A first lesson for a group of 5/6 year olds, they’ve never had English lessons before, they’re clearly nervous and a bit worried. My goal (as their teacher), in the first few lessons is to ensure they enjoy being there and feel happy about coming back for more lessons. A few games are played, the children seem happy and relaxed – goal achieved!
The lesson comes to an end and the nervous and slightly apprehensive students that came into the class, leave the room happy and relaxed. I haven’t taught them much English, but I have started the process of building a safe, positive and effective learning environment for lessons to come.
However, this is all undone by one mother waiting at the door to collect her child. As I stand in the doorway, saying goodbye to each of the students, I hear one mother, ‘pounce’ on her child with ‘So, tell me, what did you learn today? Say something for me in English’. The child looks at the ground, and shuffles her feet a bit, but doesn’t provide an ‘answer’, so the mother then says, ‘Come on, what did you learn, you must be able to say something in English, come on, say something for me.’ The child looks more than a little panicked and upset…
This is what happened to me with one of my first classes of primary-aged students. It quickly became pretty clear that this student enjoyed being in the lessons, but disliked coming to English because she was always worried about being ‘tested’ by her mother at the end of each lesson. You could clearly see a change in her manner as lessons came to an end.
This was the first lesson for me in how important it is to ensure everyone involved in a child’s education is aware of what’s going on and has shared expectations. We so often focus on the students and the teachers and ignore the role parents play in the learning process.
Involving the parents from the beginning and keeping them in the picture as the course progresses is the way forward. Here are a few suggestions for doing this:
Communicate with the parents (e-mail, letter, newsletter, parent’s meeting) before and during the course/term about:
- the methodology of the course
- teaching techniques/activity types that will be used
- expectations of progress
- content being covered (songs, topics, projects, etc…)
Give parents the opportunity to see what their child can do:
- invite them to watch a lesson
- have a parent/teacher meeting and show work the child has done
- have a class performance and/or display of work
Encourage extra practice at home, but in a fun and motivating way (as in the classroom)
- Sing the songs /chants
- Read/retell the stories
- Computer-based games and activities
It’s definitely understood that children need a positive and encouraging environment in order to be in the best frame of mind to learn and develop. We can do all we can to create this environment in our classrooms, but in order for this to be truly effective, we need this to be reinforced at home. Of course, this is easier said than done, so I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on getting parents involved and sharing the learning process!
Naomi Moir, Teacher Trainer, Oxford University Press ELT