“Lower your expectations”
I’ve found myself giving that piece of advice to teachers in the past and I’ve come to realise that’s not really what I want to say.
On the YL extension course which we run at Active Language, I’ve found myself saying it when talking about first classes with VYLs, and at that point, I don’t mean ‘lower your expectations’ at all, but rather ‘be aware that first lessons can be difficult for VYLs – they’re being put in a room with someone who doesn’t speak their language (or won’t speak their language), often in the afternoon when they’ve been comfortable at home, watching cartoons. Be aware that you might not get as much out of them as you plan to and don’t feel let down if they can’t remember things from the first lesson to the second – just keep repeating and exposing them to the language and they’ll get there. Be prepared for people to be crying – it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy the lessons in the future.’ I think ‘lower your expectations’ perhaps just rolls off the tongue more easily!
I was thinking about another moment to lower your expectations earlier this week as I was covering a class for a colleague. There are quite a variety of levels in the class, with one learner who is particularly weak and his previous teacher said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry if you don’t get a lot out of him. Even if he’s just paying attention, it’s a start.” Part of me thinks that it’s wonderful that we view our learners as individuals – we know who will be quick to pick up new lexis and form full sentences and maybe we should be happy when we get minimal responses out of our weaker learners. Another part of my brain is screaming, “No! Raise your expectations! Give them every opportunity to go as far as they can go with anything you show them in class!”
I’ll be giving a talk at ACEIA-Málaga in a couple of weeks where I’ll address some of these issues and provide some practical tips on how we can raise our expectations and get the most from our learners.