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The Ownership Theory In practice

With the high numbers of teacher transitions, particularly in Training Centers, there are several methods teachers are told in order to ‘guarantee’ successful classes. Training periods are often quick, stressful and overloading; leaving new teachers searching for a ‘quick fix’ in terms of teaching style. One of these seems to be the authoritarian approach, explained below:

Authoritarian Approach

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Having silent and withdrawn students is not successful teaching

On the face of it, this seems a good option; it’s what the students are used to in their public schools, gives the teacher complete control and limits the variables teachers can face in regular classes. Scratch a little deeper, however, and the picture isn’t as rosy. Intimidating, scary, inhibited, strict – these are all words I think of whenever I’ve watched teachers deliver in an authoritarian style. 

Questions are often closed, which reduces student talking time, and shorter available answers give a higher chance of failure, making students less likely to want to volunteer. This then becomes a vicious cycle of increased TTT, less student input and, in some cases, a 'teaching by fear' mentality. The teacher will often become oblivious to this, presuming they’ve ‘cracked’ them into being quiet when the teacher is talking.

A method I have been trialing with all ages recently is what I call the ‘Ownership Approach’. This takes work to establish trust, relationships and work ethic (which can be formed with increased contact before or after class) but can be incredibly beneficial to classes.

Ownership Approach

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Build trust with your students, it goes a long way

This approach focuses on building trust between students and teachers, understanding the work ethic that is expected of them but also giving them a level of freedom to create and put their English into practice. The students generate a feeling of equality, a willingness to experiment with language and a self-policing attitude that generally helps with poor behavior. It also aids transferable skills such as disciplinary understanding and role-reversal.

Examples of this include:

  • Ditching individual discipline systems for group systems – this way ‘troublesome’ students are kept in check by others (but not in a mob-mentality) and students are motivated to not let down others.

  • Student roles in the classroom – be it being in charge during break-times, student teachers, handing out stationary or collecting books – giving students roles is a powerful way of showing trust and freeing up time to help others in need. Offering a child a role I’ve found to be one of the most powerful motivational tools, especially in disengaged students.

  • Encouraging choices – Having different classroom activities and offering the students a choice empowers them to take a degree of responsibility for their learning

  • Self reflection – I now sometimes ask my students if they think they deserve rewards at the end of class, and I was very surprised by the honesty they showed when some think they’ve not tried as hard as they can. If used consistently, this could be demoralizing and self-confidence affecting, but used well, it can be very effective.

While this approach undoubtedly requires hard work and patience, I definitely advocate at least trying elements of it. See if works for you!

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by Tom Lake

I'm an educator in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province. I've worked with young people for over ten yearson three different continents, first coaching football and then in education. In my spare time I enjoy travelling and learning about cultures of other nations.