The topic is fundamental to developing a course guideline and material for learning. The basis of knowing one’s students is created from gathering information, I do it in 2 ways: 1) using Online Practice Tests to get a knowledge level of the English language; 2) using standard ‘Needs Analysis Forms’ or creating my own.
Here is my interpretation of why it’s important to know your students, I prepared this for the Task in Week 3 of the Moodle Mooc 4 organized by Dr Nellie Deutsch via WizIQ and Moodle platforms.
Who are my Students?
I teach at diverse schools, since I’m not resident teacher at any of those, also my roles change from school to school. I am an English as a subject teacher (English grammar, Literature, Culture) and English as a Language for Cambridge Exam preparation (FCE, CAE, Proficiency). I also teach in special European projects for the advancement of English as a Foreign Language. Plus I also teach Business English in local Industries and Live Online Teaching (one2one) via WizIQ.
In one high school I’m the only English teacher so I teach all classes, but this school is ‘special’ it’s made up of high school drop outs. So we teachers take these students whom have lost hope in the school system and give them an opportunity to get back into track. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail, but lately we have been succeeding more than we expected. Surprisingly this has been due to our Principal bringing technology into the classrooms, our Principal is around 80 years of age speaks 8 languages and is a Professor of Latin and Chemistry. Although he is personally not as ‘avant-garde’ as he’d like to be he has consented the teaching staff to implement the best technological tools possible. We have found a rewarding response from our students, but it has not been easy, and we are still making changes to the classroom layout (I’m trying to find a layout for class & teacher desks that will be so different it will keep the students wondering).
These students come from all types of backgrounds and ethnicity like Romanian, Albanian, etc., they have dropped out of the normal high schools for varying reasons. Some simply because of their ‘look’ or lack of seeming interested. This is one of the problems of the big numbers in classrooms, how can a Teacher gauge the learning curve of their students, if all they have to go on are class tests. How do we understand those students that are not doing well in the class test not because they haven’t studied but ‘maybe’ because ‘we Teachers’ have not explained it so that they can understand.
Cultural diversity is important to understand, for example let’s look at an Italian student Vs a Romanian student in the same classroom – (I wish I had a video here to show what I mean but that would be illegal so here is an example):
Situation: It is 11.30 am on a cold Winter’s morning, Students have been studying since 8.15am changing classes every 50mins with a 15 break at 10.15am. They are sitting in class facing the Teacher at the blackboard or whiteboard.
Teacher is constantly looking at his/her notes and writing on the board while talking.
Two students sitting side by side: (fictitious names used in this example)
The Italian student Mario has been taking notes in the class Textbook and is writing comments in his exercise book. The Romanian student Marius has been looking at the Text book (not writing because the book has to be intact for his brother/sister next year) and listening to the Teacher while trying to decipher how Romanian history fits in with Italian history, only rarely writing something in his notes.
Not to mention both students have a different view of their home : Mario will go home to have a hot lunch prepared and served by Mum/Grandma, but Marius has to go home and cook for the younger brother/sister because both parents work long shifts to earn enough money to send some back home.
Just this minor situation is enough to tell me that something needs to change, how? As a teacher I need to find a way for the Romanian student to make sense of the subject and create a basis for studying in all his subjects. Giving the student the ‘means’ and ‘tools’ to fit in and not feel left out or lagging behind. I must also remember in this case, that the Italian language is not that particular student’s first language or culture, so his approach to absorbing information is completely different to a native Italian sitting next to him. Hence why punish the student for not passing the class test, rather than understanding why that student will never pass the test without creating confidence in learning.
What do I do to help overcome these ‘little bumps’ along the way? I create minor ‘projects’ in class for the students to participate as a small group, like creating a sitcom or writing a letter/story, etc. This helps to create a ‘bridge’ and a learning environment where the onus is not on one student to perform but as a group working together towards one objective. Doing a few of these ‘projects’ loosens up the boundaries and makes the eventual class Test easier to deal with as the students have ‘acted out’ the topic sometimes without even realizing it! Ok this may not always work, but it has with my 4th and 5th year high school students and I get increased class participation. Also important to note that these students have probably never met each other before, having come from different schools in neighbouring towns.
The answer to the question ‘how do I find information from my students’ is done in two ways, one via the student enrolment form and one when they come to a first class with me I give them a student analysis sheet that I ask them to complete (different types for different levels of English courses). Then when I have collected them I put them aside as I can’t possibly memorize them all in 5 minutes. So I spend the rest of the first class going over the program for the course (in detail), provide for question & answer time and most importantly tell them about me! I don’t want to be seen as their friend but rather as their ‘information co-ordinator’. The bell rings! By the next class I have a clear cut idea of who is in front of me and what they expect from the course, and then I (try to) keep tabs on everyone with my eyes always on the ball.
From that moment onwards I watch their progress keenly, I tailor each lesson to help the lagging students keep up and the bright ones from falling off to sleep. How you may ask? Well I think about what the program requires for the student/s, where are they at, pushing them gently forward, blending class time with online study, looking for class material that will entice all students in the class, keep topics away from delicate cultural issues. And more…that’s why we’re teachers, we do all that and more.