Heritage Language class management
A positive class climate plays an important role in successful HL teaching and learning. If students feel welcome and respected by teacher and classmates alike, they will be more willing to take risks in speaking, reading, and writing in front of the class, in asking questions for clarification, and in accepting correction of HL errors.
There are many factors that contribute to a successful class environment by minimizing student confusion, frustration, and the ensuing disruption of the class.
The HL teacher
- Be enthusiastic about your teaching. If you enjoy teaching, students will enjoy learning. If you love the heritage language, literature, and culture, the students will notice it and appreciate it.
- Come well prepared to teach each lesson. Students are quick to notice poor preparation and likely to act up.
- Prepare extra activities and handouts. In case you finish the lesson earlier than planned or some students finish an in-class task faster than others, you can engage them in a new learning experience.
- Vary in-class activities. The human brain is stimulated by novelty, variety, challenge, and numbed by monotony. Students also have different preferred learning styles. Alternate visual and audio prompts, and listening and reading with speaking and writing. Assign fast and slow paced tasks, sedentary and motor skills activities. Organize whole class and individual responses, pair and group work. In this way you will engage most of the students in your class, and will maintain a high level of interest and motivation.
- Choose interesting topics. Involve students in discussions of topics they find interesting and relevant. If the learners are attracted by a topic, they will acquire more language and retain it longer than if they are uninterested and bored.
- Challenge students intellectually. Don't teach below the proficiency level of your students. They will get bored and disruptive. Don't teach much higher than their proficiency level either, or they will become frustrated and disruptive. Don't teach too much at one time. Teach one language item, then have students practice it. Review language material and assess student progress regularly.
- Check students' comprehension of the new lesson. When you teach a new lesson, stop several times to check if students are following you and have understood the points you are trying to make. Ask them questions about what you have just said, ask for definitions or translations of new words, ask them to paraphrase your statements or repeat the grammar rule, etc. If you merely ask the class "Have you understood?"/"Is it clear?" you will get nods only from the students who did understand, not from the rest of the class.
- Give clear directions. Before starting an activity, explain to the class what you want them to do during the activity, and what you expect them to produce and do at the end. If necessary, model the activity and write the model on the board.
- Check on students' work. While students are working individually, in pairs, or groups on an in-class assignment, circulate and answer questions for assistance.
- Praise instances of good work and provide suggestions or corrections wherever necessary.
- Have students present or report to the class at the end of their pair or group work.
Attidute toward the HL learner
- Involve all the students in the learning process. Make it a priority or requirement of the course that each student present in front of the class several times. Stress the importance of communication and the inevitability of mistakes, so that students are not afraid to speak. Create opportunities for all students to participate in class activities at their level of proficiency. If this cannot be done every session because of class size, make sure it happens every other session.
- Treat all students fairly. Don't show or express any preferences or prejudices about any students in your class. Treat all students in the same way. Praise good work when praise is due, and encourage students who have difficulties by pointing out the areas in which they are doing well and helping them to improve their performance in the other areas.
- Don't call on the same students all the time and in the same order. Engage all the students in class interaction by varying the difficulty of your questions or tasks so each student can participate at his/her own proficiency level.
- Respect your students, both as people and learners. They will reciprocate it. Show appreciation for their efforts to study the language and culture of their ancestors, families, and communities, to do their assignments, and come to class on time. This will make them feel good about themselves, raise their self-esteem, and enhance their overall motivation for HL study.
- Show the same respect for each student in the class, for their ideas and opinions, for the HL variety they speak, for the cultural knowledge they bring to class. If you show the same degree of respect to all students, they will be more likely to respect one another and feel uninhibited in expressing their thoughts and feelings in class.
- At the beginning of the course establish rules and routines for both recurring and potential events in your class: writing the day's agenda and the next homework assignment on the board, taking attendance, announcing deadlines for papers and projects, setting dates for quizzes and exams, requiring active class participation, dealing with tardiness, cheating, or improper conduct, etc.
- Mention all important issues in the course syllabus. Specify consequences and follow through in a fair and consistent manner.
- Respect the routines you have established. You have to be a model for the class if you want students to respect you and observe the routines you have established.
- Be punctual and start the lesson right away. This will force students to be punctual to avoid the embarrassment of interrupting the lesson.
- Be consistent. Exhibit the same attitude and behavior toward all the students in the class. If you make an exception, for instance you allow a student to come to class late or take a test later, mention the reason for your decision.
- Establish rules about student talk time. All students should know that they have both the right and obligation to talk in class. No student should be allowed to monopolize question-and-answer time, and all students should be encouraged to speak.
- Don't raise your voice. If the class is noisy and you speak louder so as to be heard, the students will speak louder, too. Establish a signal to indicate the end of pair or group work (raising your hand, tapping on the board or desk, switching the lights off and on, etc.) and use it consistently.
The HL teacher should not be the only person responsible for HL learning. HL students must also assume responsibility for their own learning. The HL teacher will help by involving students in the learning process and by making sure they carry out the learning tasks.
Expectations of HL students
- coming to class on time
- doing homework assignments
- bringing textbooks to class
- participating in class activities
- not interrupting people who are speaking
- respecting others and their opinions
- not speaking in derogatory terms of their classmates or teacher
No matter how hard HL teachers might try to teach interesting lessons, respect their students, urge students to respect their classmates, and establish class routines, some students will still be disruptive. There are many reasons for such behavior, and teachers must be aware of them.
Potential reasons for disruptive student behavior
- Any or all of the entries above, if the teacher and students do not observe them.
- The class is at the end of the day, so the students are tired and restless.
- The class is early in the day, so the students are sleepy.
- The class is before lunch, so the students are hungry.
- The students had a test before the class or are going to have one after the class.
- It is raining. It is hot and stuffy.
- There is a noisy construction site across the street.
- The lesson is too easy or too difficult, so the students are either bored or frustrated.
- The student has low self-esteem and/or wants attention.
- The student has serious problems at home and/or at work.
- The student has medical/behavioral problems
Suggestions for HL teacher action
- Keep your calm. Don't make threats.
- Give the disruptive student a task to do.
- Change the activity the class is doing and give the disruptive student a responsibility in the new activity.
- Stop the class and explain what is happening. Focus on the disruptive behavior, not on the person causing it. Wait until the situation improves, then continue with the lesson.
- If possible, reseat the problem student closer to you.
- Talk to the student after class to explain why his/her behavior was disruptive and find out why he/she behaved that way.
- Ask the language coordinator or the department chair for advice.
Submitted by Georgiana Galateanu, Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures, UCLA
Published: Monday, October 03, 2005
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