(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1PFsZVw)
Sooner or later the students in your class will tell you who they are (and I am not talking about their name and where they are from, I am talking about who they are as people).
The experience we have had in the adult ESL classroom is that students show themselves over a period of 4 weeks in this way:
- Basic information
The first thing students of course will want you to know about them is what their name is (and the correct pronunciation!) and where they are from and perhaps even a little about their country. This is easy to extract from them.
- Attitude to learning in class
Next comes the idea of how they fit into the learning process. It can come down to what their motivation is to learn English, this could mean that they only need it for their university, or travel or business, or even have simply a love of learning languages. There are quite a few differences here in terms of how they apply themselves to the different tasks at hand. This is observable in terms of how quickly they listen and complete the task and how accurately they want get the task completed.
- Willingness to work with others
Once you see that students are opening to learning, getting them to work in partners may be a different ball game again. They may be intensely shy (but very conscientious) for example, and they may want to only work with people they know. All these points are things to try to pull out form the teacher’s side early on, as this can hinder the development of the student’s progress.
- Attitude to attendance
For those students who are male and just left school, the whole idea of getting out of bed in the morning is tough, much tougher than it is for us older people who are so used to it. This can affect their attendance and their attitude to learning in class. However, for sure they will want to work with others…hey why do work when someone else can share the load (may be their attitude)! Ensuring there is a clear attendance policy and outlining this at the very beginning is something to make sure everyone knows makes the learning process not just for you as a teacher but for the rest of the students in the class easier, as dealing with late and un-punished arrivals to the class can be very disruptive.
- Attitude to the concept of ‘working hard’
We may think that ‘working hard’ is the same as a good attitude to learning but in fact it can be something quite different. Working hard is more to do with the hours spent and concentration on the topic rather than the actual understanding of what learning is. Some people will spend hours memorising material (for example), while others will work a lot smarter and ensure they actually understand. This is something the teacher can look at in their own planning as engaged students in creative activities are far more likely to work ‘smarter’ in the long run than those who are not ‘getting’ what learning really is.
- General attitude to success or failure
For us this comes at the end of the month when we give our tests. For sure the week before the exam the students are finding themselves getting a bit more nervous, going to the toilet more often (!) and a bit more demanding on the teacher. This is all normal. The role of the teacher here is to reassure the students who are highly likely to pass, and to sit with the students who may be borderline, so that they know that their exam will be an example of where they are at. If they fail because they didn’t work hard enough, it is something the student will need to confront on the day, if they succeed they will need to feel congratulated because it shows that they took the time to take the content of the course seriously. This sets up the situation for the teacher following the results to deal with the student. When the student (who is borderline) passes the teacher can be very congratulatory and if they fail, they can sit with the student again and easily counsel them as to their next step (which with us means to repeat the level again).
It is when the results come out that you will truly see who the student is. If they succeed and they show they can perform when the pressure is on, all good them, they is who they are. If they fail when the pressure is on, the teacher will understand that as a person they need to work slowly and consistently through the month, or, they didn’t have a good attitude in the first place and it showed its true colours at the end.
For most teachers, this is nothing new – you work hard, you pass, you fool around, you fail. But it’s also important to understand that true colours of a student do change over time. A great teacher is not only imparting information and setting up a great learning environment, but they are also character analysers and understand that every student is different and as a result deal with each student differently based on the character that presents itself over time.