I think about space and location in the classroom a lot. One thing I often consider is about where I place myself in the room as a teacher and what it means. I know it is a no-no in some contexts but when I am sitting down it usually means I am taking notes one what students say. When I am at the board I am certain to be sharing incredibly important language-related knowledge. When I am front and center I am probably giving instructions on the next activity. These are habits and trends that I have fallen into. I suspect students pick up on them and sort of realize this is how Mike rolls and this is how it goes in class. I have not been explicit about this. It’s just what tends to happen. Lately I have been toying with the idea of being more explicit and making more considered choices but also trying out some new and different ideas.
The first idea, and one I’ve never really done (1) is to set up and announce that when I am in one specific area of the room I am talking about really important sheet and people need to listen up when I am in this area. I’d only use it for the most important things ever like assignments and the moments of brilliant lucidity regarding the English language that invariably come out of my mouth when I have a board marker in my hand. I am imagining carving out a very important space in the first week of classes and making sure I utilize it at least once per class. I am slightly concerned about the implication that when I am not standing in this zone what I have to say is not so important. While that is likely the case I have a slight concern this system might devalue the rest of my blathering.
This term I am teaching a course called “Professional Communications.” You might know it by such names as “Business English.” One thing we are
playing around with focusing on very professionally in class is register and formal language. I think I am seeing students having a hard time distinguishing between when they should use the regular (casual and semi-academic) English they might usually use to communicate with classmates. While it could certainly be a related to task design, teaching skills and my very casual nature I think part of it relates to the “Now we are using professional language switch” not really getting flicked on or maybe taking some time to settle into this mood and mode. My idea for this is, and I think it is not too late in the term, is to designate an area in the room as the “professional talk area.” When students are there they’d be expected to use the the most professional and businesslike language they have at their disposal. My thought is that by moving to a designated space it might help clearly show what sort of language is expected and act as a constant reminder. While I have never done this (2) I am keen to try it out and see how it goes.
Okay, those are my two possibly cool ideas related to space and place in class. Any ideas to add? Any experiences with something similar? Any tips, concerns, or caveats for mine?
(1) I actually did something vaguely similar in a presentation one time. I’m not really sure if it had any impact at all. I have no idea why I’ve never done it with a class.
(2) One similar thing I’ve done was to use the metaphor of “hats” when asking participants on teacher training courses to discuss things. The idea is that sometimes it’s helpful to think as a student/active participant in a lesson or session and then sometimes helpful to think as a teacher. Sometimes it can be hard to know where we are and in what way we *should be thinking and what we are basing our thoughts upon. So, on some courses we say “OK now it is time to put on your teacher hat.” This can be taken a step further with the creation of actual literal tangible paper hats so the distinction can be even clearer.