Learning to be a learner is a part of successful learning.

In the context in which I teach, A0 primary and A0 secondary learners are rarely ever learner trained, as they come from school systems that place little emphasis on pro-activity and creativity. They also come to class with little or no Literacy skills (i.e. phonics recognition, reading and writing, etc.), although some of their spoken English might be fantastic.

This makes them very dependent on the teacher, unsure about their capabilities (as they have not yet discovered their strengths and weaknesses as learners), and quite insecure about themselves, making them easily demotivated and resorting to strategies like making guesses rather than trying to remember, copying from friends, desperately waiting for prompts from the teacher, or relying on the teaching assistant to always help them. It also makes them reluctant to work with each other, because of the need to be the smart one that knows the answer, or the fear of being ridiculed by peers for not knowing the answer.

In light of this, A0 learners need to be taught life skills, such as responsibility, collaboration, pro-activity and self-reliance. For these skills to be taught, they need to be disciplined, and for discipline to be maintained, they need to be comfortable in their learning environment, intellectually engaged at the right level, and enjoying their lessons.

Responsibility and collaboration:

1. Students may be assigned classroom tasks and given duties to do such as handing out materials, collecting resources, etc. A lot of students like being able to do such things and enjoy the honour of being the one chosen for the task.

2. Students should be made to work in groups with reward or point systems that work on a group basis, encouraging each member of the group to perform or behave well for the sake of the others in the groups. Positive peer pressure can be very useful for a teacher in the classroom. In addition, activities and games that require students to work together to earn points, etc. should be set up. This make success shared and the result of a team effort.

3. Responsibility should always be praised, and assigned students should be thanked for doing their tasks well. Working well together as well as sharing resources should also be praised in front of the whole class with something solid like points or stars.

In Practice:

1. Develop a task list for every lesson, or every week with the names of students chosen for each task displayed on the wall, or the board. Alternatively, assign tasks on the spot. This encourages students to be well behaved in between activities so that they may be chosen to do the task. This has worked very well even in my most difficult classes, where students turn silent, and raise their hands when I hold up the handouts, or whiteboards for distribution.

2. Point systems or reward systems are tricky. Some of them may work very well for some classes, and not so well for others. It is crucial to find what works for the class you teach. It is also important to stick to one long enough to determine whether it works or not. Sometimes, it is just a matter of getting used to the system for the students, which may take longer when students have not been exposed to such a practice in the past. Some teachers like to award certificates at the end of each lesson, some like to give out smiley faces or stickers, some prefer to keep the chart on the Interactive White Board, while others prefer to have something more solid on a wall, on which name tags can be moved, etc.

Self-Reliance and Pro-activity

In my experience, self-reliance has often led to pro-activity.

1. Most students at this level feel the constant need for teacher feedback. You will find that on being given the answer key following a task, they will expect the teacher to check their work even after they have checked their work against the answer key. You may also find some students pretending to have checked their work, but waiting for the teacher to do the actual checking afterwards, and telling them what their score was or how well they had done.

The solution is to be as distant as possible. Make clear to the students when they are going to be working on a task without feedback from the teacher. Instruct them to check their own work, by telling them that you won’t be checking it yourself, but will be coming around to look at their score only. As time goes by, you will find that they become more accustomed to the routine of self-checking, but it is necessary to stick to the rule firmly.

2. Skills should be taught early on. At this level, the main skills are blending for reading, segmenting to help produce words, following arrows for letter formation, knowing where to look for answers. eg. translating meanings online, asking a friend if they know the answer, etc. If taught early on in the term, students may be given repeated opportunities to use these skills during class time, so that they become a natural strategy for learning

In Practice:

1. Dictation is a good listening task at this level, as it makes students work both on phonic recognition, and production. Following dictation, provide students with a list of words to check their work against and give themselves a score.

2. It would be ideal to introduce blending as soon as some of the consonants and the first vowel sound is taught. Small words like sat, mat, map, etc. can serve as easy starting points to practice blending with. Have students repeat as you say each sound separately and then combine them. Have them repeat for the whole class with other words. Put them on reading tasks immediately after teaching them how to blend, and remind them how to blend before they do any sort of reading task in future. Incorporate blending time after each phonic sound is taught. By the end of the term, you will see that most students, if not all, apply blending when faced with a longer, or difficult word.

The same principle works for other skills. Early introductions to them and constant demonstration and practice of them are crucial for successful learning. They make students self-reliant and able to carry out tasks without much teacher support. They also give them confidence to experiment with new language and phonics, as well as take on a collaboratively proactive role in class, helping their peers.

In conclusion, teaching A0 is not just about teaching phonics, or giving students just enough functional language and reading and writing ability to be ready for the next level. At this level, the teacher’s job is to provide students with sufficient learner training to make them successful learners as they progress through their journey in language learning. Indeed, it is one of the reasons A0 is the most rewarding level to teach.

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