A reason to smile
I had a wonderful experience in class today, one which doesn’t happen very often but which left me feeling hopeful. We work in a state school, taking some students out of their regular classes to give them extra speaking practice. Today I had a group of eleven nine-year-olds and whilst it’s the second time which I’ve seen this group, there was a “new” student today who was absent for our previous lesson.
To start with, another student actually brought him down to our classroom once we had started as G had missed the rest of the class coming downstairs with me. Fair enough, I thought, it’s his first lesson and he didn’t know which group he was in. He came in and sat down and we did the first activity, which was just a quick revision of family vocabulary to lead in to the lesson. Whilst the others were all clamouring to give words, I noticed that G wasn’t which made me think that perhaps he had a lower level than the rest of the class.
Following this, we were going to do a running dictation and so I paired the students up – and it happened that G was sitting next to a very bright student, N. Firstly, I was amazed that N didn’t pull a face when she was paired with G – for no other reason than that they’re at that age when boys and girls don’t particularly enjoy working together with the opposite sex unless they’re very close friends. So that was a nice start to the activity (I hate it when you start an activity with moans and groans!).
As we started the running dictation, it became apparent that G really struggled to read English and the pessimist in me (or perhaps realist / teacher with a few years experience) expected N to start groaning about how he couldn’t do the activity. But she didn’t. Instead, she worked very patiently with him and made an effort to understand what he was saying. I stepped in and read some of the sentences for him and he was able to go back and relay them to N.
So, most of the students finished the running dictation and we read through the complete text line by line to check for any pronunciation problems. I nominated G to read a sentence…and he looked a little blankly at me. So I went over and pointed out where we were and read the first couple of words for him. He repeated them, then stopped. The next word was two, so I held up my fingers and he said two…then stopped. The final word was brothers and his classmates were very helpful, whispering the word to him, which he was then able to repeat. Again, I was amazed that nobody made fun of him, nobody was whispering anything and everyone else in the class was genuinely willing to support him.
Finally, after doing some vocab work, I asked the students to produce a short text based on the work we’d been doing – a description of their parents and where they work. G was obviously struggling and as I went over to help him, another student came to ask me a question. After I had helped G to talk about his mum, the other student explained again to him what he needed to do…in a very supportive, caring manner.
I don’t know, maybe I’m making more out of this than needed, but I really left the classroom feeling happy about the way the students treated their classmate. So often I find that students are quick to sneer when somebody doesn’t understand – despite the fact that sometimes it’s just the process of absorbing what I’ve said to them in English, thinking about their answer and then responding which takes time and is misinterpreted as not understanding by their peers. To see students creating such a safe and friendly environment for G was a wonderful way to end my teaching day.