When I think about my school days as an elementary student, it isn’t so much the actual educational content that comes to mind, but rather my teachers and classmates from over the years. Online education creates its own challenges in that the students don’t always have classroom companions and the interactions with the teachers can feel impersonal when done through a tablet or cell phone screen. If there is an opportunity to have multiple students in the tutoring session, it can be difficult for them to connect with each other. Sometimes this leads to students saying and doing things to each other that they wouldn’t necessarily do in a regular classroom due to the security they feel from being behind a screen and keyboard. Issues like these make it necessary for virtual ESL tutors to learn techniques for positive behavior management in the online classroom.
Dr. Helen Street, the Founder and Chair of The Positive Schools Initiative, addressed this issue head-on at the Positive Schools Conference in Sydney, Australia.¹ She said that teachers must focus on “creating the ‘glue’ that keeps students connected to the school, to the learning, and to the community. As social beings, our students need to feel connected through liking and having positive regard for the teachers and each other. When students feel connected to the school, they feel proud and have a strong sense of belonging and follow the social norms of the group.”²
Fostering this type of connection with fellow students and the teacher is a bit more difficult when in an online classroom, but not impossible. Here are some ideas for creating a positive environment, which dovetails nicely with developing positive behavior management in the online classroom.
- Give the students choices and ownership of the class. Simple things can make a big difference in our classrooms as the students feel that we value their opinion and want them to be a part of it. I often ask different students which game they would like to play at the end of class or have another student choose if they will use numbers, letters or colors for our multiple choice games. These minor choices do not affect the lesson in any way but help the students to feel that we are working together in class instead of me making all of the decisions for them.
- Clearly state the goals and objectives of the lesson. By explicitly stating the learning objectives and goals of the lesson, the students can map out in their mind what they need to accomplish during the class time. If they start to detour from the main objectives, it helps to restate them and gently remind them of the goals. My students are motivated by a game or prize once we reach our targets, so they will quickly come back on task if I remind them of our goals.
- Be positive and encouraging, even in correction. When a student makes a pronunciation error or a grammatical mistake, try saying, “Good try!” or “Almost got it!” and then do it again with them. Don’t just blast them down and say they’re wrong. Our goal is to encourage them to keep trying and to not be afraid to speak.
- Define your behavioral expectations. All students know the rules in a regular classroom, but they aren’t quite sure what to expect in this new virtual world. Many times students are already in a different learning environment (i.e., their bedrooms), and wearing a variety of clothing different than a school uniform. They are often eating and drinking while their parents chat loudly in the background or watch television. All of these behaviors are far from what would be expected of them in a regular school learning environment, so the rules aren’t clear to the students. Take charge as the teacher and let them know your classroom rules, and then reinforce them. Starting a new session with clear rules for positive behavior management in the online classroom helps to ensure your overall success. At the end of each class, always try to compliment the students on something they did well. If they struggled with a specific rule, make sure to tell them you know they will do better next class.
- Use rewards and praise. Some online schools have rewards systems built into their courseware. Try these incentives to see if they motivate your students. If they aren’t encouraged by rewards such as stars or points, at least assure that you are praising them when they do well. I always try to end my classes on a positive note as I say goodbye to my students by telling them something they did really well that day. “Susy, great reading today! I’m so happy with your progress. See you next class!”
- Create community. My particular online school, ALO7, has groups of students together in the virtual classroom for 20 – 40 weeks. The students do not usually know each other in the regular classes, so it is a bit hard for them to connect. Try to foster relationships amongst them by asking them to share a favorite toy, share what they ate that evening, or even give a tour of their bedroom or living room. The students will be even more motivated to come to class every week when they know they will see their online friends and have something to talk about.
Remember that a positive learning environment in an online classroom will translate into an excellent experience for your students as well as for you. The connections made between your pupils and yourself will create lasting memories, a better educational climate and hopefully more bookings for your future as an online ESL tutor.
What ideas do you have for positive behavior management in the online classroom? Share them with us in the comments.
1 “Stop Teaching Kids How to Be Happy, Says Education Expert.” Phys.org – News and Articles on Science and Technology. October 5, 2018. Accessed January 09, 2019. https://phys.org/news/2018-10-kids-happy-expert.html#jCp.
2 Amaro, Marie. “Positive Schools Positive Behaviour Management.” The Highly Effective Teacher. Accessed January 09, 2019. https://thehighlyeffectiveteacher.com/positive-schools-positive-behaviour-management/.
Jan Millsaps has been an advocate for the improvement of education models in Latin America for the last fifteen years. She is making a difference one classroom at a time. Jan became an online tutor with ALO7 in late summer of 2017 to help pay off medical bills and to provide for future retirement, if there ever will be such a thing in her life.
Jan has a B.S. in Education, concentrating in Reading (K-12) and Math (6-9). However, she has taught every subject and grade level throughout her 25-year career. The last fifteen years have been dedicated to teaching ESL the majority of the time. She also continues to teach math and reading.
Jan believes education is the key to societal development and works hard to make a difference in the lives of her students both online and offline. She is passionate that her students reach their full potential and become world changers.