Negotiating

markers

Image courtesy of Steven Lilley

Note: This post is a copy of my submission for one of the IATEFL scholarships. Since I didn’t get the scholarship, I thought I would share it with you all. I hope you get something out of it.

From overhead projectors to interactive whiteboards, vinyl records to MP3s, the application of technology to the language classroom has been going on for decades, but not always smoothly. Most difficulties that emerge are due to a failure of both the learner and the teacher to anticipate how these changes may affect other areas as well. Take the use of mobile devices in the classroom as an example. There is a stark division between those who endorse the use of personal phones, tablets, and laptops in the classroom, and those who forbid them. Advocates point to a high level of student engagement along with the ability for students to access material beyond the classroom. This encourages students to take ownership of their learning in ways that the traditional classroom often cannot. Detractors highlight the ways devices distract from and often disrupt the learning process, with students accessing social networks, texting with friends, playing games, and ignoring others. But are these simply surface problems that mask a deeper issue?

Shortly after I started teaching, I came up with my two classroom rules: have fun and respect one another. These set the tone for how the class will be run, and succinctly cover most issues that may arise. Recently, I have started taking it a step further by incorporating these two rules into a lesson on what these two rules mean, and have subsequently noticed a drop in the number of mobile phone related issues.

Prior to the start of class, large sheets of paper are placed at stations around the room, each sheet titled with one of the following topics: time, culture, classwork, technology, or groupwork. After introducing the students to the two classroom rules, the class is divided into groups which alternate around the room to the different stations. The students have a few minutes per station to write on each of the topics. The objective is for each group to brainstorm ideas that they, as students, can have fun and respect one another in relationship to each topic. The groups use different coloured markers to write down their ideas, and by the end of the activity the students have contributed to each topic. When all groups have completed the circuit, the topic sheets are placed at the front of the class so everyone has an opportunity to see and comment on the ideas presented. Next, the students are rearranged into new groups and assigned one of the topics to discuss together. Each group negotiates a list of actionable statements they agree on for their topic. After one final opportunity to discuss the revised list with another group and make any changes, the statement sheets are collected and posted on a wall in the room for everyone to read. After class, the agreed-upon statements are compiled into one document, which becomes our classroom code of conduct. This process gives the students ownership over classroom conduct guidelines, and encourages peer support and correction.

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