Without this classroom management strategy, this could be your situation:
I have a student who is very meticulous in all that she does. “Kawther” has no interest in hurrying, and I really don’t want to rush her. However, this means that whenever she writes, she needs a lot of time. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, I have a student who appears to believe he needs to finish writing before he takes his next breath. Yeah, “Wang Wei” is that fast. He’ll be done with a fairly strong paragraph before Kawther has a sentence down.
Adult ESL IEPs Require a Special Touch
Now generally, in an Intensive English Program (IEP), the urge to keep everyone on the same page at the same time is strong. Each session or term is short, and the material that needs to be covered is extensive. Not meeting all the objectives for the class is not an option when students are paying and have a limited amount of time left on their visas.
Of course, you could always give that fast student additional work, but that tends just to increase the gap in knowledge between your fastest student and your slowest student.
It’s like trying to solve the problem of shattered glass on your tile floor by pouring oil all over it. Not helpful! So what classroom management strategy can an adult ESL teacher use to meet this challenge?
Find the weak points of your strongest students
Wang Wei writes at the speed of light, but he also happens to be the lowest level for speaking. He has difficulties with pronunciation and forgets the grammar when speaking that he gets perfectly when writing. So, I send him out of class to do conversational visits!
Sometimes I give him the questions I want him to ask, and sometimes I give him the topic and have him write his own questions. He practices saying them with me or with another fast finisher who has strong speaking skills, and then I send him to other classes to interview students! Every class always has some faster students who have already finished what the others are working on, so they are perfect for this. Wang Wei takes notes on what they say, and then when he comes back, he reports to the rest of the class what he learned from the other students.
While he’s gone, I can work more in-depth with the students who need extra help and attention. Don’t feel like you have to keep all your students in your classroom and under your direction at all times. That’s not what makes a good teacher, and that’s not good classroom management. Create the framework that helps them get what they need, and it won’t matter if they are in your classroom, someone else’s, the hallway, the lobby, or anywhere else.
Great example, but my students are strong speakers. Now what?
How are they with their reading fluency? Can you pair a struggling reader with someone who needs listening practice? Do they have strong writing skills? Have them write speeches for other students with weak pronunciation skills to practice giving. Pick their weak points and develop an activity that will allow them to practice it while working with another student who needs something else. This simple classroom management technique will also ensure your students DON’T depend upon you for everything during every minute of the class.
Those conversational visits have benefits beyond classroom management.
Originally, I just thought that interviews were great speaking and listening practice for Wang Wei. Later I thought about it some more. “Fadel” started really low for speaking, but now he is great. I didn’t send him out every day to talk to other students, but I didn’t have to! He did that on his own during every break. Wang Wei just isn’t that outgoing. He doesn’t talk to anyone who isn’t his classmate. He’s not antisocial or shy, but he’s uncomfortable talking to people he doesn’t know. Catch 22, right?
To get him talking more, he needs to be more comfortable with the other students in school. Having him interview students every day, always asking them their names and questions, allows him to get to know them a little. Plus, he’s practicing the grammar and vocabulary he has been learning. It’s simply a win-win situation!
Especially when they are new to the country or even to the language school / English course, adult students might struggle to make connections with other students. They worry about their pronunciation, about expressing themselves, even to another ESL student. They stress over possible communication hurdles. BUT…if their teacher assigns them to speak to another student, it’s somehow easier. It gives them a purpose to approach a stranger or someone they don’t know well. Plus, they can always blame me if they want. “My teacher says I have to do this.”
How does sending students out of class benefit those who remain behind?
Remember Kawther, the slow writer? Well, the only way she is ever going to become faster at writing is to write. She’s not just dealing with an entirely different writing script. She must train her hand to write from left to right, instead of vice versa. By sending some students out of the classroom and grouping others to do other activities, I can give her the time she requires. She doesn’t feel pressured to hurry or like she’s slowing anyone down. In another month or two, her speed will have improved. And hopefully, Wang Wei will have made some non-Chinese-speaking friends and be speaking in English a lot more.
Here’s one last benefit to this classroom management strategy.
This simple classroom management strategy for adult ESL classes made a huge difference in reducing the various gaps in my students’ abilities. Leveling that out made our class more enjoyable for me to teach and for them to learn. This also afforded students the opportunity to move to a higher-level class once their proficiency gaps had been filled, which made classes a better fit for everyone. Try it and see how it works for you!
What’s a challenge you have faced in your classes, and what classroom management strategy did you use to resolve it? Or, what challenges face you (or your students) now?
Read more about teaching adult ESL and classroom management!
- Adult ESL: Honest Tips From the Trenches
- Two Priceless Adult ESL Teaching Tips to Always Remember
- 6 Important Things to Remember When Discussing Goals with Your Adult ESL Students
- Getting into the Nitty Gritty of Practical English for Adult ESL
- Linguistic Investigations: an Incredible Way to Build Student Self-Reliance