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Teacher positioning in the classroom
Whether we are standing, seated or crouching in front of, to the side of or behind learners sends out a message with regard to what we want them to do. Our choice will depend on the aim of the activity in progress. There are times when we will want to be the focus of all of our students' attention, others when we will want to be addressing groups, pairs or individuals in the class and also times when we will want to be entirely unobtrusive. We will adopt different positions accordingly.
- Standing, sitting or crouching
- Interaction patterns
- Common problems with positioning
Standing, sitting or crouching
Wherever we stand in the class, students will see us, therefore standing is important when we want the attention of the whole class, for clarifying language or giving instructions, for example.
- Some experienced teachers know how to hold the attention of a large group while seated, but there is definitely a greater possibility of losing some learners' attention if we are seated.
- Another problem with sitting is the message it can give students. Whilst sitting down in front of students at the beginning of a class can create a welcoming, cosy atmosphere, if we are not careful, remaining seated throughout the class can give students the impression of a lack of interest and motivation on our part.
- Our own body language plays a large part in the energy levels in our classroom, and it is difficult to create any energy if we remain seated the whole time.
- There are times when sitting is a good idea, however. If standing can distract students and crouching for any length of time is physically uncomfortable, then sitting in a place which is easily accessible to all students while they are working, which may be in the middle of the class as opposed to at the front, has the advantage of not distracting them whilst leaving us available to answer any questions.
- Crouching in, around or behind pairs and groups has several advantages. Firstly, we are giving the group the message that we are mobile, and not going to stay with one student, pair or group for longer than is necessary. Secondly, we are physically at the same height as the students, making interaction more personal and less threatening, which in turn leads to a more communicative atmosphere.
- It should also be pointed out that, for obvious reasons, female students can feel uncomfortable with a male teacher standing over them. And finally, crouching allows us to position ourselves near pairs or groups without constantly moving furniture around with us, which can be very distracting.
The questions we must ask ourselves when we are beginning an activity are:
- 'What is the interaction pattern here?'
- 'Are students working together in a pair or group?'
- 'Are we addressing them as a whole group?'
- 'Are they working on their own?'
Depending on the task they are involved in and the interaction required, we will adopt different positions.
The theme of 'control v neglect' also becomes important with our positioning, as a teacher can be too involved in activities that are more learner-centred, resulting in our inhibiting learning (too much teacher control), or not involved enough, and not providing sufficient guidance (neglect). The position we adopt is directly related to how we can provide learners with a balanced amount of attention and space.
Common problems with positioning
Here are some common problems I have encountered with positioning and how I have attempted to resolve them.
Teacher to whole class
- Problem: Students not following the class, not paying attention, missing instructions, etc.
Cause: Teacher being seated, or standing to one side where not all students can see them.
Solution: Stand at the front of the class or where all students can see you and create eye contact with everyone before speaking.
During pair or group work
- Problem: Impeding student-to-student communication due to too much teacher control.
Cause: Teacher sitting in with the group or pair, or remaining too long with one group or pair; teacher towering over students as they work.
Solution: Remain accessible but outside student-to-student interaction, seated in the middle of the class or at the front, or move around the class and crouch to attend to students.
- Problem: Students over-reliant on teacher and not completing task
Cause: Teacher being continually available
Solution: There are times when the aim of the activity is for students to be working together and yet one of the pair or group constantly asks for the teacher's help simply because they are there. In this case, it is wise to position yourself near another group or pair to encourage the "needy" student to work with their partner(s).
During pair or group work or when students work alone
- Problem: Not providing students with enough support (student neglect) so students just stop working.
Cause: Teacher remaining sitting or standing at a distance from the students
Solution: Circulate or get closer. Either move constantly around the class, attending to student questions and making sure they stay on task, or sit in a position that makes you accessible to all students (see following point).
- Problem: One or several students dominate the teacher's attention (neglect of majority of students)
Cause: Teacher sits next to one or two students and stays there
Solution: Remain mobile. Being seated is fine, but either leave your chair in the middle of the room and go and crouch by the student(s) to answer questions, or take your chair with you and draw it back to the middle of the room when you've answered the question.
Remember that where and how we choose to position ourselves sends a message to our students about what they should be doing and about our availability. Although it is tempting to always be available for students, and certainly preferable to neglecting them, there is a need for a balance in terms of the attention they receive, and this can be achieved by positioning ourselves according to the requirements of the activity.
Learning Teaching, Jim Scrivener. McMillan Heinemann
The Practice of English Language Teaching, Jeremy Harmer. Longman
A Course in Language Teaching : Practice and Theory, Penny Ur. Cambridge
Teaching Practice Handbook, Gower and Walters. Heinemann
Barney Griffiths, teacher, trainer, materials writer, Spain