You walk into a classroom full of students you are meeting for the first time. It immediately becomes evident to you that there are many countries represented in your classroom. You want to make a good first impression, at the same time you are worried if your students will understand you. Well, this is a very familiar predicament for many English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers. Especially for beginning EFL teachers, finding the right emphasis to succeed in a language classroom can be quite the task.
A huge barrier to learning any language is the fear of being misunderstood. This is particularly the case for learners who come from cultures that are communal rather than individualistic. One of the lessons I learnt earlier on in my career as a teacher is the importance of building relationships. The power of a good relationship between teacher and student cannot be overemphasized. There is a certain power in a good relationship that fuels motivation to learn. I feel strongly that we must be deliberate in making students feel psychologically safe in the classroom. This cannot be done in the absence of a good student-teacher relationship. Here are three ways that have brought me satisfying results.
- No stage, no sage. I have noticed that no matter how hard I try to get students to participate in class, it is almost impossible when in the traditional classroom arrangement. Breaking off into more casual classroom arrangements can work well for smaller groups of students since it gives an opportunity for more participation. Such a set up provides a natural nudge for engagement. Also, as a teacher you become a facilitator which potentially breaks a psychological wall between teacher and student, debunking the “sage on the stage” phenomenon.
- Individual time. Spending some time with each student outside classroom hours getting to know them personally gives us teachers a huge push towards success in teaching. In this time, we can build a psychological bond and get to know their struggles. Don’t hold back from making references to these in class without identifying the students that shared it.
- Charades. The temptation to slip into charade mode, every now and then, to aid in communicating with speakers of other languages is completely understandable. I have noticed that this can not only be fun but also gets the classroom climate to ease up quite a bit. Allowing students to do the same, as they gradually master the language, also goes a long way in creating a psychologically safe environment.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of things to do to nurture an engaged classroom. However, I believe that adding these to what you’re already doing can greatly improve the outcomes in EFL classrooms. It is unanimous that a classroom that is engaged has a higher chance of learning success than one that has none or limited engagement. Following the example of Jesus, who took His disciples on a journey with Him, we must attempt to help students sense that they are with us in the learning process. Further, when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, he not only broke down the barrier between Master and student but also successfully drew attention to the lesson to be learned.
When we are dealing with students from different cultures, cultural sensitivity becomes paramount. It helps in generating solidarity which promotes engagement in the classroom.