Dealing with Divas

Yesterday a new learner joined my class.  As soon as she walked through the door with a sullen look on her face I knew she was going to be a challenge.  I hate it when that happens because it colours my interactions with that student from then on, I feel like I’m on the back foot automatically.  Last year I had a great experience with a (male) student like that who turned out to be the most dedicated (bot unfortunately not the most able) in the group.  So I’m hopeful that this new student will be another case like that – if I can only get to her and convince her of the need to care we’ll be fine.

So here’s the description:

She walked in and sat down conveniently hidden behind another student.  I paid no mind to that, but it was telling.  I always think that a student’s choice of where to sit tells you a lot about them as a student, as a person even.  She chose to hide, she didn’t want to be noticed.  It soon became clear that she didn’t want to be noticed because she was hell-bent on not doing any work.  She giggled while I was talking, I told her “yeah I’m pretty comical” and smiled, she replied with a sullen “I wasn’t laughing at you” so I told her “that’s nice but try and keep your funny conversations outside”, which may, or may not have been a mistake.  I’d much rather they laugh with me than around me, if you see what I mean.

I started with an overview of text-types, and a little matching game to show the language devices associated with persuasive and instructional texts.  My idea of a game and my students’ idea of a game is apparently totally different.  I’m thinking of doing something a little more open to fun next week – a game involving them being given a random product to try and sell to each other, without using the name of the product itself, and other students to guess what it is based on the sales pitch.

I always try to ensure that I include a writing task in every lesson (obviously this can include a comprehension or a listening task with written answers) because I believe in having written evidence of the extent of a student’s learning at the end of every session.  This week was only the second week of the year so I decided to task them with using instructional language to produce a simple recipe, as simple as beans on toast if necessary.  Happily, most students got on with this task as directed, eventually, after asking me at least 14 times each what they were supposed to do, but this one student, we’ll call her Diva Danni (not her real name of course) decided that she would rather go and talk to a friend at the other side of the room.  So I stood behind her and breathed over her shoulder for a bit.  She said “I hate it when people look over my shoulder” I replied “I hate it when my students don’t so what I asked them to”.  She got the hint.  I even got some work out of her.

So the issues.

Clearly Diva Danni is going to be a challenging student.  She is not motivated, either because she finds education dull, not challenging enough or too challenging.  I think she likes to be the puppetmaster so my task is definitely to not let her run the roost but also to find ways of motivating her and aiming the challenge of learning at the right level.  I hope I’ve made a good enough impression on the rest of the class so far for them to partically convince her to work with me rather than against me, the ongoing issue here is to make sure I keep my classes relevant, interesting and informative.  I think group work may suit her, so I’ll endeavour to use activities that can be done cooperatively and try to put her in a three with one of her friends and another learner but to continually swap them around so that no one learner can feel like a constant outsider.  I need to strike a balance here between getting her to make new friends and allowing her a comfort zone.  I’ll also try to avoid singling her out because, although I’ll revise my opinion on new evidence, I get the feeling that she wouldn’t be comfortable being in the limelight.  I should also make some effort to chat with her about her work and so on, so that I can get to know how she ticks a little better.

Next week I’ll try to evaluate these interventions and see what tweaks or different approaches need to be made.

There also seems to be ongoing chatting about non-work matters which really needs to be nipped in the bud.  As with most groups of the 16-18 age band, there are hardcore of chatters who like to sit at the back.  This week I dealt with it by spending a lot of time standing over them but as there are other learners who need my help and two sort-of corridors of seating it will be difficult.  Unfortunately it’s an IT room so rearranging seating is not an option and I would really rather avoid moving them around.  I think I’ll try to deal with this by instructing all learners to come to the front of the room in a semi-circle while I speak and actually teach, then send them back to the computer desks to do writing tasks.  This means a much stricter order of teaching than I particularly like but does mean quicker uptake on task directions and a greater opportunity for me to directly speak with the learners as a group.  It might also help shuffle them around a bit and avoid cliqueyness appearing.  Again, evaluation next week.

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