I think that we can all relate to sitting in a class trying not to nod off or listening to an instructor who is brilliant in a particular field but who has no ability to engage students. As adult learners this is often something that we can overcome through self-motivation. We can be motivated by genuine interest in the subject or by the urge to get enough credits to graduate – either way works.
Younger students, however, often do not have a high degree of self-motivation – they are in your class, most likely, because their parents enrolled them. In these types of cases it is up to you, the teacher, to create a positive classroom environment that is going to engage and motivate your students externally.
Creating a positive learning environment in your classroom will allow your students to feel comfortable, safe and engaged – something that all students deserve. In a classroom where values and roles remain constant and focus is placed on the positive aspects of learning, students will be more open to actively participating in class.
If they are given the opportunity to become responsible for their own learning, students will be more likely to benefit from the lesson, and thus more likely to be self-motivated. This should be a primary goal for all teachers, since lack of motivation is often the root of disciplinary issues.
What IS a positive classroom environment?
A number of factors contribute to a positive learning environment for your students. Three of the most important ones are:
Each teacher will have different standards and values in the classroom, but the only universally important element is that these remain consistent so that students know what to expect and what is expected of them.
It is important that your students know that theirs is an inclusive, respectful, community-oriented environment. To build community and an inclusive atmosphere in the classroom, one idea is to involve students in taking attendance, using photos of each student as a supplement to the boring old ‘HERE’ style of attendance-taking – check out the following link for a bit more detail and put your own twist on it: http://www.atozteacherstuff.com/pages/578.shtml
It is also important to remember that, more than anything else, students will emulate your actions in the classroom. Therefore, it is very important to work well within your community – with your partner teachers as well as other members of the staff.
This is an extremely important – and fun – part of creating a positive learning environment. Your classroom should be a dynamic and engaging place to be for your students. What would you think if you walked into an elementary classroom with nothing on the walls? Weird….
So have fun, but keep your décor related to both your particular students and to the topic being taught. In an ESL classroom, keeping it related to the subject matter is pretty easy, since almost anything in English counts, but keeping it related to your students requires that you know a bit about them.
If you are afforded your own classroom, this is much easier than if you have to go from class to class – although it’s still possible. In your own classroom, reserve a portion of the wall for each class that you teach. This allows them to feel that they belong in the classroom. You can also use the walls to re-enforce your core ideals, such as community, by posting photos of students, group photos and student work.
If you have to move from room to room, have a portable poster for each group you teach, and this will establish a similar sense of belonging. Keep their past projects so that they know that their work is valued.
Another aspect of ambience in the classroom is how it is physically set up. Again, this should reflect your core ideals. Desks arranged in rows does not allow for a very communal atmosphere, so you may want to come in just before your class and rearrange the desks in a circle, groups or pairs. Don’t forget to move them back when you’re finished in the room!
If you establish your expectations for student behaviour early and keep them consistent, you may be able to avoid many classroom management issues.
Laying down the ground rules early in your relationship with a class is quintessential to your success as a teacher. Involve your students in this to be sure that they are aware of the rules and the consequences. This is another great way to add to the ambience of your classroom – post the ground rules and always lean towards positive, rather than negative, re-enforcement of them. Posting something on the wall when a student doesn’t follow the rules will likely affect the entire class in a negative way, but posting something for each student that did adhere to the rules will do the opposite.
The role of the teacher goes both ways – you are responsible for imparting knowledge to your students, but you will be a more successful teacher if you also allow yourself to learn from them as well. This is particularly true when you are teaching ESL in a foreign country. Your students can teach you multitudes about their culture.
Learning about your students will allow you to keep the material and classroom activities relative to their interests. I taught in South Korea during the World Cup, so an easy – and usually accurate – default for me was soccer. Teaching a difficult concept with a topic that your students are interested in will result in a higher rate of retention.
The Wrap Up
Putting together a classroom with the above ideas in mind will create an environment where your students will thrive. They will feel involved and responsible for their own learning as well as being comfortable enough to actively participate in individual and group activities. Your positive re-enforcement will allow them to build self-esteem and be more successful students, which of course, makes you a successful teacher!