: hard-working and motivated students, students ready for learning and for being challenged and for us teaching without stress in a peaceful environment.
Good. But nothing happens without time and strategy and you may even have to rethink your plan during the year.
Once you have your objectives you need to implement a strategy full of little steps to have your efficient paradise classroom.
We need first of all to develop a learning community through the building of group work. Group work if well prepared with clear teaching and learning objectives, efficient motivating resources and rules can create the classroom you dream of. We will spend the first few weeks working in different groups with same-level students and mixed-ability students. You may also decide that your students are mature enough to choose their partners to produce the best piece of work ever. A simple idea easy to put in place right at the beginning is to work with greetings and (dis)likes. Here you will introduce easy vocabulary and you will be able to develop the use of a polite form to address one another.
Before you get your perfect learning teams you need to implement rules or procedures to ensure the group work runs smoothly. You will teach your students day-by-day how to form efficient learning community with a role for each member of the group. One member will be in charge of gathering data, the other member will have to organize data and another one will speak up for the whole group. Easier said than done will you say. Time and perseverance should allow this. Students will progressively learn some efficient patterns of communication and social skills to work hand in hand.
I can still remember my first few weeks of teaching and trying to get group work. Not to mention it was absolute chaos. But then with determination you build on your own skills. Moving on from chaos to efficient group work with a limited assistance from you as a teacher takes time and energy but it is worth the hard work for your long-term vision. We need as teachers to be clear with our expectations and set commonly agreed rules while modeling the behavior we expect from our students. Every teacher is different and even if we share the same respectful manners we have different ways to implement them and it is crucial for our little learning community to know how to engage to have a safe and respectful learning atmosphere.
Once the respectful environment is set, our little learning community needs to be praised. No matter how well they did, we need to praise and show them the positive evolution of their work that is why we need to be genuinely interested in the tasks our student will produce. When we are working with groups, we need to remember that groups are formed of individuals and every contribution has its importance. Rewarding the whole group is a good thing but rewarding each and every individual is even better to stimulate them and to encourage them to do even better.
You can also get some ideas on group and games activities on the following websites: