Every year I have students who enter my Japanese 11 class out of a ‘crash’ 1 semester course called Beginner 11. While the majority of students have had 2 semesters in the language the Beg. 11’s cram it all into 1. Not ideal at all especially as quality of learning suffers for the quantity that must be covered. Beg 11 exists for those who suddenly require a second language credit for whatever reason. These students come to Gr. 11 lacking time and practice in almost every skill.
Terry (name changed to protect the innocent) looked like trouble; in Grade 12 and from the Beg. 11 course, indifferent, with attitude. He was quick to tell me that he was only in the Gr 11 course for university requirements. He skipped a couple of double blocks, scored poorly on a couple tests and was so busy reaching for his dictionary that he wouldn’t even try speaking in Japanese. Oh it was going to be a long semester and admittedly I was not looking forward to it. How was I to reach him? And, more importantly, would he let himself be reached?
I thought about this as I watched him in class on Friday. With 4 weeks to go in the semester, he was engaged, active and assisting his partner in learning. What happened? To me it came down to supporting Terry for success.
‘Do-able Tasks’ – My tasks and activities are always ‘do-able’ requiring little support from the dictionary. Students who strive to work on the basics will have the ability to complete what I ask them to do. If they choose to ‘stretch’ then they can but at the least they will ‘finish’.
‘Personal and Partner Interest’ – Many tasks revolve around the student themselves, and their personal interests. This is a comfortable place for them to start – and a secure one for them to build upon. I don’t allow them to stagnate at themselves though. Equally key is the practice and use of follow-up questions for students and their partners. They learn that they just don’t talk about them – but they inquire about others in a detailed and thoughtful way as well.
‘Supportive Partners’ – I set the seats for my classes and for some students this is done very carefully. Students who are struggling to engage in class often find themselves with confident and enthusiastic partners. These great students are so secure in their own strengths that they find it easy to pull language out of the other person. For the reluctant learner the partner is patient, non-judging and keen to learn (and usually some of this rubs off)
‘My Determination to Make a Connection’ – I think one of the most important things is to not stop encouraging or looking for that chance to make a connection with a student. Too often I hear “well you know ___is beyond hope” from colleagues. I guess they are if you let them be. In Terry’s case it was a book on his desk – one that I knew well. I asked about it, he gave a brief comment and, as I had donated it to our library, also commented on it. He lit up and launched into 5 minutes on the plot. Not in the Target Language mind you but a connection was there and continues to be.
What do your “Terry”‘s teach you?