Divergence and Convergence, Educating with Integrity: Proceedings of the 7th Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May. 10 - 11, 2008. Kyoto, Japan: Doshisha University Shinmachi Campus. (pp. 73 - 81)

Classroom management and diversity: A panel discussion reflection

by Gerry Lassche (Miyagi Gakuin Women's University)

A brief review of the planning process for a panel discussion on managing classroom diversity is followed by a summary and discussion of expert opinions. Each panelist highlighted different perspectives on the issue, showing how materials design, classroom interaction, assessment procedures, gender issues, social pragmatics impact upon classroom experiences. Three main themes emerged: diversity as universal, increasing choice, and increasing awareness. The paper culminates shared communications before, during and after a conference event between the author and the panelists.

Keywords:classroom management, classroom dynamics, multi-level language classes, mixed-level language classes

Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established.

- Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 15:22

To me, one main obstacle with large-scale conferences with particular academic themes is that people do not really seem to interact with each other at the event outside their usual comfort zones. Conference-goers follow their particular area of interest, listen to their own sponsored speakers, and generally talk past one another. As the organizer for the JALT Pan-SIG panel discussion, (held March 10-11, 2008 in Kyoto, Japan), I hoped instead to design a kind of umbrella event which could bring all the participating groups together to discuss something of mutual interest. When acting alone, we often are limited by our particular biases. By combining resources, we might be able to perceive a bigger picture. What follows is a brief description of how the event was organized, and a longer reflection upon the concepts that were discussed.
Originally, I thought that the topic of “TASK” might be a good umbrella concept (and one SIG coordinator, did, in fact, nominate that concept later in the process). However, in an email discussion between noted author Tim Murphey and panel discussion emcee, conference chair Eric Skier and I, another idea emerged based on Tim’s suggestion of using the “wisdom of crowds.” He wrote:
I am afraid of restricting the panel discussion so severely [to one pre-determined topic such as TASK] and cutting out audience interest in many other aspects of what might be possible to discuss when you have reps from each SIG in front of you… Time Magazine a year or two ago made "YOU" the person of the year, meaning everybody and everybody's increase participation in internet communities that were changing the face of how we do research, business, or make encyclopedias. I think it is time JALT tried to make the audience and their concerns the centerpiece more, by saying ‘we have a panel of SIG people, what would you like to hear from them? We have a few [ideas] ourselves that we could [have] them address, but we would like to open it up to you also. Please send us your questions.’ Now we may get nothing. But the participation should still be invited, even at the event. We need to solicit the wisdom of crowds, especially when it is so easily done. Guessing about what your students are interested in is traditional education, surveying their interests is a wise student-centered thing to do which can teach the teacher a lot. I think organizations can do this as well. (personal communication, [ADD DATE], 2008)

[ p. 73 ]

The topic of classroom management and mixed levels was popularly chosen, and as Tim presciently described, it turned out to be a fantastic choice, dovetailing seamlessly with the conference theme and content on many levels. Panelists had an opportunity to consider the topic several weeks before the event, and prepare accordingly. The outstanding quality of their efforts was clear. This voting process got the membership invested in the process, and finally it brought some excitement and publicity to the event.
Tim Murphey designed the schedule of the panel discussion. He introduced the topic briefly with some questions sent beforehand to the participants. The audience was given 5 minutes first to discuss what they saw as important and relevant in pairs or small groups (to prime their brains). The questions that were chosen were as follows:
Then each SIG rep had 4-5 minutes to explain their points of view and suggestions about the questions above. Finally, the discussion was opened up to the audience to get their views and questions. At the end, each rep was to be asked to finish with a two sentence conclusion as to what they learned from the session, but time constraints due to excellent audience participation prevented this from happening. Tim Murphey expressed his vision for the discussion this way:
I am seeing the whole session somewhat like a loop input session—the group will definitely be MIXED LEVELS with very diverse people. We could handle them somewhat as we might manage a very diverse class – with openness, making them into participants and getting them to learn from each other as well as from the panel, with a bit of adventure. The logic behind the above would be to NOT set us up as knowers and the audience simply as learners but to admit we are in this together and can learn from each other. Talking about the difficult group will humble us and keep us from positioning ourselves as the perfect, no problem teachers…we can ask for their help with our own concerns, worries, etc. Someone could put all the questions, concerns, and questions that we have up on the PowerPoint as we proceed. (personal communication, [ADD DATE], 2008)
This last idea was unfortunately not possible, for as it turned out the PowerPoint version we had did not allow for simultaneous view and edit. Instead, this paper was created to document from bits and pieces of archived, observed and interpreted information. On the day, then, six panelists gave their ideas about the mixed classrooms. This next section is a compilation of what they said and my reflections upon it.

Miles Craven on "Squaring the Circle"
"Choosing a textbook to use with any class is bound to be a matter of simply accepting the fact that there will be inevitable student differences, and to make provisions for this. "

To start things off, Miles Craven, the Materials Writers (MW) panelist, said that textbooks generally refer to bands of skill levels. Choosing a textbook to use with any class is bound to be a matter of simply accepting the fact that there will be inevitable student differences, and to make provisions for this. How to “square the circle” took the form of an interesting proposal, a layered approach, which I envisioned as a planet with orbits as in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Figure 1. A symbolic representation of the learning core and optional learning orbits.

[ p. 74 ]

Here you see that as students are engaged in some fundamental work, their optional layering or orbits could be organized according to interest groups in a class, allowing students to maximize the benefits of their diversity. Miles stresses the importance of offering optional greater challenges to higher levels within each class, and having quality Teacher Guide materials to support this learning.
Miles recommended that the integration of such layering at the textbook or program/curricular level not simply be tagged on at the end of the book, or disconnected in some way from the curricular learning outcomes. That framing would (a) give the impression that optional activities were merely an afterthought, (b) appear disconnected to the students, and may very well (c) devalue the process for them. The result would be a student that broke free from the class’s core gravitational field and wander away. Miles’ final words were ones of encouragement, that diversity need not be painful or something to be scared of; instead, it represented positive opportunities for classroom learning.
This brings to mind something I have been thinking about regarding curriculum design vis-à-vis student-centeredness (Lassche, in press). Student choice over topic and content selection should be gradually integrated into the curriculum, as they progress academically and linguistically (see Nunan, 1999) by demonstrating mastery of “truly important topics or concepts within the discipline” (Gardner, 2007, 32).

Eric Skier on the Physics of Classroom Interaction

From the Lifelong Language Learner (LLL) perspective, Eric Skier was next. Classes made up of older learners, of widely varying interests and skill levels were often in voluntary or continuing education settings, and streaming according to some pre-determined criterion (interest, age, ability, etc) was simply not possible, although many of these students were coming out of a personal interest in languages rather than out of academic necessity. Such classes are what they are.
What Eric has observed in such classes is the emergence of naturally forming learning communities. Such learning communities often form self-regulating mechanisms, to help students become integrated into the community. Eric wrote:
[These were] name cards with the students’ names on the front and basic questions written out in English on the back for the student to refer to during class. I have observed on numerous occasions a “senpai” helping out a “kohai” by explaining what the card is and how to make it. Some students have even gone as far as making them for the new students. (personal communication, May 23, 2008)
These are intra-supportive, and through development of relational bonding, differences become complementary, a pattern I visualized as the fabric weave design of Michael Miller in Figure 2 (below).
Task completion is often a fun and surprising process, because diversity often means getting the job done in different, equally valid ways. It is important for teachers to maintain open minds, not to invest themselves in one way to get something done, but to relax and allow the chips to fall where they may: “Maintain the [overall] structure while providing space for the group to grow” (Dornyei and Murphey, 2003, 53).
Figure 2
Figure 2. A depiction of intra-supportive relational bonding as a fabric of interwoven, complementary swirls. (Image courtesy of Michael Steiner)

[ p. 75 ]

I recall Figure 1, as I wrote that last sentence. In that graphic, the “gravity” exerted by the teacher is something that is labor-intensive: the teacher maintains, and the teacher provides space. Imagine moons and satellites attracted to the core of a large object by its mass; they ‘fall’ into orbit as much as being ‘pulled’ into orbit as a consequence of mutual attraction.
Is it fair to say that the greater the engagement with the materials, the less a structure has to be maintained / managed by the teacher (that is, course corrections not required), and the more likely students will be attracted and stay within their self-determined but stable orbits? Do students take on characteristics of a group identity, in addition to their individual one, and how would that affect the layering? Perhaps a better graphic would have Saturn’s rings as in Figure 3. Here we can imagine each ring not as a solid but rather made of a “group” of particles of similar mass / density, which could correspond to differences which characterize students.

Figure 3
Figure 3. One interpretative illustration of inter-group variation and intra-group clustering as the concentric rings of a massive planet. (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Figure 4 exemplifies this idea further. Interestingly, these rings rotate at different speeds, because of these compositional differences, and their distance from the core.

Figure 4
Figure 4. A metaphorical representation of student groupings as ring particles around a massive object. (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Eric also mentioned that personality differences are often possible in these scenarios. Large personalities can dominate the process (also, like Hanako in Figure 4), in a sense becoming the class icon, much the same way the Big Red Spot does, the storm which iconically defines the appearance of Jupiter (Figure 5).

Figure 5
Figure 5. A metaphorical depiction of “the problem student” as Jupiter’s Red Spot. (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This storm has raged on unabated for centuries (that is, for at least as long as we have been able to observe with a telescope), and in the classroom a disruptor may similarly be as hard to dislodge: the teacher can’t leave, and there really is no policy for forcing a student to leave. At the same time, policing such disturbances sometimes requires the teacher to step in and keep the flow going. Eric explains:
In such cases I (as teacher) have had to take an extra role of “police” or “regulator” and had to put a stop (in diplomatic means, of course) to a student disrupting the flow of a class by speaking too much or speaking out of turn. Otherwise, I would risk allowing the disruption to continue and this would eventually lead to the other students quitting the class. [This is] something I personally experienced years ago and refuse to allow to happen again. (personal communication, May 23, 2008)

[ p. 76 ]

". . .group-work requires[conflict], especially if intimacy and trust is to build between members so that more effective group-work can follow downstream"
Perhaps one way forward to resolve this kind of conflict is to recognize that group-work requires it, especially if intimacy and trust is to build between members so that more effective group-work can follow downstream (Dornyei and Murphey, 2003, 141ff). Those authors also suggest other well-founded and classroom-tested ideas for building group cohesion (2003, 60ff) and resolving group conflict generally (2003, 140ff). From my own experience as well, I have found that, although the Red Spot may not disappear anytime soon, it is also not getting any bigger, and surrounding zones act as buffers to limit the spread of contamination; similarly, older, mature learners may position themselves socially or even physically near a disruptive “spot-like” student.
In contrast, Eric has also found that “disruptive students are easily identifiable because no one will sit next to them or wish to work with them. It is kind of the opposite of what you have written here. Shunning is more likely to occur.” (personal communication, May 23, 2008)
This kind of indirect feedback may persuade the student to adjust their patterns of communication. In cases where students can’t “clue in” to what is happening, a more direct form of communication is suggested by Randy Pausch. Pausch used peer ratings a lot while teaching at Carnegie Mellon University, and had students rating each other on their contributions for joint projects. He found it to be an effective way to get students to develop self-awareness and increased productivity. Pausch, as cited in Roth (2008), states:
I've heard so many people talk about a downward spiral in our educational system,’ he writes later, ‘and I think one key factor is that there is too much stroking and too little real feedback.’ Recalling how he used to put his entertainment technology students in working groups and require them to provide written feedback to each other, he remembered one socially abrasive student who was ranked in the bottom quartile of his peers' evaluations. He figured that if he was ranked in the bottom 25 percent, he must have been at the 24 percent or 25 percent level ... So he saw himself as ‘not so far from 50 percent,’ which meant his peers thought he was just fine. That's when Pausch told the student that in fact he ranked dead last, and as the student tried to deal with the shock, his professor said: ‘I used to be just like you. I was in denial. But I had a professor who cared about me by smacking the truth into my head. And here's what makes me so special: I listened. ... I'm a recovering jerk. That's what gives me the moral authority to tell you that you can be a recovering jerk, too. (personal communication, [ADD DATE], 2008)
Now, although Pausch was dealing with very motivated and talented students at Carnegie, what he provides is still an excellent precedent of involving students of all ranges and skill levels in peer ratings, in a way that can get students to become more aware of the effect of how they are interacting. Moreover, this does not require teachers to step in and use their authority to hold the line as much.

Jeff Hubbell on Fair Assessment in Multilevel Classes

From the Great Red Spot to Jeff Hubble, er…Hubbell, the Testing and Evaluation (TEVAL) panelist. Jeff writes:
[I asked the audience to] pick up on a point Eric Skier had made about the idea of ‘community’, [and] what ‘fair assessment’ means to the various stakeholders involved in the assessment process, including administrators, teachers and, of course, students. Administrators focus on summative assessment based on grades or, in some cases, scores on institutional tests — not unlike a government – to which teachers must report achievement. By accommodating administrative needs, many teachers may have to serve ‘two masters’; to both their institution and to their personal commitment to their students’ education. My view is that the classroom constitutes a community where both teachers and students tend to have a greater interest in on-going, formative assessment of how they are doing so far towards reaching their goals. (personal communication, May 28, 2008)

So Jeff keyed in on the notion of creating fair assessments. Does having a heterogeneous classroom mean treating every student the same? What is fairness in such scenarios? To begin to answer those questions, teachers need to be aware of the impact diversity has on testing, and testing has on diversity. Conscientious teachers are compelled to organize their methods of assessment in a way that is responsive to the diversity of both motivation and abilities among their students in order to reach ‘fair assessment’, whether it is formative or summative.
"one way to increase student reflectivity would be to increase their involvement in evaluations at all levels, including needs analysis, feedback, making the scoring rubrics, and so forth"

If assessment is assumed to be basically an evaluation of “how we are doing”, (significantly not “how we did”), assessment must be characterized by a formative, ongoing iterative process. That is, a one-shot, unitary scale rating of pass/fail performance is probably unfair, unless the student is satisfied that they have been assessed ‘fairly’. To recognize that diversity exists is to imply that, for learning and therefore for testing to be authentic, the processes need to reflect students’ goals vis-à-vis their personal characteristics and their efforts. Jeff mentioned that one way to increase student reflectivity would be to increase their involvement in evaluations at all levels, including needs analysis, feedback, making the scoring rubrics, and so forth (see Figure 6).

[ p. 77 ]

Figure 6
Figure 6. A suggested iterative feedback loop for classroom assessment.

This figure also shows the added complexity of multiple input units – our students come into our classes with all sorts of different entry and exit levels. This echoed the comment Miles Craven made earlier about the need for layering student activities, and thus, layered assessment would be a natural extension of such a position. To ensure fairness, an evaluation process needs to be sensitive to these ability differences, to prevent frustration at one extreme or boredom at the other.
Integrating student participation into the scoring procedures is also a characteristic of learner-centered pedagogy, but one to be used with caution. Nunan (1988) states that the entry / exit issue mentioned above is problematic especially in light of the fact that tasks cannot be simply sequenced according to linguistic notions of simplicity or complexity; with the advent of more communicatively-oriented teaching approaches, the understanding of how context shapes and forms language renders the notion of generic “context-free” language, the content of supposedly simpler levels, as unfounded. Instead, Brindley (as cited in Nunan, 1988, 67ff) suggests such evaluation would need to be concerned with:

Jeff writes:
As time ran out, I had only been able to hint at what could have been an important point for further discussion when he said, 'After all, if language proficiency is all that is to be assessed, can’t we all assess whether students are going to be given an A, B, or C at the very beginning of a course?'
I would have welcomed questions about how teachers might activate more of the ‘Learner Factors’ mentioned above. I hope that more attention be given to the idea that foreign language learning goes only as far as what drives students to learn it, but there’s nothing finer for a teacher’s self-esteem than to think that their method of assessment played a role in a continuing desire to study it.” (personal communication, May 28, 2008)
Blake Hayes on Social Dynamics in Multilevel Classes

"As an ever-present and seemingly unchanging “shadow” entity, [gender's] importance can fade into the background of our awareness."
Of all the summaries submitted, panelist Blake E. Hayes of the Gender Awareness SIG (GALE) discussed a difference which seemed difficult to address. Levels of ability, motivation, interest, age, confidence, performance are dynamic, ever-changing, and usually almost patently obvious. Further, these differences are seldom socially marked in a way that is pejorative. Within these qualifiers there is room to grow and change. Gender, on the other hand, often represents a status rather than a level. It is something that, all things being equal, will remain the same throughout our lives (Coates, 1991, 13). As an ever-present and seemingly unchanging “shadow” entity, its importance can fade into the background of our awareness. What is much less understood are the changes in our own perception about the nature of gender-identity, a process that Blake presented through the use of narratives.

Figure 7
Figure 7. A symbolic depiction of an individual’s multiple identities. (Image courtesy of Bill Roberts, Avid Technology)

[ p. 78 ]

In Figure 7 a person is portrayed as a cylinder whose shadow is blurred according to the perspective of the viewer, each a slightly different shade, and not representative of the whole. I chose a cylinder for this concept because to it me represents an androgynous figure. The object is also 3D, a container which can act as a repository, in this case to contain the effects of socialization. The metaphor is imperfect because a solid, unchanging figure is depicted. Living organisms change dynamically over time. Some physicists today argue that our space-time reality only exists as an act of conscious observation. Could it be that our identities in our social realities have a similar amorphousness as well?
Stories are told of classes of female students taught with chatting and socialization (female students attract more eye contact than male students, in part perhaps due to their characterization of being sweet and docile), while male students are approached more academically and rigorously. Moreover in settings like CALL, girls are thought to be not comfortable with technology, while boys are assumed to have both interest and aptitude in things more scientific. These stories are not isolated events or held by the uninformed, as a recent event at Harvard has shown, [although Tim related to me that Harvard now has their first ever female president; things are changing…]:
The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, sparked uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Summers also questioned how much of a role discrimination plays in the dearth of female professors in science and engineering at elite universities. (Bombardieri, 2005, par. 1)
One key to understand here is that these stereotypes may regulate decisions in the EFL classroom without a priori feedback / knowledge about the learners themselves. Does this female student want to just chat? Does this boy dislike eye contact? Does this boy have the prerequisite skills to manage the software? The gender difference becomes critically important if it affects the decision-making of the teacher in ways that are disconnected from individual differences. I think that what makes it especially tricky is that the stereotypes operate at the level of unawareness: I am sexist, and I don’t even know it. Blake called for us to examine our reaction to gender differences, to see if we are simply re-casting the social narratives that shadow our conscious behavior. At another level, I often wonder if teachers can also sometimes play the victim: “It is the Japanese culture. That is the way things are; young women have little hope of achieving greatness either socially or vocationally, so why try to change the social balance, and bring the glaring hopelessness of their stark situation into their awareness? There is nothing I can do!” If this is true, some might say that it is not our job to revolutionize the society from the bottom up. The situation, to which these teachers refer, is something along the lines of…
Japan ranked 91st out of 128 countries in the World Economic Forum’s annual ranking of gender-equal countries presented on Thursday, the lowest ranking among all high income countries except for South Korea and five Middle Eastern countries… While Japan scored high in education and health areas, the gender income gap, the lack of women in legislation, management and parliament and ministerial positions brought Japan’s score down to 0.645, where 1 means total equality and 0 total inequality… The index covers over 90% of the world’s population, but does not include North Korea in its rankings. (2007, par. 1, 3, 6)
But perhaps Blake would suggest that such drastic changes are not required of the classroom teacher. What might be nobler, more within reach, are projects like that described by Fumie Tagano, who presented on Sunday morning: “So where are the working women? A discussion of gender roles in high school textbooks.” In this remarkable work, Fumie conducted a sentence-by-sentence textbook corpus analysis, and found traditional gender roles (mother working at home, father working outside; dreaming girls, active men) firmly entrenched. Bringing attention to these kinds of issues and the processes which reify them can help. As a cased in point, in one textbook examined the authorship was overwhelmingly male, reaching 11:1 in favor of men. Perhaps the death of sexism may come about not through revolution, but through a thousand cutting-to-the-chase analyses like this?

Donna Fujimoto on Group Assessment in Multilevel Classes

". . . since we cannot rate individuals, groups form the proper unit of measurement."
Donna Fujimoto, panelist for of the Pragmatics SIG, considered the idea of grouping in the classroom. Because students are so different from each other, and the contributions they make so diverse and temporal, to evaluate performance is difficult. Recalling Jeff’s idea about fair assessment, Donna believed that since we cannot rate individuals, groups form the proper unit of measurement. She argued that rating students individually is an artifact of our “must score” and “must grade” training. Instead of following that outdated paradigm, we should be concentrating on holistic communication, using the discussion itself as the metric. Furthermore, we should be recognizing that interactions require responses: it is just as important in a group that someone listens as well as talk. (Perhaps even more so, since listening is so often done so badly if at all.) And this receptivity is in the form of nods, smiling, um-umming, eye contact, short prompting questions, and so on is an effort to maintain the social interaction. These should also be included in assessment. For that to happen, conversations must be viewed at least as a dyadic, rather than as singular, phenomena.
This idea generated a lot of questions and concerns from the audience during the question / answer period, and Donna repeated what she had said in her summary. With regard to passive participants, it is important to realize that changing the group composition can change the quality of the performance, because different interactants change the nature and quality of the discussion. This quote from C. S. Lewis’ (1971) might highlight that point:
Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but “A’s part in C,” while C loses not only A but “A’s part in B.” In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. (p. 75)

[ p. 79 ]

Donna recommended that such assessment should be low-stakes, or that performance should not pass or fail on a single measurement taken at a discrete point in time. Instead, it would be continuous, and often. What would help too is to make students aware of what group discussions are, and provide them with strategies for managing effective discussions.

Don Maybin on the Gap Between Teacher and Student Perceptions

Last but certainly not least, Don Maybin was the panelist representing the Other Language Educators SIG. Don recalled coordinating a Hungarian class, which was structured with one week in Wales, the other week in Budapest. The class was a remarkable hodge-podge of learner diversity: wide range of ages (4, 13, 16, 40s, and 59), cultures (Mexican, British, and Japanese), personality (bi-polar shyness versus outgoingness), motivational levels (from the completely uninterested to utterly fascinated), and rates of learning (everyone starting as absolute beginners, but with some telling jokes by the end of the week versus others almost completely non-verbal). Don called it "the class from hell". As a passionate teacher who gives it his all, (if his presentation was any indication!), Don was frustrated with his seeming inability to manage the diversity in a way that could satisfy the participants. He felt he was not able to make a connection with certain members. For example, one 16-year-old, who seemed more interested in strangling his 4-year-old cousin than in studying.
Had these students learned anything?
In the second week, the learners were deposited on the streets of Budapest. Their evaluation was done in pairs as they carried out pre-determined communicative tasks. By the end, Don felt burnt-out and discouraged. Despite his best efforts, and in spite of his wide-ranging experiences, he felt the program was a failure. Diversity had defeated him. Or had it? The students’ feedback was surprising: most were thrilled with the results! As for the problem-child, the unmotivated adolescent, Don later found out that this boy had been into drugs, and had run into numerous problems on the street. This 2-week crash course in Hungarian was a last-ditch effort by his parents, who were also participating in the course, to reach out to their son. Getting him involved with something outside of himself was more than they could have hoped for! Don writes:
How can we begin to presume we know the motivations of those in our classes? Don felt that no matter what information is given on questionnaires or in interviews as to why a person is taking a course, there may be hidden learner agendas which we will never have access to, and that it is simplistic, possibly even dangerous, to assume we do. As for the context – a Hungarian class conducted overseas with a wide range of ages and abilities – it may have initially appeared to have little relevance to the audience, but Don pointed out that in Japan’s classrooms today we are finding much greater diversity. In university classes, along with the usual 19 or 20-year olds, we have mature learners, returnees and foreign students from other countries. The problems encountered en route to Budapest exist in many of our local classrooms. (Personal communication, May 18, 2008)
In line with Don’s feedback, this also shows to me that learners’ goals, and our pedagogical goals, sometimes have very little convergence. Our expectations need to be tempered by what learners bring to the table. Sensitivity to their needs and cultural backgrounds is paramount, from the things we ask them to do in class, to the way we score them and provide feedback on their performance. What may be a consequence of minor importance to us is a monumental achievement for them. And sometimes, it is not until the end of the road that we will know just how important our little bit of contribution has been within the whole tapestry of learning.

Concluding remarks

A 60 minute discussion in which panelists’ remarks are limited to about 5 minutes each on a wide range of topics cannot hope to provide comprehensive, pragmatic solutions to the kind of factors involved with classroom management raised earlier: complexity, design, fairness and attraction. What it can do is shed light on the various factors involved, and help to provide further avenues to consider when attempting to explain or justify a particular approach. Three broad themes can be distilled from the content provided from the panelists, and I will briefly try to tie them with the four classroom management factors just mentioned.
"A good way to start handling complexity in the classroom would be the primary recognition of diversity as something that ever-present and increasing, and that it represents a large potential for positive growth."

Diversity as universal, diversity as potential. A good way to start handling complexity in the classroom would be the primary recognition of diversity as something that ever-present and increasing, and that it represents a large potential for positive growth. Handling complexity means welcoming and embracing it, not running away from it. Teacher strategies would need to include the possibility of changing student characteristics, and that agendas can often be hidden in both the students and the teacher themselves, creating conflicts with what is already known or made explicit in the “classroom consciousness” through various public and private evaluations. Fairness could be defined as the balancing of these various agendas. Activity and material design needs to be flexible enough to reflect and respond to this dynamic.

[ p. 80 ]

Increasing choice. Given the complex of student characteristics, it only makes sense to design education with as much choice for students as possible. This choice is guided by pragmatic and conscious principles, which recognize students’ ability and backgrounds and includes them in decision-making processes, with opting-out as fair-play. This can include the levels and types of peer interaction and peer ratings and evaluations. The upside to increased choice is the potential for increased engagement and alignment of students’ own goals with curricular objectives, coupled with a decreased need for regulatory structures (usually policed by the teacher and / or administration).
Increasing awareness. Perhaps this was the main point of the enterprise: to shed light on the issues surrounding classroom management. Just bringing things out into the open, speaking them into existence so to speak, is a good start to understanding what is going on. This means clarifying agendas and stereotypes attached to them; discussing what choice is possible and contemplating the impossible (my students can’t do THAT); and finally, enabling and empowering more ambitious goals with opportunities and the means / strategies to attain them.


Bombardieri, M. (2005, January 17). Summers' remarks on women draw fire. The Boston Globe. [Electronic version]. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2005/01/17/summers_remarks_on_women_draw_fire/

Coates, J. (1991). Women, men and language. London: Longman.

Dornyei, Z. and Murphey, T. (2003). Group dynamics in the language classroom. Cambridge: CUP.

Gardner, H. (2007). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Japan near bottom in gender equality index. (2007, November 9). The Japan News Review. [Electronic version]. Retrieved May 12, 2008 from http://www.japannewsreview.com/society/national/20071109page_id=2934

Lassche, G. (in press). Student-centeredness: A cautionary tale. Journal of English as an International Language.

Lewis, C. S. (1971). The four loves. London: Harvest.

Nunan, D. (1988). The learner-centered curriculum. Cambridge: CUP.

Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching and learning. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Roth, M. (2008, April 6). 'The Last Lecture' by Randy Pausch/Jeffrey Zaslow: CMU professor shares wealth of values. [Electronic version]. Retrieved May 26, 2008 from http://www.post- gazette.com/pg/08097/870343-148.stm. [Expired Link]

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