Monitoring: the skill

Published on 28th October, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

Monitoring is a learnt skill, not a natural one. When monitoring students in oral fluency activities, eg a discussion, the following sometimes happens: students stop talking, feeling slightly self-conscious; one student dominates, in order to display their language to you; students redirect their conversations to you, instead of talking to their peers; students continue to talk to each other but look at you, seeking approval or a response.

Such problems can be off-putting for a teacher. They subvert the aim of the activity and may lead to an avoidance of monitoring by the teacher in future. There are of course contexts where no monitoring might be a positive thing, for example, with unconfident students. However, as monitoring is undoubtedly valuable for teachers and students alike, here are some suggestions:

• Indicate it is a ‘teacher-free-zone’: when you first assign an oral fluency task, signal clearly that you are not involved, overtly marking a change in stage. Start with an oral ‘stage initiator’ such as OK, off you go, then turn away and busy yourself at the board. Remove eye contact and signal non-interference via your body language, facing away from the students.

• Experiment with different monitoring positions. This may depend on you and your students, as well as the classroom layout. Personally, where possible, I prefer to sit about a metre from the students. Depending on the group, I may turn my body away and focus on my book or notes on my lap, or fix on a spot or another group across the room. If I catch a student’s eye, I just smile and then casually look away. When teaching in a bigger class, perhaps with fixed desks, it may be easier to stand still or walk slowly around the room.