Students come to us from various families, and from a vast variety of life situations.

Building confidence.
Nina MK, Ph.D.

Students come to us from various families, and from a vast variety of life situations. No two children are alike, even though at first they may seem to blur into that collective entity, “a class”. If we get beginners, we are probably the luckiest teachers of all: we are new for the pupils, and they are ready to imbibe whatever words of wisdom we wish to pronounce. By law, we teachers are required to teach ALL children, whether they like it or not. Let us just think about it. No matter what the child’s abilities, their desires, inclinations, the weather conditions, the number of subjects in a typical school day, the previous joys and woes, the future expectations and apprehensions, we greet our class and proceed to giving out NEW KNOWLEDGE in little parcels. It rather reminds me of that old phrase about Queen Elizabeth I: “The Queen has to have a bath every month whether she needs to or not”.

Step One. We should build our own confidence! Yes, the whole world is going crazy, and the divorce statistics is staggering. But we still have the same task in front of us, that of teaching any and all the children.

Step 2. When someone praises us for our good work, we feel happy, don’t we? So we should praise all our pupils for every little success they manage to achieve. Whenever they produce a difficult sound correctly, or compose an essay, or suddenly hear a previously incomprehensible dialogue well, it is up to us to notice their progress, and say a kind word, or give them a better grade than they had had before for similar tasks.

Step 3. Take a few short notes. What worked, what didn’t? The results differ from class to class, and from pupil to pupil! One activity that worked wonders at any level with my students was Seasonal Warm-Ups. Imagine winter, -30C. I would start the lesson with, “Nice weather we are having, aren’t we?” and then point at one of the children. The replies may vary.

Reply A: Oh no!
The obvious continuation will be to point at another pupil and ask them, “Do you agree?” et cetera.

Reply B: Yes we do!
Aha, here our creative self wakes up. The tactful way of drawing their attention to the mistake probably will be, “Is “We DO” the right answer to the question “AREN’T we?”

This activity should be very dynamic, involving the whole group. It may either go in the direction of Weather topic, or Grammar.

Since children of all ages are competitive by nature, the Points System usually works well. Depending on what we are currently trying to achieve, we may set a task and tell the class how many points they will get for what, be it building their very first sentence, or composing a sophisticated dialogue, or writing an essay. The most important point, however, is making sure that they are not afraid of making a mistake!
In second grade, when they painstakingly build their own first sentences in English, I encourage them at every stage, gradually explaining all the problems. For example, what I usually get instead of a full sentence or question is just one word. Beginners show me something and ask:
“Like?”
Or reply to my question, “Man”.
Why is that? They use their native tongue as a model: in Russian, there are no articles, no auxiliary verbs in questions, and the ubiquitous verb “to be” is never used in the present tense, but for some scientific articles. So my young beginners understand that one word is not a sentence, but they do not understand why a noun often needs an article in front of it, or why a general question must begin with the word “do”. It is my task to teach them all those things.

Once they produce a real sentence, the points system may be introduced. With beginners, I use the simplest approach. For example, they are to build a sentence, and they get a certain number of points for it. If there are any mistakes, I set them aside for later work.
With seniors, I clearly state that they get a set number of points for every correct sentence, and tell them how many points will be subtracted for every mistake.

Real life experience helps build up confidence like nothing else. In August, flying to my vacation destination, I happened to sit next to a young boy, aged probably 12. His mother was sitting across the aisle from him, and he was clearly trying to show her how adult and independent he was. At some point, he asked me something in German – and I automatically replied in English. He jumped up in his seat and apologized, again in German. Rather than saying anything in German myself, I waited, because I could see that he started thinking hard. I knew what it was: he was trying to remember everything he had ever learned at his English lessons! By the time lunch was served, he brightened up, waited for his moment, and bravely asked me, “Can I help you?” I said “Sure” and “Thanks” when he passed the tray to me. I could see that he wanted to communicate in English, to use the skills he had already received at school. When we landed, he concentrated and said to me, “Thank you kindly Miss! Have a nice day!” I replied, “You have a great time too!” His huge smile showed me that he understood my words. It was probably his first experience with the foreign language. I know for sure it will play a positive role in his future studies!

Communication is indeed key.

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