So I finished my second month of teaching! And my students seem to have benefitted so I'm extra pleased.
This time round I was given the Basic English level and the lower-intermediate again. I've made more observations this month, and here they are!
* My class sizes were smaller this month; I had 7 students in Basic and 9 students in Level 3. This meant I could spend a lot more time reviewing their work and giving them individual help.
* A few of my Level 3 students regularly gave me written pieces to look over (homework I would assign). I really enjoyed giving them input on their written work and seeing how they express themselves. One of my favorite assignments is writing a letter to the "Agony Aunt" (ie me!) and asking for advice.
* The Basic level does not contain much grammar or difficult vocabulary, so my students and I had a lot of time to play educational games such as Spelling Races and Pictionary. They absolutely loved this. Competition in the classroom is always healthy. Plus, I found that it helped me target problem spelling areas; for example, there were a few times that the students thought the /i:/ sound at the end of a word, example "party", was made by the letter "e" and not "y". So we were able to identify this problem area and work on it.
* Thinking of ways to make concepts visual. For example, "what", "who" and "where" -- I drew stick people next to "who" so that students understood we use it when asking about people. I drew a little map when talking about "where".
* As I said, I had Level 3 again this month so I was prepared for some tricky questions in the field of the Present Perfect. I was equipped with more examples that led to more elicitation of grammar and vocabulary concepts. I felt this resulted in them understanding more the first time round, rather than half-learning it and then us having to do several revision hours.
* I enjoyed building relationships with my students, and them trusting me to help them. It really is amazing the positive impact these classes have on these students' lives. And I'm always blown away by the students who have full-time jobs and families and still manage to do the work I set them.
* Although the Basic textbook contained no difficult grammar or vocabulary, I was still disappointed not to have a teacher's guide. I find that teacher's manuals provide invaluable guidance (especially to new teachers like myself) on how to introduce words and concepts to students. What I tried doing was building the lessons on each other. For example, first we became familiar with greetings, then occupations, then locations, etc and what I would do is a small review session at the beginning of each class. I also gave my students some dictation exercises, to tie in the concepts we had learned (family members, where we live, where we're from and so on). Drilling was key and so was repetition.
* On the third day of my Basic course, I had a near mutiny. My students started saying how they want to hear Arabic. I stressed that hearing only English in the classroom is immeasurably beneficial but they begged to hear some words. I was trying my best to stick to my position but then one day we were talking about possessive pronouns and just before the class ended, one of my students said "but 'her' and 'she' are exchangeable, right?". I knew I had to speak in Arabic, and just a few words from cleared the confusion.
(I did some research when I got home. I read how others had my worries - that my students would get too lazy to listen to the Arabic if they knew an Arabic explanation or translation was forthcoming. I was also worried that I'd have to find a balance and it would be more difficult to find if they got used to me speaking Arabic. One piece of advice was to explain the commands I'd use in he classroom in L1 and also give the students phrases they could use; like "how do you say X in English?". This would increase their confidence. Plus, showing them I understood who difficult it is for them would make them relax more.
The next day I boarded up some phrases and explained them in Arabic. For example, "turn the page", "how do you spell?" and "listen and repeat". From that point, I could give commands in English knowing they understood. I also decided to introduce the vocabulary by first allowing them to look at the pictures and say them in Arabic between themselves before discussing in English. This was successful. Lastly, I pointed out some differences in sentence structures between English and Arabic (eg adj before noun). After doing these things, I immediately had a responsive classroom and my students were much happier. And a happy student means he/she will retain the information better.)
* I noticed that my Basic students wrote the Arabic translation of the vocab we were learning (eg, book) next to the photo of the item. I think that this is slightly counterproductive for them, since the photo already tells them what it is. Writing it in Arabic might just lead to them trying to remember the translation rather than the photo. So, one day I brought in a worksheet of body parts (arms, legs, head, etc) and asked my students to write, in Arabic, what the word sounded like. They loved this.
* In terms of Level 3, it took me about 2 weeks to build a rapport with them. At first, I found some of them to be disruptive, in the sense that they went off topic at every chance they could. They consistently asked questions of why they had to do exercises or why I didn't speak Arabic with them. Getting them to follow instructions was difficult, but I think that was down to them not knowing my teaching style and me not adapting it to them. Also, I found them to be too "eager" - barely would I be through a sentence or question and they'd already have suggestions. In time though, I gained their trust and they were more willing to listen.
* I introduced phonetics to my Level 3 students at the end of the course, and to be honest, I'm not sure how beneficial it will be since, as they pointed out to me, Google will read the word out to you anyway -_-
What I will continue doing in my next courses:
* Timelines, pictures on the board and more exercises to highlight problem areas. For example, since the start of my current course, I've boarded up jumbled up sentences on the board and asked the students to put them in order. Found this to be beneficial because sentence structure is very complicated for Arabic learners.
* Speaking English naturally - the urge to simplify or shorten my sentence has been great but I am ultimately teaching my students how to correctly express themselves and so have to make sure I am expressing myself correctly.
What I want to change/adapt:
* More warmers and more educational games.
I am teaching Level 3 (again) and Level 2. Looking forward (and so far enjoying) the challenges of Level 2 (lower-intermediate).
Watch this space for the next reflection!
PS Here are some websites I found really helpful when thinking about the whole L1/L2 dilemma: