Monday, July 13, 2015

Raising Student Trust in the Classroom, guest post M. Stampfl

Here's a guest post from Monica Stampfl, a fabulous Modern Language teacher at Presentation High School (where I also work). It's about an important teacher goal: raising student trust (or lowering the affective filter) to ease students classroom anxiety and worry less about making "mistakes." It's a great read with lots of real-life examples. Many thanks to Monica for sharing this post, which she first posted on LinkedIn here.
What do you do to gain students trust and provide a "safe" place to learn? Please share!      
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Like many teachers, I use my summer off to refresh my mind, body and spirit after 10 months of being on a treadmill.  There is no need for me to explain how busy I am during the school year, every teacher is, no matter how long they have been teaching. 
My day starts with a coffee and a browse through social media to catch up with my friends and family from all over the world.  I do not subscribe to a particular newspaper or online material, so I rely on my friends to post articles about world events that they find interesting.  It gives me insight on what is important to them and it nourishes my intellect.
At the beginning of June, I discovered Edutopia.org.  It is a website that gives teachers tips and suggestions on how to be the best educator possible.  Sometimes the articles are based on research, but most of the time, they are good sound advice from experience of being an effective teacher.
Today's article is You're Gonna Hear Me Roar: Overcoming Classroom Stage Fright by Todd Finley.  Every teacher gets stage fright from time to time.  Even after teaching for 22 years, there are days that I still get nervous before class starts.  Many times, external factors are the culprits, but there are ways to overcome a case of stage fright that he mentions in the article.
Finley's  article touches on something else that is so important in the language classroom.
fun and learning image
Probably more important than anything is lowering the affective filter. There are many articles written on the topic and much research conducted, which can be confirmed by personal experience.  Students need to feel like they can trust you and the class before they will risk making mistakes in front of you and their peers.  They must feel comfortable and trust that you are not going to embarrass them or hurt their feelings.  They too get stage fright and the way that you handle it will make all the difference in how they perform in your class.  If you do not make your classroom a "safe" zone for each student, you will lose them forever.

There are many ways to make the classroom a safe zone.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.
1.  Establish routine.  Students appreciate having a classroom routine because they become comfortable in the routine.  They know what to expect and know that there are no bad surprises waiting for them.  My classroom routine starts with hello and then I ask them questions based on their level that they can answer.  In French 1, it might just be how are you?  In upper levels, they might share what they did or what they may have read or saw recently. This gives me a sense of where everyone is that day and brings them into the lesson and our community for the day. It also gives me the opportunity to know my students and have the best rapport possible with them.  I know their likes and dislikes and can relate content to them.  
2.  Share the lesson objectives and map with them.  This way they know what they are responsible for during the lesson.  You don't have to list every activity, but they should know what they are expected to know at the end of class.
3. Make learning fun.  This does not mean that they need to be playing a game every second of the class period, but show that you enjoy your subject matter and they will enjoy it to.  Laughter definitely lowers the affective filter.
4.  Share a little bit of yourself  You have an opportunity to every tidbit of their life, they will find you more relate-able if they know a little bit about you.  I usually share my outside of school interests, movies I have seen, funny things my pets have done or even sometimes use my family members and their pictures in my lessons.  Teaching language makes this possible without crossing that student teacher line.
5.  Reactivate prior knowledge.  Every single lesson can incorporate and review prior knowledge in language classes.  Reactivating or reviewing prior knowledge makes them feel comfortable in knowing that they know something about the lesson on that day.
6. Check for understanding and learning often.  A teacher's repertoire should be full of these.  The importance of checking often is so that you know exactly where each student is with the material.  Do they need more practice or more individualized attention?  If the whole class is struggling than the material needs to be retaught.
7.  Apply content to real life.  I cannot take every single one of my students to a French-speaking country to have them practice vocabulary and grammar.  What i can do is create a French-speaking environment for them.  Once they have enough vocabulary, I expect them to communicate with me and their classmates in French whenever possible.  Even the conversation between activities must be in French.  I speak French 95-100% of the time depending on the level.  I use authentic documents and videos (created for French-speakers) whenever possible.  And most importantly, my students participate in situational simulation activities during and a the end of every chapter and concept.  Global simulation would be ideal but not practical with my current teaching schedule, but I can get close.  These are the activities the students enjoy most. And the content becomes more meaningful.
There are many more techniques to lowering the affective filter. Perhaps the most important factor is that they enjoy your class and look forward to coming each day because they know that they are cared for and will learn something meaningful.

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