Truth be told, there is no such thing as an “average teacher” either. I also believe in personalized approach to teaching: one follows the other. Some of us find it natural to sing and dance at every lesson so to speak, while others will stick to the more sedate modus. “Hello children/colleagues, I am happy to see you!” This phrase is my staple. I inherited it from my own grandmother, it comes natural to me. The response is immediate. It does not mean that I never have any problems; it does mean that the rapport is established really fast. The only secret is, if you use any such greeting at all, you really have to feel that way, for it to translate to your audience and to become contagious.
If we use an “average student” approach with very talented high achievers, they will be bored; consequently, they may stop doing anything at our lessons. Conversely, when we try to cram all the tasks into a lesson with children who find the subject difficult and struggle with every theme, they may become discouraged… and stop trying. Naturally in any class full of geniuses there may be one pupil who tends to lag behind for whatever reason and in any slow group there may be at least one pupil who outpaces all of his or her peers. This is normal. After all, even though there were plenty of poets and playwrights in the Elizabethan epoch, only one of them was William Shakespeare!
Our tasks are manifold.
• We have to stick to the national curriculum, that is to relay a certain volume of knowledge per annum, to teach a certain level of skills, and to obtain a certain amount of results at the end of every academic year.
• We are required to teach ALL the students according to the national curriculum guidelines.
• ALL our students are supposed to learn a set amount of data with our help.
• We have to be able to differentiate, to be able to work with mixed ability classes, to satisfy the needs of any child.
We accumulate various materials through the years, saving those that worked well, and discarding those which did not. Here are a few techniques which I found useful.
• ALWAYS be ready for the unexpected. If the whole class cannot grasp any theme you considered simple, look at the materials again, and try to present them in a new way. If your students rush through a difficult topic and demand more tasks, offer some more complicated exercises.
• Keep a few extra exercises, texts, URLs handy for those who are usually very fast so that they are not bored. If a student has done all the work planned for the lesson in twenty minutes, suggest they do some very difficult exercise, listen to a dialogue which everybody else found hard to understand, or give them an opportunity to work at a special report or presentation.
• This one needs careful thinking. If you have a student who always lags behind and finds any theme challenging, quietly determine what they can realistically do during one lesson, and let them work at their own pace. Why do we need to be careful? As teachers, I believe we should take care of all our students, and see that none of them are bullied because they are too smart or too “dumb”. With a slow child, it is important to gradually increase the load, so that they become more and more confident by the end of a term or a school year.
How do students react when a lesson is personalized? That’s a nice question. My experience shows that if we don’t tell them, they have no idea! A lesson is a lesson, and a teacher is a teacher. Throughout my career, pupils from other classes would complain to their teachers, parents and school administration because their EL teacher would not do what I did, namely personalize their lessons, offer extra tasks, use the internet and ICT on a regular basis. The usual answer still is, every teacher has a different approach to education. I see my students as individuals and use the national curriculum or a teacher refresher course as a TOOL to suit their needs.
One technique I use often works well with any age and level. I bring in the Teacher’s Book and share the lesson plans with my audience. “Let us see, my Teacher’s Book says that you, students, can perform ten various tasks during one lesson. Task one, warm-up, 3 minutes. Can we do that?” And so on. This is a novelty and a challenge which everybody loves. We time every item, and add up the score at the end. If anything is left over, we know that we need to work harder. If we are even two minutes ahead, it is cause for jubilation. Surprisingly, students would remind me at times: “What does your book say? How many exercises do we have to perform today?” I can write down a few items on the board beforehand, in short: Warm-up, 3 mins; Reading, 5 mins; Retelling, 5 mins. And so on.
We work with human beings, folks. Even your hooligan, your gossip girl, your Einstein, your Hermione, your Harry, Draco and Ron, even the Moaning Myrtle are all human. Well, almost. With our help, they will grow into sensible members of society.
Nina MK, Ph.D.