Hang in there!

You are half way through the school year and it’s been a battle. Some students continue to disrupt the class, others call out, and even some students are negative toward you and the subject.

So what do you do?

It takes time to train the students and to use strategies that really work. At one stage during my teaching, I felt like giving up, but I changed the way I taught to suit the student’s needs. There are many Chinese teachers who are feeling the way you do but may be afraid to ask for help. I train teachers all over the world, and this is the number one issue I talk to teachers about.

All my tips to Chinese teachers below. Don’t be overwhelmed. You can decide which ones will be best for you and your class.

  1. Engage, engage, engage is your most effective classroom management skill. Create interactive lessons where students are doing the work. Too many teachers stand out the front of the classroom and teach. Content should be modeled by the teacher but you need to use the concept of mini-lessons where the students do most of the work in a class. (either individually, small groups, or with partners)


  1. The sit down and be quiet approach does not work. Students must be given opportunities to talk in small groups or with a partner. Partner or small group also does not just happen. Students must know the rules for small group work – voices that don’t disturb others, taking turns, participation by all, on task behaviors etc.,)


  1. Relationships need to be established. You are not their friends. Be fair. No learning will happen when their is a negative relationship. Be firm but friendly.


  1. Apologize for getting off on the right foot. This is so important. I was in a school where I was very strict. The kids hated Chinese and their behavior got worse. I went in one day and said to the kids. “We got off on the wrong foot. I want to hear what you want to learn. What research do you want to do about the Chinese culture? An apology does not show weakness. It shows strength and allows for a new beginning. You get students on your side and they are more cooperative.


  1. It is important to have set routines: When students enter the classroom have a ‘Do Now’ activity, then move to new content, then partner practice…Students in High School need a routine and need to know what is coming up next.


  1. Use technology. If you have iPods or iPads use them. Assign them an App to learn new Chinese vocabulary. If you have laptops, ask students to research Chinese culture. I moved away from language toward culture with my difficult classes to release the negative experience for a while.


  1. Use Learning Contracts focused on the textbook they are using. Give them choices of activities to complete. For example: students will be given a mini-lesson on family. Then they are given tasks to complete from the textbook. But they can choose 4 out of 6 tasks. Choice is the best way to get students buying into the language program.


  1. Use humor. This is hard to do when you feel the students are against you. Find something cute to take to class – a toy cat, or a toy panda. Tell students this is my favorite toy. Share some parts of you. Start off the class, asking students a question. Get them to write their answers on a sticky note. For example:  What’s your favorite sport? Read out their answers in Chinese…this bridges their interests with the language classroom


  1. You must have procedures in place for: 

1) How students should enter the class – How students enter your classroom determines how they will learn. Have expectations like come in without speaking, sit in your assigned seat etc.,

2) the teacher class signal – How do you get the attention of students? Use a hand signal, a bell or a clap sequence to get attention

3) how students should prepare for the end of class – Clear expectations of how students will leave the classroom


  1. Use a timer for activities. Students should not have unlimited time to complete an activity. Make use of all time in a lesson. The timer is a clear indication when students will finish what has been asked for them to do.


  1. Every teacher knows classroom management can be difficult. Every teacher has been where you are. (or still is) Remind yourself that classroom Management is ongoing throughout the year. It takes consistency and effort to work on the relationship between teacher and student in the classroom.


  1. If you are starting a new school year, ask students to brainstorm the kind of classroom community that is best to learn in. Getting Secondary Students to buy into the language program is essential. As a teacher, have your expectations ready for the class but give students an opportunity to ‘own them’ as a way to build community in the class.


  1. Not all battles have to be won. Sometimes redirecting behavior is a very effective way to get students back on task.


  1. If you are shouting or yelling in the classroom, you have already lost the class. It is very difficult to get back a class that is in battle with you. Don’t be afraid to apologize for losing your temper or getting off on the wrong foot. This will build credibility and actually strengthen your relationship with the students.


  1. Never never ever engage in an argument with a student. Re-state the expectation of the class. Explain the choice they have made and the following consequence. Students have a strong sense of justice, so it needs to be clear to them that there is a logical consequence to their choice of not following the stated expectation. Take emotion out of it. It is a choice they make.


16.Throw away the textbook. (for students) Really. Use themes to teach. As a teacher,             you can use content from the textbook, but use the Thematic approach to teaching. Engage          students in brainstorming what they want to learn about the theme: ‘My Clothes’.            Brainstorm vocabulary they will learn, then set tasks. Students need to be involved in their own learning otherwise it seems irrelevant and meaningless in their lives. Decide what MUST be learnt from the curriculum, then design themes that will help you cover the required content.


  1. Incentives. A language class generally may not have the same status as many other classes, so incentives is a way to increase engagement and participation in classes. I have arranged various incentives that students can work toward: for example: Monthly Class Lunches if students complete the assignments etc., Other incentives: Trip To Chinatown, Martial Arts lesson, Karaoke event at night etc., Culture can be a huge motivator for reluctant learners.


  1. Be sure you have clear Consequences and that students understand it is their CHOICE when they disrupt the class. The Expectations are non-negotiable and have a consequence to their actions.


  1. You are not their friend but be friendly.


  1. Avoid disciplining a student with an audience. Use Hallway Conferences at time: (ask student to step outside for a very short chat – max. 1 minute) “I care very much about your success in my class, (student’s name), and I’m concerned that you seem to be headed into trouble today. You have……(actions the student took), and I know you know that is against the rules. I expect that you will…ok? Thanks.”


  1. Have expectation that students will abide by your rules or expectations with this technique: Repeat expectation..then add a“thanks”at the end. ” I expect you to be on task with your partner. Thanks.” Then walk away. Don’t allow for discussion or argument with student.


  1. Do not use games in your classroom until students can manage their voices. Games will raise the excitement in your class and can be great for motivation, but disastrous for rowdy groups. Students must be able to immediately respond to your teacher signal for attention (bell, clapping, look this way etc.,) and manage voice levels before attempting a classroom game. Rather than giving fun activities, focus on engaging activities.


  1. Use students own desire for respect to encourage mutual respect in the classroom. Show students what respect looks like. (eye contact, focus, respectful talk, raise hand to speak etc.,) Assure students of your respect for them..and what that will look like. (eye contact, help, fairness etc.,)


  1. Never punish the whole class. In a regular classroom, it is usually 3-4 students whose behavior impacts on learning. Make it clear to those students that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated in your classroom. If necessary speak to them outside of class time to reinforce your expectations for the class. It is very rare that a whole class is inattentive, but a few students can sway a whole class. punishing a whole class breeds resentment and you will have a battle on your hands for the rest of the year. Identify students who are reluctant to learn and want to disrupt other’s learning and be consistent in consequences for their behavior.


  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We have all been there. We know how difficult it is. Ask other teachers for tips about managing classes.  Send positive notes home to parents. Call parents and give them updates about student’s learning.


  1. Appeal to student’s career ambitions. Show students the many doors that languages open up to them. They may not be interested in learning Chinese, but for some it may just get them thinking about the impact languages can have on their future careers. There must be connection to learning Chinese with their lives.