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Easy ways to bring change into your classroom

In the classroom (as in relationships, politics etc etc) radical change is easier to suggest than it is to implement, especially when you need to take into account the opinions of people who might not be as convinced of how (or even if) the class should change as the teacher is. For example, with a class that is used to one way of learning or a particular routine there is bound to be resistance to doing things a different way, even in classes where students have complained about how things are done now. As TEFL and applied linguistics books and articles are at least as guilty of suggesting change without giving ideas on how to bring it about in the real world as sociology books are, here are 15 tips on how to introduce change in ways that are realistic and easy on the teacher, the students and the school structure.

1. Use the same stages, but in a different order
For example, some versions of TBA (the Task-Based Approach) are just like the more traditional Presentation Practice Production (PPP) methodology but with the stages rearranged to become something like Production Presentation (maybe) Practice (maybe Production again). If you can keep the way you teach each stage and the kinds of texts, speaking tasks, grammar presentation stages etc the same for now, the students should easily adjust to what is supposed to be a radical new teaching methodology with hardly any “shock of the new” at all.

2. Add one more stage
For example, PPP can easily be changed into TTT (Test Teach Test) by adding a Test stage and making it kind of TPPP. As with all these tips, try to keep as many things as possible the same while introducing the one new factor you are concentrating on (as long as that doesn’t sabotage the success of the lesson of course).

3. Only change one stage
In this version you keep the same stages in the same order as usual but vary how you approach just one of them. For example, if you are trying to move towards a methodology of students picking up the language naturally through context etc with less grammar explanation, keep a PPP approach but present the language as sentence stems such as “If I were you…” rather than as a grammar point such as “The Second Conditional”, or if you are trying to make them more independent in their learning keep a grammar presentation stage but get them to read the explanation from their books rather than relying on you. Again, if you want to keep all the other stages the same as usual for now you will need to make sure that they still work when one part of the rest of the lesson is changed.  Otherwise you might want to make small changes to the other parts of the lesson so the stages still fit together, support each other and naturally progress. In future weeks you can then change more and more stages, or (the more gradual version) change different stages each lesson whilst going back to the original way of doing the other stages you have already experimented with. You can then move on to changing two stages in different combinations, then three etc. As with many of these tips, if possible plan how those small changes will add up to a totally different way of teaching in several weeks’ or months’ time.

4. Leave out one stage
For example, if your long term aim is to move towards less grammar, start by keeping the grammar presentation and practice for a while but getting rid of error correction of grammar mistakes in the speaking task.

5. Move one of the stages to homework
An even softer way of introducing changes by leaving a stage out of your lessons is to move it to homework rather than eliminating it straightaway. Easy possibilities to move include some detailed comprehension questions, presentations of smaller grammar points and exceptions and listening comprehension of minimal pairs.

6. Explain the thinking behind the change
One reason for resistance to change may be not understanding the reasons behind it. If the reasons for changing that you tell them includes responding to their own feedback on your lessons, all the better. Please note, however, that it may not be possible to do this in English, and it may sound better coming from elsewhere e.g. from your boss or the school receptionist. In the most extreme examples, there is also the chance that justifying yourself will be taken as a lack of confidence by the teacher in the changes.

7. Make sure the presentation of the materials is good and/ or familiar
This point may seem trivial, but even experienced teachers and learners judge new textbooks more by their appearance than anything else, however much they deny it. This is partly a negative aesthetic reaction, and partly a feeling that anything that looks cheap must also be bad quality. Many teachers introduce a new methodology using photocopies of slightly smudged worksheets they were given at the workshop where they first heard about that teaching idea, and then are surprised when the reaction of students is not the best. If the methodology is so new that black and white photocopies is all that you have available, at least add some visuals such as clip art.

8. Introduce it more and more often
Do the new type of lesson as a one off, then come back to it a month later, then a couple of weeks after that etc.

9. Make the new bit short
And then make it longer and longer as the lessons go by.

10. Introduce it at a low pressure time
For example, in the lesson after the test.

11. Spend time prepping them for the need for a change
For example, discuss why they did so badly in the test or why they are stuck on the Intermediate plateau.

12. Show them press coverage or other literature on it/ get the experts to back you up
Like getting your boss to tell students about new changes and using materials that have been produced by a major publisher, this is another way of showing the authority behind your decision to introduce changes. Not only does this help cut down on complaints, but if they come into the new-style class with confidence that it will work, then it probably will. Potential problems are that telling them before about changes will make them more nervous and take away the chance of using the other ideas here on how to introduce changes without them noticing. Making a big effort to justify the changes might also make them seem controversial. If this latter could be a problem, you might want to have such literature on the wall where students can read it “if they like” rather than forcing it on them.

13. Get the most popular, respected and/ or qualified teacher to introduce it first
You can then use student feedback from that class, either collected by the teacher and passed on by you or passed on informally between classes, to persuade your own students of what a good class they have waiting for them.

14. Tell them it’s just an experiment
And that you can go back to the original style if you have to. Again, there is the danger of seeming to doubt your own decision to make changes.

15. Get the students to propose it
Some manipulation may be needed, but what kind of a teacher can’t manipulate their students just a little when they really need to?? Perhaps the easiest and least sneaky way of doing this is to have a lesson on their beliefs about and experience of language learning and what that could mean for alternative ways of studying. There is a danger that their attitudes will be completely against what you want to do and that those attitudes will harden by being expressed and shared with other students. If you think this could be the case with your class or even just a section of it, you might want to approach this topic more subtly (i.e. more sneakily).

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net October 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

4 Comments

  • Alex Case says:

    DOHOU Desire- do you mean making a good classroom atmosphere? If so, the aspect you want to look at is called “Classroom Dynamics”. There is a classic book about this by Jill Hadfield, and I will try to write an article about in in the next couple of months.

    Serap- I’m not sure exactly what you mean. Are you referring to one of the tips in particular?

  • serap kakan says:

    this type of activity is in progress but mostly it discourages them to play an active role

  • DOHOU Désiré says:

    I would like to know more about ways to change my classroom’s temper.

  • Carlos says:

    it´s a very interesting thing to cause impact on our students. I think the change can bring them to a state they have never been before, where they can feel stim ulated to innovate. I really enjoyed those tips.

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TEFL.net : TEFL Articles : Teaching : Easy ways to bring change into your classroom