Monday, 17 December 2012

Book Review: "Classroom Management Techniques" by Jim Scrivener (Cambridge)

Classroom Management Techniques
Jim Scrivener
Cambridge University Press 2012
ISBN 9780521741859
Sample blurb: "Classroom management is about creating the right conditions for effective learning - whichever method you use, whatever your classroom is like and whoever your students are.
Classroom Management Techniques offers a huge range of down-to-earth, practical techniques that will help you make the most of your teaching space and get your students working in more focused ways."

Jim Scrivener was one of my early ELT heroes thanks to his wonderful Learning Teaching manual published back in those days by Heinemann. I was still using it a couple of years ago on a TEFL Certificate course I was running here in Paris. This included some of his ideas on classroom management which he has now devoted an entire book to in the revered Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series.

Just for a change, let's organise this review by bullet points from the back cover and see what it's all about...

1) A complete and essential activity-based guide to ELT classroom mamagement.

Complete would be right; we're talking 300 pages of material, divided into logical sections as follows: The classroom; The teacher; The learners; Key teacher interventions; Facilitating interaction; Establishing and maintaining appropriate behaviour; Lessons. The Facilitating interaction chapter is further divided into Whole-class work, Pairs and groups, and The world, meaning interaction outside the classroom.

2) Includes techniques that are clearly presented and easy to implement, requiring minimal preparation.

Classroom Management Techniques claims it will 'inspire you to try out fresh ideas, from the basic to the more experimental' but it will only achieve this aim if the ideas are simple to  put into practice and not couched in countless layers of impenetrable theory.

In this respect, the book seems to deliver with probably well over 50% of the pages consisting of grey 'Technique' boxes. Most of these boxes go straight to the point.

The Building rapport box, for example, offers eight instant principles such as be welcoming, encouraging and being approachable, treating each learner as an individual, and avoiding sarcasm, with a descriptive paragraph to accompany each point. The Effective eliciting box has nine points. The Giving instructions to lower-level classes box has 16. The Making your class more learner-centred techniques box has 21.

3) Analyses the classroom from three perspectives: the classroom, the teacher and the learners.

I remember back in the days of my language school in Greece creating some top ten lists of what makes an ideal lesson, teacher, student, classroom, language school and so on, and the first three sections remind me of this.

The classroom aspect looks at different classroom layouts and seating arrangements, which can be the difference in itself between a static, boring lesson and a lively interactive one. Also covered is teacher moving-around techniques and the sitting or standing question. Other issues are also treated like teaching in limited space and sharing classrooms, as well as the atmosphere of the class itself, with the emphasis being on  making it as friendly and inducive to learning as posssible - no bare walls or curling student work from years ago, if you please!

The teacher unit offers lots of useful stuff such as being natural, listening attentatively, using your voice and facial expression as a weapon a powerful communication device, as well, of course, as the actual language you use. The first teaching practice sessions on any teacher training course are often eye-wateringly teacher-talk centred, and things like speed of delivery, complexity of language and random umms, errs and muttered asides are also dealt with in this section.

The learners unit covers learning students' names, mixed level classes, large classes, individuals and developing an overall learner-centred approach.

4) Presents a ground-breaking analysis of 14 kinds of teacher intervention, allowing you to really examine the way you communicate with learners.

This section, the Key teacher interventions chapter, looks at a lot of the ways we interact with our classes, and gives us techniques to understand them better and utilise them more effectively.

Topics go from the straightforward giving of instructions and telling the students things, through being supportive, eliciting, encouraging and praising, to the more subtle ideas of permitting emotion, being deliberately 'unhelpful', and 'vanishing'.

Whether it's questioning, checking learning and understanding, asserting authority or being catalytic (all section headings), the useful techniques are falling over themselves to be used and this section alone would probably be worth the asking price to any new teacher or one wishing to refresh their teacher intervention repertoire. 

5) Shows you how to facilitate interaction in your lessons and get everyone talking.

Ahh, getting everyone talking (when you want them too); the holy grail of the communicative classroom...

The fifth unit deals with this in detail, looking at reducing unnecessary teacher blah-blah, getting students to listen to each other, the hand raising issue, pair and group work techniques, getting quiet students to participate and simply encouraging students to actually use English in their enthusiastic exchanges.

An interesting 'Interaction beyond the classroom walls' section offers a dozen 'techniques' (obviously) for getting students to use their English outside formal classroom time and strictures, such as doing surveys, arranging English trips and setting up links with English-speaking schools in the good old penpal exchange tradition but this time web-based.

6) Deals with critical teaching issues such as mixed level classes, difficult physical conditions and discipline.

The sixth unit is also worth its weight in gold, especially for teachers in potentially tricky group-teaching situations.

The first part looks at nipping negative behaviour in the bud by 'Setting the stage for positive behaviour', which is something I can only condone.

The following two parts look at small disruptions and serious discipline issues and I have to reiterate what I say in the conclusion that the depth of experience and wisdom makes for extremely enriching reading in this section.

7) Delivers real solutions for real classroom  problems.

Whether or not this alludes to the seventh section doesn't really matter. It works both ways. Gems like the following are of the sort only an experienced, sensitive, and above all honest and realistic teacher could come out with:

Technique: Don't draw attention to what didn't happen
It's not usually a great idea to say to students, 'I was going to do something really interesting next, but I'm sorry we have run out of time'. It leaves everyone feeling that their teacher can't plan very well and that something important has been missed. If you run out of time, keep it upbeat, and let students focus on the things they have done which they enjoyed.

Throughout the book the feeling has been that the ideas and 'techniques' have been drawn from real-life situations and hold all the more authority and value for it.

One final example is the engrossing discussion on 'learners styles', including multiple intelligences, sensory preferences and the rest. The author documents them faithfully whilst suggesting with his tongue firmly in his cheek that we should take them with a pinch of salt and carry on giving the varied and enriching, all-student-encompassing classes we've always done (haven't we?).

To sum up, Classroom Management Techniques goes well beyond its remit as a simple 'keeping the class happy' manual. The depth of experience and sagacity virtually drips from its pages, in the most positive sense, all in the spirit of promoting learning in the most practical way possible.

This is one of those teachers handbooks which really deserves as wide an audience as possible. It's excellent. And in an admittedly archaic Star Trek reference, It's teaching Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it, not as we know it...


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Classroom Management Techniques" (Cambridge University Press)
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
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