Managing your students is not easy. It takes time, effort and a lot of persistence – and that’s before you throw a pandemic into the mix.
However, for all teachers this year has been a learning curve – and we are still grappling with the best ways to do everything from run remote events to host CPD and, of course, keep pupils engaged, motivated and well-behaved while working online.
It can be done, though. Here are three ways I have found work well for keeping young learners on topic and on tip-top behaviour.
1. Visually aided rules
Children need to be regularly reminded of the classroom rules. Something we usually do in our normal classroom is having visual aids to remind students of the rules.
There is a space on the wall behind you in your online classroom – use it! You can print out a few flashcards and put them up. Your students will then see these for the whole lesson and you can refer back to them whenever poor choices are being made.
An example of some simple rules would be: sit up straight (use an image of somebody sitting up straight), listen to others (use an image of an ear), and try your best (use an image of somebody climbing a mountain). Get creative!
Once you have told the students what the images represent, they will remember.
2. Proximity praise
Proximity praise is when you praise a student who is demonstrating the correct behaviour and who is in close proximity to a student who is not.
The misbehaving student sees a model for correct behaviour and self-corrects in an attempt to also receive praise and recognition from the teacher.
In the online classroom, all of the students are within proximity of each other; this makes the proximity praise approach extremely effective. It can even redirect students who were not really misbehaving but could have been trying harder. I have personally seen it work wonders and have witnessed it as a successful method in many other teachers’ lessons that I have observed.
An example of this in action is: if a student is playing with a toy, you can simply acknowledge and reward a student who is not by saying: “Well done X, you are paying attention and not playing with toys."
3. Have a reward system
A thirst for knowledge is the best motivation. However, things are not always that easy and one student can pull the whole lesson down in your online classroom.
Resorting to muting them and blocking their camera feed is not ideal. Having a simple reward system can pull the class together into a group mentality and get them working together to meet behavioural goals.
A good example of a simple reward system is having a drawing of a boy and a girl at the bottom of a hill on the board behind you. As students exhibit desirable behaviours, you move the characters up the hill slightly.
Once they reach the top, the students can get something that they want – 3 minutes of a cartoon or something that they will all enjoy.
How things changed for me
None of this is easy.
The first time I taught online, I felt like there was absolutely no way for me to get the students to behave, I had kids playing with toys, shouting out and constantly going off task. This was a new game and I did not know how to play.
Does that matter? No. I just needed to master this new context. Once I did that, I knew my students would, too. I spoke to my co-workers and tried out the advice they gave me and, over time, I found what works for me.
Don’t worry if you are still starting out and feel like you have a long way to go, feel confident in the knowledge that we are all in the same boat – and everybody has room to improve.
Gregory Adam is a primary teacher at Nord Anglia Chinese International School in Shanghai. He released his first book last year: Teaching EFL, ESL & EAL: a practitioner’s guide