Distractions and disengagement among 16- to 19-year-olds make the list of the top concerns for many lecturers delivering GCSE English and maths resit courses. Anyone familiar with this component of the curriculum will know how challenging classroom management is and how difficult it is to "sell" these subjects to our students.
Behaviour: How to handle GCSE resit classes
So here are my top 10 tips for increasing students' engagement and reducing their disruptive behaviour.
1. Cleanliness is next to godliness (John Wesley)
Before you teach in any classroom, ensure that it’s clean, tidy and attractive. Untidy classrooms with overflowing bins or rubbish on the floor are off-putting and likely to strengthen students' resistance to learning. Tidy up the room, tuck the chairs under the desks; make it a smart place in which to work. In addition, focus on lighting, colours, posters, pictures, etc, that make the place feel good – a bright place conducive for teaching and learning.
2. Readiness is all (Shakespeare)
Set up the smart board with a basic pre-lesson activity, an icebreaker, something students can do while they’re waiting for the lesson to start. It could be part of critical thinking – a conundrum, a topical question or something for a discussion. Use attractive fonts, images and background music and colours to draw the students in. Have an emergency set of handouts in case technology lets you down. Ensure you have extra pens and paper for students who forget to bring such stuff.
3. Good morning to the day; and next, my gold (Ben Jonson)
Greet and welcome students as they enter. Thank students for being punctual. Show appreciation for their willingness to turn up to your class on time or early. Let them know you are pleased to be with them, teaching your subject. Don’t moan about the weather or that it’s a Monday morning or a Wednesday afternoon. Suppress such negativity. Tell them that you’re excited about the lesson you’ve prepared, that you’re looking forward to working with them, whatever the weather or time of the week it may be.
Want to know more? How tidying up my teaching put the joy back in the job
4. ‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say (Alice Walker)
Refer to the previous lesson and start with praise not only for effort and achievement but attitude. Show gratitude. Commend students for their behaviour. Identify students who are going beyond the call of duty, students who have been particularly helpful or supportive. It will make the whole class feel you appreciate them, that you compliment them when they do/behave well. Tell them you’re proud of them. You’re not just a teacher and disciplinarian but an exemplary, inspirational figure.
5. Your depression is connected with your insolence and refusal to praise (Rumi)
Be overly polite with students and praise them at every opportunity. Show you value them as adults, that you want them to be responsible and independent learners. Use a lot of "thank you" and "please" whenever the occasion arises. Students – and people in general – are more likely to be compliant when you request them to do something with civility.
6. Corpses sour you. They are bad for objectivity (Brecht)
Try not to be judgemental when students tell you about their unusual lifestyles, their interests or their opinions. Be detached, don’t make a value judgement. Show tolerance, acceptance and understanding for difference highlighted by our social structures. But, at the same time, be firm if ever a student says anything that is disrespectful, rude or offensive. Challenge bad behaviour – don’t ignore it. You will gain more respect if you do this because students don’t want a friend but someone who is firm, in control of their class.
7. Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire (Yeats)
Help students to identify their areas for improvement. Let them take responsibility for their own learning. Show them how they can improve, how they can stretch and challenge themselves. Light their fire. Ask them how they think you can support them in their learning. Plan a scheme of work with them in mind as individuals with their own concerns and barriers to learning.
8. No dark sarcasm in the classroom (Pink Floyd)
Don’t undermine, belittle students or be cold and standoffish. Be approachable. Let students talk to you like a human being, as someone they can share their backgrounds with. In return, share some innocuous details of your life – your football team, music, a favourite contestant on a reality programme, etc. Make yourself available to chat to them outside class in the staffroom. Greet them with a smile and by name when you see them on campus. Let them share a joke or two. Shake hands with them if they’re comfortable or you think it’s appropriate.
9. I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught (Churchill)
Design effective tools and/or methods to assess students’ learning or to carry out self-assessment. Let your students review their own learning and think of ways they can improve. It will help them identify their own weaknesses. More often than not, it’ll be just their attitude to the subject that needs tweaking.
10. Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous (Confucius)
After class, allow sufficient time for evaluation and reflection. Carry out a plenary. Think about how it went, what you did, how well the students carried out the activities, what you could have done better, what they liked/didn’t like. Jot down pointers about how you're going to follow it up. What do you and the students need to do.
Most importantly, never lose your temper or composure. Always remember that once you, too, were a young person just like the students you’re teaching. It’s probable that you also had a rebellious streak of sorts, a desire to push the boundaries with adults and people in authority. It’s part of growing up, to test those boundaries. It is why your students are teenagers. So never take their resistance to your teaching personally. Your job is to reduce that resistance as much as possible.
Dr Roshan Doug is a visiting professor, strategist and educational consultant at the University of Birmingham