Classroom centered instruction, including sheltered instruction, must be connected to the communities within the classroom and the school; a teacher must have the knowledge and skills for working with multiple stakeholders within the classroom community.
After observing my mentor teacher for the past several years, I have developed an approach to classroom management that is aligned with my own teaching philosophy and comes from the best practices I have observed in my mentor teachers.
The classroom is home to many individuals; every individual is expected to perform at the same basic level. However, each individual approaches the classroom with a different set of skills, diverse backgrounds, and a wide range of attitudes to any given subject matter or class. The teacher must navigate these differences and provide fair treatment to each student. Fay and Funk (1995), promote the idea that fair is not always equal. Different students need different approaches to the content in the classroom. This concept can be integrated into the general classroom management that the teacher implements in the classroom.
One example of fair treatment is through sheltered instruction. In my classroom, there are a few students that are English Language Learners (ELL). These students require additional support within and outside of the classroom environment so that they can continue to perform at grade level expectations (GLE). Sheltered English instruction engages English Language Learners with grade level content and academic skills that are aligned with the mainstream classroom and aim to increase English proficiency.
During one year of my previous teaching I had a student that highlighted this experience. ‘Diana,’ a sixth grade student was adopted from a non-English speaking country. Diana had a very supportive family and a dedicated tutor. She worked diligently at her schoolwork, though because she had never participated in any formal education before her fifth grade year, being in school was still very new to her. Diana had trouble completing assignments, understanding English idioms, and making friends. Working with my mentor teacher, to help Diana with English based instruction, rather than in her native language, I would frequently meet with Diana before class and gave her the instructions for the assignment in simple terms. When we got to class, Diana was able to keep up with the rest of the class because she got a pre-view of the information. Rather than keeping Diana one-step behind the class, the key to her success was through keeping her one step ahead of the coursework.
Completing assignments was another area of difficulty for Diana. In my room there is a clear posting of assignments and their deadlines.
Most students are able to follow the board and can answer their own questions about what is due and when it is due by referencing the contents in the appropriate column. However, Diana would frequently forget to transcribe the assignments that were due into her planner. To compensate I would do two things. First, I would assist Diana to complete the transcription. While it was her preference to write down a quick description of the assignment (e.g. “monologue” instead of “memorize monologue in full by Thursday”) I would help her to add the additional clarifications. The second thing I did for Diana was to stay in constant communication with her tutor and her school adviser (E2). I would email the assignments that were due and encourage her tutor and advisor to check in with Diana regarding the status of their completion. Diana required daily assistance and support. However, by providing the support in multiple ways, Diana was able to succeed.
Regarding the classroom community in general I encourage an integration of the multiple micro-communities that occurred inside of each class. Rather than providing assigned seating to each student, as many teachers do, I ask my students to sit where they want. However, I ask that they sit in a different place each day and that they sit next to someone new. This approach has produced two outcomes that support the leaning environment in my class: self-expression and mutual trust.
By having open seating, students gain the flexibility to express themselves through seat preference. They maintain the ability control the location they are learning from. Students are also empowered to take the risk of sitting somewhere new. They may experience the content of my class differently by sitting from a different perspective or by sitting next to someone new.
Students also keep my trust by demonstrating that they have the ability to make positive choices about where they sit and whom they sit next to. As long as there is no problem with the people they are sitting next to they get to maintain the trust I instill in them from the first day.
Trust is one example of the fair treatment I try to give every student. This principle is aligned with the core value of respect, which is at the center of my teaching. I ask for, and try to show, respect for all students. There are only three rules in my classroom. Respect your self. Respect other people. Respect the space around you. These three simple rules contain many directives. For example, these directives include the idea that students cannot put down their work – if they do they are not respecting their selves. Students also must respect their potential abilities and attempt new creative possibilities in drama. Students must treat themselves and others fairly and they definition of fairness changes based on the circumstance and the relationships at play. Students become the arbiters of fairness and respect.
Another way that the principle of trust functions in my classroom is through self-management. I expect students to regulate their behavior. I provide some basic guidelines for them to do this. Aside from the three rules of respect, I have answers to common questions posted on my board. The answers contain solutions for the student that they can take on their own before that take my time.
Approaching the students with an assumption of trust is not something that all educators do. Nor do all educators teach from a place of respect. However, I have found that the incorporation of these two ideas are a central part of providing a fair education for all students. Every student has different needs. I trust my students to advocate for their learning, just as I they trust I will be looking out for their needs. If I am to respect the needs of each student, I am inherently going to give different levels of service to each student. An ELL student is going to need more one-on-one attention than a mainstreamed student. Likewise, a high-performing student is going to need more challenging work. This is one area where I aim to develop as an educator. I have many students that are able to achieve the high expectations I have of them. There is a top percentage of those students that could perform even higher, if I took the time to also give them the level of instruction that they are ready for. I have the ability to challenge even the most successful middle-school drama student; I have not always offered that opportunity. I aim to develop a ‘menu’ based approach for students that are achieving at the highest levels. This approach would allow them to advance their abilities without appropriating too much more of my extra time (which is already spent with the students that need my attention the most).
Fay, J., & Funk, D. (1995). Teaching with love & logic: Taking control of the classroom. Golden, CO: Love and Logic Press.