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The Uni-Files

A candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher's perspective.

January 07, 2010

Monitoring the classroom- perceptions vs. reality

There are a few students who regularly visit my office for chatting. These students are usually either returnees or those with a bubbling motivation to improve their English. It is often I who end up asking them questions about student life or their English educational experiences and I've learned a lot about what goes on students' brians this way.

Take some recent impromptu student discussion about my classroom monitoring for example. And what I mean by monitoring here is my habit (principle?) of walking around the room and observing closely while students are carrying out tasks. While I think of it as normal, even indispensable, for my teaching the students apparently find it a bit unnerving- partially because only a small percentage of their teachers actually monitor in this way. Partially.

The issue in question was what I am doing when I'm wandering among the students. You see, my students were sure that my monitoring was purely disciplinary. That I was trying to catch anyone who was cheating, sleeping or doing something 'wrong'. In other words, my intentions were seen as mostly negative in nature, looking for someone to scold, like the Zen priest and his 'big stick of satori', waiting to whack any wayward miscreants over the shoulders.

Of course, my perusals through the aisles might end up have this effect on student discipline but it hardly my primary intention, as I explained to my students. In monitoring, my purposes are in fact as follows:

1. For timing. To see how quickly the average student is getting through a task so that I know when to call time and/or move on.

2. To make sure that students are carrying out the task correctly- that they are on the right page, understand the task or assignment correctly etc. If not, I can point them in the right direction before they waste time and effort.

3. To allow for questions. Most students will never ask a question while I'm standing at the front of the class but are more likely to make a question gesture if I am strolling nearby. Making myself available for a few 1-on-1 moments is essential.

4. To see which aspects of the task the students are understanding well and/or struggling with. If I see common mistakes being made I can make a board note for the whole class or address the problem area post-task. This, to me, is the primary purpose of any pedagogy- to guide. And if it is some vocabulary that is stumping them I might address the unknown lexical entity immediately.

(Sidebar- For this fourth reason I often like to glance at what students are checking in their dictionaries while I monitor- so that I might learn what terms might be confusing them or are unknown to them. This, of course, helps me with my future lesson planning and classroom management, particularly since I often teach the same lesson three times in a week to different classes. But when I try to glance, most students tend to shut it down immediately, as if I've caught them cheating somehow, and am about to scold them).

I'm curious as to whether readers have other reasons for monitoring their classes or monitor in other ways...



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Comments

I watch the person's face.
I listen for sighs.
I look at peoples' eyes.

I monitor in much the same way Mike, by walking around the class going from group to group and offering support. It seems the natural thing to do, I've never given it much thought and just assumed all teachers do it. But maybe not. I think its impossible to teach communicative based classes standing at the front of the class while students perform a task. We have no way to gauge whether the students understand the task and are doing it properly if we don't walk around and monitor.

It never occured to me that I might be making my students feel uneasy by monitoring, but perhaps that is the case. One thing I try to do when I am walking around the class and monitoring is provide more positive feedback than negative feedback. I try to point out what the students are doing well rather than scold them for their mistakes. Over time I think students gain a trust for you as a teacher and perhaps don't mind the monitoring so much. If I do provide corrective feedback or scold someone for not doing the task I try to do it quickly and not make such a big deal of it, just give them a little push. On the other hand I will spend more time giving out positive feedback and pointing out what is being done well. I think my students have learned to trust me and not fear me by taking this approach.

Mark

Hi Mark.

I think some of the students' defining experiences with monitors are those involving proctors during the various entrance exams, when of course the purpose of wandering around is often to dissuade cheating. Perhaps, they associate it with those tense experiences.

But, as you say, they get used to it pretty quickly and most eventually start to utilize the close-up approach that monitoring affords.

Like you I have had similar experiences. I thought idea no. 4 was a good one however; I often get my classes to write these words they look up on a vocabulary sheet.

I then collect them at the end of class and compile a general list which I then give back in the next class. I also use these words like you do as afocus in my lessons.

I also wondered if you explained the principle of walking around to them. I've seen some teachers in the past who felt they needed to observe students but they had no clear reason nor did the students in the class why this happened

I have found that sometimes when I walk around while students are doing pairwork that as soon as I get close, they clam up!

It seems that these students were those most nervous about being wrong (usually my Japanese or Korean students). I got around this by still walking around, but by turning my back to them and face some other students; this makes it look like I'm not paying attention to them, but I can eavesdrop on them and hear what they are talking about when doing pairwork or listen to their response to a Speaking task.

I also tell my students that my walking around helps them prepare for Test Day when they might be taking the test and have people walking around them while they are trying to focus on the test.

Did you explain to your students why you wander around the classroom? Did that change the way they reacted to it?

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