A teachers’ tools in the classroom
The physical environment of the classroom is a key element in effective classroom management. Though a subject teacher does not have full control over the overall school administration, an individual teacher can contribute a lot to bring some novelties and attractions in his/her class. These individual efforts to make a classroom attractive can collectively exercise an impression on overall administration of the school, and in turn bring a positive change, writes Masum Billah
It may be clear to most teachers that a safe, clean, comfortable and attractive classroom can stimulate learning and help build a strong classroom community. But many teachers do not seem bothered enough about it. High absent rates in the classroom and drop-out from schools are a very common phenomenon in both rural and urban schools. In rural schools, it happens due to social and financial factors where teachers may not have any direct control or influence. In urban areas, however, it happens because of lack of attraction or excitement in the classroom. But a teacher can influence the classroom environment by carefully considering his/her needs and the needs of his/her students.
School compounds often remain bare or unused. A whole campus can be turned into a haven by making beautiful flower gardens, vegetable gardens and fruit gardens. The newly established schools in the cities and towns do not have such kind of facilities as schools are hosted in buildings with merely one or two floors. But, in rural areas, schools are still located in open space, offering a serene and suitable environment for teaching and learning. But these beautiful places are not looked after properly.
The physical environment of the classroom is a key element in effective classroom management. Though a subject teacher does not have full control over the overall school administration, an individual teacher can contribute a lot to bring some novelties and attractions in his/her class. Some factors are imperative to the improvement of physical arrangement of a class. In order to be engaging enough for the students in the classroom, a teacher will need to create a ‘center stage’. A classroom certainly comes to life with word walls, bulletin boards, and posters but for many students, visual stimulants like these are actually distracting. A teacher should take time to think about where he/she will be when delivering most of his/her lecture. It is best to find a relatively plain area in the classroom for this, so that the teacher can be the main focus for the students. These individual efforts to make a classroom attractive can collectively exercise an impression on overall administration of the school, and in turn bring a positive change.
Colourful pictures, posters, drawings and writings of the students can be hung on the walls of the classroom. This will help the students feel like they belong to the classroom and give them a boost of encouragement to come, and keep coming back, to the classroom for their work. These creative works will remain in the classroom for a certain period of time. And then they can be replaced with more recent works of the students’ creativity, since the old ones may not grasp their attraction for long enough. Newer posters and drawings mean newer excitement and environment. Unfortunately, our classrooms often have nothing except the blackboard. This will never attract the students enough to come to class excited, no matter how bright they may be. The teacher has full control over the students and the arrangement of the classroom. S/he is the leader in this field. So, s/he can play a vital role in bringing tasteful changes to the classroom to bring novelty and build a positive attitude for the students of the class.
A teacher can further help kids stay focused by carefully arranging classroom furniture. Items don’t have to remain where they are dropped off by the custodians. The physical elements in a classroom can have a great impact on learning. The teacher may not be able to change the location of the windows, doors or boards but making sure students face away from windows or doors, or at least sit alongside, can be effective ways to reduce distractions. Teacher’s desk and such operations center should be away from teacher’s center stage in a less visible location. When the teacher confers with a student or group at his desk while other students are working, a less visible desk area will minimize distractions. So, a teacher must carefully consider the furniture arrangement and the function of various areas in the classroom.
Seating arrangement in the classroom should be made purposefully. A teacher should not or cannot simply ‘stand and deliver’. Research in best teaching practices shows that many of today’s students do not respond to teachers who do not move around in the class. And moving among the students while teaching is one of the most effective ways to manage a class. Of course, some teachers believe that lecturing is enough. But no matter how spellbinding they might be in their speeches, their hidden dynamic directly relates to the way in which the students are seated. In the traditional classroom seating arrangement of rows of desks, those students in the front row or two are much more involved with the lesson due to their proximity to the teacher. The middle rows are somewhat involved, but to a lesser extent. The back rows, no matter how much the teacher tries to involve them, are too far away for the students to feel the same level of involvement as the front rows. Teachers could change this dynamic by rearranging the seating to include some aisles that they can walk through. As the teacher lectures, walking among the desks, s/he will give all students the feeing that otherwise only the front row students would have experienced. Once the teacher begins using this new arrangement, they should explain to the students what they are doing and why. They should tell the students that they are trying a new arrangement to be the most effective teacher possible, and that it will help them learn as much as possible in the classroom.
A learning centre is a space set aside in the classroom that allows easy access to a variety of learning materials in an interesting and productive manner. Learning contents are usually designed to offer a variety of materials through which students can work by themselves or with others to implement the information learned in the classroom. Centers are designed to enhance the learning of concepts, skills, themes or topics. This learning can take place after a topic is presented to the students during the process of presenting important concepts or as an initial introduction to material in the text.
Learning centres can have any number of designs, each limited only by the teacher’s creativity and imagination. The teachers should feel free to work with their students in creating a center that they will want to use. Such shared responsibility assures that students have a sense of ownership in the center and will be more willing to engage in the activities. Education specialists say that there are three different types of learning centers: enrichment centres, skill centers and interest and exploratory centers.
Enrichment centers are designed to offer students a variety of learning alternatives as an adjunct to a common unit of instruction. These centers are typically used after the presentation of important materials or concepts, and are designed to provide students with opportunities to enrich and enhance their appreciation and understanding of the topics through individual experiences in the center. For example, after the teacher has presented a lesson on the life cycle of plants, s/he might assign individual students to a center with the needed components. Enrichment centers require the teacher to be aware of their students’ learning styles as well as their knowledge about a topic. The enrichment center can provide individual students with varied activities or combination of activities that differ from those pursued by other students. As such the center becomes an individualized approach to the promotion of the topic.
Skill centers are similar to enrichment centers in that they are used after the initial teaching of a concept or skill. Their differences lie in the fact that students are assigned particular areas in the center as opposed to having free choice of the topics they want to pursue. Thus, after introductory instruction on a particular concept, the teacher can assign students to various parts of the center to help reinforce the information presented. The teacher must be aware of the various skills needed by the students, in order to effectively assign individuals to the areas in the center through which they can strengthen and enhance these skills.
Interest and exploratory centers differ from enrichment and skill development centers in that they are designed to capitalize on the interests of students. They may not necessarily match the content of the textbook or the curriculum. Instead, they provide students with hands on experiences they can pursue at their own pace and level of curiosity. These types of centers can be set up in the classroom with students engaging in their own selection of activities during their free time upon arrival in the morning, as a free choice activity during the day or just prior to the end of classes.
These approaches allow students to engage in meaningful centers. A paper and pencil inventory can provide the teacher with important information about the interests of the students. Many teachers apply different strategies in the classroom and some of them are highly effective. Sometimes a few simple changes can make surprising improvements in the way students remain focused, and help reduce interruptions caused by minor distractions. As teachers, we should remember, effective teaching begins with a well planned physical set-up of the classroom.
The author is Vice President of Bangladesh English Language Teachers’ Association (BELTA).
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