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Managing ESL Groups

November 08, 2005

I might be slightly out of touch, but I am not confident that teacher training courses concentrate enough on group management.

Dear blog readers,

I say this because I recently observed a difficult classroom situation in which a group of adults was by no means a cohesive and cooperative group at all, but a collection of individuals each vying for the attention of the teacher and each unconcerned with the needs of anyone else.

Of course in some ways I can understand the learners. They have limited time, they want results and they may have outside pressure from employers that increases their anxiety to make personal progress. Yet the poor teacher hasn’t got a chance in such a free-for-all. Only if the group is willing to work together in harmony can the teacher really do a decent job for the whole class.

I am not going to offer any instant solutions to this but I think that a teacher needs training in how to manage groups and the management must begin with the first lesson. First the individuals need to be able to identify their personal needs. This is an exercise that helps them see where they have goals in common with others and where they have specific needs. From this sharing of goals, the group can then prioritize its common learning targets and individuals can set personal goals and plan with the teacher how their personal goals can be facilitated. There are many ways of slotting personal needs into the overall program. For example, one or two sessions per week, per month (whatever is appropriate) could be devoted to self-study with the individuals using the school’s resources to purse their own interests using the teacher as an advisor. They might also work towards a personal project that will be assessed at the end of the course.

I also think the group needs to set its own rules for behavior. It is far better for the group members to do this than for the teacher to try to impose rules. The learners have chosen or have been directed to take a group course, they ought therefore to work out the game plan for making the group an effective platform for learning. Certain behavior patterns will impede that effectiveness and it is good to let them define these behaviors themselves.

It might also be useful t try to predict problems and ask them to think of ways of solving them. The teacher could use this time to point out that his/her role is to be fair to everybody in the group and not to neglect some in favor or others.

I can’t treat the subject in depth here, but I think it is worth discussing as an issue. Let me know if you have had training in this aspect of classroom control or if you think this a gap in training course.

Best wishes,

Patricia Dean

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Comments

  1. gareth Says:

    Patricia,
    Teacher Trainig courses cannot be expected to cover every aspect of classroom management in the four or five weeks available. I know from my experience that the courses I have been involved with do try to cover some aspects of trouble shooting, dealing with difficult groups etc, but we cannot cover every conceivable aspect of teaching.
    The advice you give would be excellent content for an in-service training session, or could be very good advice for a senior teacher to give to a teacher who is struggling with such a problem. I think it is too easy to blame this problem on pre-service training courses.
    However, I think as a teacher trainer it is useful to get feedback on what employers feel is not covered on training course and what skills they would like their newly qulaified teachers to have been exposed to on their course. As I think it can be useful to help us develop our courses to suit the employers.
    Any other suggestions?
    Gareth

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