Teacher Bares All
by Gloria Vella
On September 25th, 1997, Action Research went into full swing as Mr. T revealed concerns about his high school E.S.L. class. His class contained seven boys. Three students were Mexican and four students were from Asia. The age levels differed ranging from 13- to 18-year-old students having various language abilities and maturity levels.
"A very diverse group to teach, but at times they can get a little out of control," said Mr.T, the high school E.S.L. teacher. "I would like these students to feel comfortable to interact in my class, since this is one of their only classes that they can be with friends from their native country. How do you create a fun, interactive environment, but at the same time, control their anxiety levels?" he questioned.
Mr. T felt that it was important to allow the students the freedom to socialize and feel comfortable speaking English with their peers. However, frequent verbal outbursts occurred along with chatting in the students' native language while a lesson was being taught. Unfortunately, the "comfort tone" was established early on in the year, and now the students are taking advantage of this liberty.
Mr. T's plan of autonomy backfired, and English was not the language of socialization in his class, rather the students' native language was taking control and so was their anxiety. Hence, the formation of the action research question: How do you maintain order, while at the same time, actively engage the students in learning?
Critical friend, Ms. Vella, took on the role of action researcher to help Mr. T solve his problem. They discussed various strategies to alleviate some of the discipline problems, but at the same time, they agreed that it was important to maintain the students' comfort level in his class.
Strategies such as varying the seating arrangement to encourage the students to interact with different cultures were implemented. Unfortunately, this was not very successful. The Mexican students' idea of communication was shouting across the tables to their Mexican counterparts.
The next strategy was implemented: To create a reward system that would encourage the students to converse in English, not their native language. Points were given to those students who managed to maintain control, while at the same time, speak only English in class. A "reward" was then given to the students who were most successful at maintaining this request. This incentive worked for the younger students, but the older students were not as motivated.
After carefully observing the situation, the two researchers concluded that part of the discipline problems were a result of the various language stages of the students. Mr. T and Ms. Vella then concluded that individual lesson plans needed to be implemented. "Some of the outbursts could be a result of certain students not being academically challenged," they thought. "Boredom results, and then the behavioral problems begin", they added.
The next challenge was to find a way of individualizing the students' programs without creating an enormous amount of work for Mr. T and his limited time to plan his lessons. What seemed like an impossible task soon took shape as the researchers stumbled upon an idea for the individualized programs.
One day, the Mexican students were more actively engaged in an activity other than what was assigned to them by Mr. T. As Ms. Vella approached the students to reprimand them for not staying on task, she realized that the students were reading some of Ruperto's Spanish poetry to each other.
After realizing Ruperto's passion for poetry, Ms. Vella suggested that he translate his Spanish poems into English. Thrilled with the idea, Ruperto asked if this translation could be counted toward his grade in Mr. T's class. An individual program had become an individualized project for Ruperto.
The attention that this student received created a domino effect with the other students. They all wanted to work on a project, so their wishes were granted. Whether this theory is a cure for discipline and order in this class is yet to be revealed.