A learner who doesn’t follow the pace of the lesson
It’s quite common in classes with very young learners (aged 7-8) to have students who do not follow the teacher’s rules and particularly the pace of the lesson. This year I’ve been challenged with such a student who seems unwilling to follow the stages of each lesson and he insists on finishing the tasks at his own pace, he starts doing activities before I give explanations, he sometimes skips intentionally the tasks the whole class is supposed to do because he’s bored.
On the one hand I can sympathise with that little learner as he’s making his first steps in a learning environment. He isn’t able to distinguish the difference between home and school yet. On the other hand, his behavior is annoying for the rest of the class which have to wait for his turn to move to the next task or finish it on time. Some of his classmates feel frustrated and they always put the blame on him for not enjoying the lesson as much as they would like. At first , I spoke to him in person. I didn’t take him to the office; instead we stayed in the classroom in order to feel more comfortable and above all to be in his “second home”, as most of us consider schools to be. We talked about the classroom, what his opinion is about it, about the colours of the walls, the posters, the way the desks are arranged. My aim was to make him feel familiar with the environment and its role which is totally different from the one of his home. It’s a place where he has to collaborate with other children, follow some rules, and realize my authority in this place. Then I offered him a seat in front of my desk so as to have close eye contact during the lesson. This way I do not have to call out his name anytime he’s not following me, but I just raise my voice and see him into his eyes.
It took quite a long time for the student to get used to the idea of me as the authority. He left behind his selfish behavior as soon as he realized that he belongs in a group and should stick to the rules.
I tried to solve the problem by aiming at the reasons of such behaviour and not on the specific behaviour itself. Moreover, I managed not to involve the rest of the class. What worried me was the fact that I had to rearrange the seating of the students and exclude him , in some way, from his classmates by having him sit close to me. I believe that he won’t feel insulted as these are temporary measures and he’s going to be ready to assert his rights really soon.
The dilemma of placement tests
Towards the end of the month, almost two weeks since the beginning of the lessons and it feels like I’ve been working for a whole school year! It’s one of those days when I feel a complete wreck and start asking myself if it’s really worth it. I’m really not proud of my secret thoughts but where is the passionate teacher who’s ready to give her heart and soul to students today? Where has all my energy gone? No, it didn’t vanish into thin air, it’s just the need to act more as a manager of a school today that laid heavy on me.
I had to face the usual dilemma when it comes to students who have attented lessons in another school and wish to enroll in one of my classes.I made the mistake just to mention the term “placement test”. You will find out the reason why…
All of us, as teachers, value the need of this procedure so as to be aware of the student’s exact level of English. Unfortunately, many kids are afraid to undergo this preliminary phase/test before starting lessons in a new school. I can understand them up to a point, it’s not an easy task and sometimes it looks like a formal examination. So, I find students’ stress reasonable. But, on the other hand, I find annoying the fact that most schools do not use placement tests at all.
School managers, in search of more clients for the their school-businesses, accept students based on information about their level of English only by what parents have said, or even worse based on the books they have been taught. As a manager, I see the point of trying to have a standard number of students/clients, to increase the clientele, to run a profitalbe business. But what about the long-term effects? Is it right to accept a student who insists that his/her level of English is the one of A2+ and sooner or later we realise that his/her actual level is A1? Who’s going to benefited from such a mix-up? The student will be placed in a class where he/she will be struggling to keep up with the other students’ level and the school owner will earn the tuition fees only for a year or two. I can assure you of that!
As time goes by, those children realise that there’s something wrong. They are unable to bridge the gap between their own and their classmates’ level. The saddest thing is that they get so disappointed that a large number of them give up in the end.
As a school owner, I’ve decided that students should take a placement test before enrolling to a class. I want to feel safe and be fair and honest to them. I try to persuade them that undergoing this procedure doesn’t mean that I’m trying to doubt or underestimate their level of knowledge. Placemenets tests are a tool which will help both of us to plan the following years’ syllabus which will meet their needs. Here’s a blog post fourc.ca by Tyson Seburn with lots of feedback on how other teachers see placement tests and students’ evaluation.
….The student (encouraged by the parent) denied taking the test today. They told me that they’ll have second thoughts on that.
Needless to say that my role as a teacher is of vital importance to me. I’m here to stay! I strongly beleive that in the near future some of these “clients” will appreciate my efforts. Till then, I’ll keep on fighting to prove that private language schools are more than just business.
Game: “jumping on the article!”
The games focuses on the correct use of the indefinite article a/an. It is a 20 minute revision-consolidation game which can be played at the end of the lesson. It’s suitable for young learners (aged 7-8) at their first steps of learning English. A rope (about 3-4metres long) and two pieces of coloured cardboard (size A4) are needed. It is a game I’ve adapted to the English language teaching after watching clowns performing similar ones at parties but only for recreational purposes.
20 minutes before the lesson finishes, the teacher with the help of the students move the desks, leaving a space big enough for 12 children to stand in two lines. He? She makes sure that the classroom equipment in placed in such a way that students won’t get injured, as they’ll have to jump during the game. Then he/she places the rope on the floor , dividing it (the floor) into two imaginary separate spaces. On the first one, he/she places the first piece of cardboard having written the article “a” on it, and on the other space he/she places the second cardboard with the article “an” on it. The students stand in the first space with the article “a” and the games starts! The teacher calls out nouns and the students have to jump from spaces “a” to “an” according to the article that they should use in front of the noun. E.g. the teacher says “apple” and all the students should jump over the rope and move to the space with the “an” article cardboard. The teacher quickly says “ball” and the students have to jump to the “a” article space. He/She goes on saying “fox” and if the students jump to the wrong article , they are to leave the game. The role of the teacher us to call out nouns quickly and make students confused. The winner is the student who has jumped on the correct article spaces during the whole game.
Though the game might be a little noisy and fast paced for the students, they seemed to be enjoying it. There was the sense of competition but there was also the exciting element of luck, as many of them were predicting wrongly the teacher’s next noun announcement and, as a result, they jumped on the wrong article space. At the end, they all felt confident about their ability to distinguish the vowels and consonants sounds and match the correct article accordingly.
Since the kids asked to repeat the game again and again, I think that instead of the articles I could use the same game revising vocabulary (food-drinks) or even grammar (adjectives-adverbs) with students at beginner ‘s level. Although team or group games are more common because they are undoubtedly a way to maintain the students’ involvement, I found out in this case, that the students didn’t feel the individual stress of competition. The game itself involves lots of physical activity and excitement that the participants focus on their goal in a more relaxing way.
“I am a teacher”
This specific activity is simple, suitable for YL (aged 7-8), who have already acquired the basic vocabulary of the English language. The purpose is to get the students to know each other, while at the same time introducing new vocabulary (professions) and practising grammar (the verb “to be”). It doesn’t require anything to be prepared in advance, just some pieces of colourful cardboard (size A4) are enough. I created this activity to help young students make their first lessons more enjoyable, using their senses (colours on papers), TPR (make them stand in a queue) without burdening them with a lot of writing or confusing them with lots of materials.
The teacher gives a piece of colourful cardboard (size A4) to each student. The students write their favourite jobs on them. If they do not know some of them, the teacher helps them with the spelling orally. Then he/she (the teacher) writes his profession on his/her piece of cardboard. Then he/she stands in front of the class, holding the paper saying “Hi, I’m Maria and I’m a teacher”. The first student, holding the cardboard with a profession written on it, goes next to the teacher saying “Hi, I’m…..(name) and I’m…(profession)”. He/She also has to mention the teacher’s name and job like” This is Maria. She’s a teacher”. Then the third student comes to the queue saying his/her name, profession and mentions the previous student’s name and job as well as the teacher’s! This way, all the students in class not only introduce themselves but their classmates too.
The teacher makes sure that all the kids remember each other’s names and professions and moves on to the second part. In this part, the teacher shuffles the papers with the professions and gives them to the students. Then he/she stars by saying “I’m Maria and I’m a fireman ( the profession that another student has chosen)”. Then the kids take turns saying “ This is Maria but she isn’t a fireman. She’s a teacher”.
As there were some shy students in the class, I chose to let them stand up at the end of the activity. They did this willingly because they had seen their classmates getting confused, making mistakes and laughing. So, it seemed to them like a game. All the learners enjoyed the activity asking to repeat it by using their favourite football teams (boys) and their favourite singers (girls)!
The activity is based on Vigotsky’s theory that children learn through social interaction and teaching grammar in context. The teacher gives a clear example of the activity at first (introducing himself/herself and holding the piece of paper with the profession written on it), as it’s important for YL to have clear instructions of the task they’re about to carry out. It’s an activity for small classes (appr.10 students) and it could be also done with teenagers. In this case, the students could collect more information about their classmates (hobbies, interests etc) and the teacher could round off by having them write a short bio of one of their classmates.