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Trouble with Private Students

 
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mc



Joined: 20 Jan 2003
Posts: 90
Location: Aichi, Japan

PostPosted: Sat Sep 13, 2008 12:42 pm    Post subject: Trouble with Private Students Reply with quote

I used to teach eikaiwa, but haven't been in that racket for over four years. I now find myself in need of some teaching advice. I agreed to teach a private lesson for the kids of a business associate. They're girls, aged 11 and 9, and I've been seeing them one hour per week for about a year.

Their progress seems to be at a standstill recently, but I'm not sure where to go from here. The problem is this: If I ask them a question in English, such as "How many pencils do you have?", they give me blank stares until I model the answer, after which point they have no problem asking/answering variations of that same question (How many books do you have? Do you have three dogs? No, I have two dogs, etc.).

Then when I switch it up to a different question, such as "Do you like to play basketball?", they're again stumped until I first model the answer.

Yes, I know the two sample questions I've given here are completely unrelated to each other, but the girls have studied both forms in-depth so should theoretically know the answers.

Anyway, how do I go about teaching these girls? On the one hand, if their parents come by after the lesson and say "What's your favorite animal?", the girls can't answer without several hints -- which makes me look like a chump, since I've been teaching them for a year and they can't answer a basic question. On the other hand, if I drill them on that particular question and possible answers during the lesson, it takes all of three minutes before they "learn" it and start getting bored, even if I dress up the lesson with games and activities.

I guess what I'm driving at here is that there seems to be a retention problem. What's an effective way to get this stuff to stick?

Sorry if I haven't explained this clearly. As I said, I haven't taught regularly in years, so I'm very much out of practice!
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sat Sep 13, 2008 1:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I could be wrong about this, but if the Q&A examples that you've given are representative of what you do with these girls, I'm not surprised you're having problems. The questions themselves don't seem very "vital" (do/did they have any function other than to practise grammar or "contextualize" basic vocabulary?), and if you always absolutely insist on more than 'Yes' or 'No' answers (especially in response to such questions!) then you are expecting more from your students (who are children still) than native-speaker adults usually say (it's only adult learners who might be prepared to indulge you in the niceties of the expected form of "the conversation", in the belief - mistaken? - that as "full" a practice of form will make perfect. I've argued in the linked threads below that statements/genuine, unsolicited "informs" elsewhere in the syllabus will provide more than enough practice, and that students grinding out these sorts of "full" answers aren't really saying much! To paraphrase Rebecca Hughes, classrooms are full of speaking, but how much of it is actually teaching genuine speaking?). Jack Richards wrote a good paper on the actual forms of real Yes/No answers, it's available in his The Context of Language Teaching, and mentioned in one of the linked (or in turn, sublinked) threads below.

What then is the answer? Some might say that you need to drill them even more, get them chanting etc, but IMHO and experience this only fills the time and room with the rough sounds of English - will the stuff really stick? I've taken over classes that previously had had star drill-sergeant teachers, and the students couldn't answer the simplest of questions (genuine questions) about what sort of snacks they liked (I'd intended to supply them with some treats at some point).

What I'd suggest you do instead is read some books on Discourse and Conversation Analysis, or at least threads such as the following:
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=2620
http://forums.eslcafe.com/teacher/viewtopic.php?t=2642

You could also search for keyword 'Dogme' and author 'fluffyhamster' on both these International/Job and the Teacher forums.

Then I'd be trying to select functional language and putting it into more attractive, interesting and motivating activities (visuals, not necessarily realia/too realistic, can help a lot). I've flogged this before on Dave's, but what the hell, it's got a "find the animals worksheet" at least!
http://forums.eslcafe.com/job/viewtopic.php?p=646919#646919

A keyword here you might have noticed is genuineness. It takes a lot to plan genuine, "spontaneous" flows of extended/extendable language for classroom settings, but I firmly believe it is worth the effort (and it really helps inspire future planning).

Again, sorry if I have read too much into your post and made too many assumptions about you and your knowledge and teaching!


Last edited by fluffyhamster on Sat Sep 13, 2008 5:46 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Vince



Joined: 05 May 2003
Posts: 559
Location: U.S.

PostPosted: Sat Sep 13, 2008 3:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with fluffyhamster. It sounds like the girls are shutting down out of boredom. I'd ask the parents what kind of things like activities, characters, and TV shows the girls like (at 9 and 11 and being sisters, both will probably like the same stuff). I doubt identifying pencils is among their hobbies Wink.

It could also be that they're no longer into English regardless of the method and are emphasizing their boredom in the hopes that their parents will end the lessons.
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2008 4:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

fluffyhamster wrote:
I could be wrong about this, but if the Q&A examples that you've given are representative of what you do with these girls, I'm not surprised you're having problems. The questions themselves don't seem very "vital"
Really? Vital? Asking someone his favorite X or what they like to X is not vital? Meet someone for the first time, and in a casual setting these are among the top first questions.

Sorry. They are that old and have taken his classes for a year, yet can't answer these "genuine" questions without prompts? Something is wrong.

The kids.
The teaching method.

Ask yourself this as a teacher: why do you want to continue these classes?
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gaijinalways



Joined: 29 Nov 2005
Posts: 2279

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2008 4:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"How many pencils do you have?"and "Do you like to play basketball?" are pretty basic questions. (then again, my wife hadn't learned "Excusez moi, parlez vous Anglais?" early on.. whereas I still remember that from my first French lesson in high school).

So, the Op seems to be saying these girls have retained very little and seem to be continuing the pattern. One problem is one hour a week without the students doing some review on their own will probably not be enough. Two, yes perhaps the activities you have been doing need to be rethought and gathering some background info on the students from their parents might be very useful and make it easier to design more learner centered lessons.

Good luck,

GA
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thermal



Joined: 22 Jul 2006
Posts: 60

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2008 5:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can think of a number of possible ways you might be able to help. You are probably doing some of them already, but anyway..

1. Teach more cyclically. Review stuff you have done from other lessons in your lessons. This way the students don't have to answer "What is your favorite animal?" only once every 3 months.

2. Combine language more. You need to break away from the students only using the target language (stuff you are going to teach). Generally the idea is you go from accuracy practice, to freer practice. At the beginning the students will only use the target language, but as the lesson progresses they will do activities that are freer. This is a teaching adults principle and is generally hard to apply to teaching kids, but you want to try where possible. EG. students face back to back and tell each other about the contents of their pencil cases in as much detail as possible. (I have a blue pencil / I have a blue pencil too!)

3. Personalize. As in the example activity above, for your freer period, you want to if possible have them use the language for a real purpose. IE they say "i have a pen" because they really do have a pen. This is the best language practice, as it is not really practice per se, it is real!

4. As the lesson progresses have communicative focus lessons. So the goal is not to use the grammar, the goal is to achieve the task or win the game. Using grammar is boring, completing a task or winning a game is not. EG have a race to name everything on the table.

5. Keep Japanese to a minimum. The more you intersperse Japanese in the lesson, the more they will treat English like a silly curiosity and only worthy of speaking example sentences. Use English wherever possible when giving directions. If they don't know the directions, teach them. Get the Japanese right down to just explanations of complex games and grammar when needed.

6. When you introduce grammar, try and demonstrate it first in a context that they might understand it. Use gestures and facial expressions and get them guessing. If you just explain it they will be bored.

7. When they can't answer your question, don't give them the answer. Give them as little help as possible and be a bit of a hard ass. I wouldn't be surprised if they know the answers, but are nervous of saying it without you modelling the pron. At the very least if you draw out the process, they will get more incentive to learn as opposed to being able to reliably wait for you to give them the answer. Hell even try not going them the answer sometimes.

8. Give them homework. The more practice they get in a week the better. Even better if you can get their parents to drill them in some way. Or you could get them to help the children write mini reports (what is in their room, what they like, etc.) each week.

I would also ask what types of students/children are they?

Oh and "Do you like to play basketball" is combining to grammar points, so probably a bit hard for their level.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun Sep 14, 2008 7:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Glenski wrote:
fluffyhamster wrote:
I could be wrong about this, but if the Q&A examples that you've given are representative of what you do with these girls, I'm not surprised you're having problems. The questions themselves don't seem very "vital"
Really? Vital? Asking someone his favorite X or what they like to X is not vital? Meet someone for the first time, and in a casual setting these are among the top first questions.


I did actually start to write something about it being fine to ask these sort of questions at least the once, but it must've got lost in the edits I made as I pursued the expected form of the answers to Y-N Qs. Of course teachers are entitled to get to know their students and/or "make conversation", "come from somewhere", but I still wonder just where many so-called conversations are leading (the following type of exchange between strawman-bad teacher and student is obviously a big no-no: 'So, do you like bananas?' 'Yes, I like bananas.' 'Right...good!Anyway, next question!...'). Again, genuineness, genuine interest can help make seemingly isolated questions more inviting if not relevant. It's hard to tell from this context, but I am surprised at how little thought is given to discourse factors sometimes (and there are some teachers e.g. one in the threads that I linked to, who think a limited pedagogy has its advantages and will always work). But perhaps it is ultimately impossible to have a conversation with kids and we should give up on such silly notions (ooh, I've just remembered some stuff I wrote on the 'Be my Guest' thread! Then, there is once again the sort of approach that I've outlined, in my linked-to initial stages of an elementary school syllabus, that I believe helps make the language offered more appealing and functional to kids):

Quote:
Sorry. They are that old and have taken his classes for a year, yet can't answer these "genuine" questions without prompts? Something is wrong.

The kids.
The teaching method.

Ask yourself this as a teacher: why do you want to continue these classes?


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

thermal wrote:
1. Teach more cyclically. Review stuff you have done from other lessons in your lessons. This way the students don't have to answer "What is your favorite animal?" only once every 3 months.


I get the idea that the problem is more teachers (even the same teacher!) asking the same question more than the once ever, period (see my above opening reply to Glenski). But probably you just mean that students could be reminded of things they've said and had established, whilst language employing similar structure or vocabulary would best be about a genuinely new topic (in a nutshell, the same teacher at least shoud certainly have a better memory, make notes after class etc!).

I like the idea of a race to name everything on the table. Or you can get students to race to be the first to touch or hold up objects that you nominate (e.g. Do you have...a pen ((that) you can lend me - the relative clause meaning can be conveyed by gesturing writing but with an empty hand at present)? Hmm, blue...how about a black one? (I prefer black). Ah, thanks, Hiro!).

Quote:
5. Keep Japanese to a minimum. The more you intersperse Japanese in the lesson, the more they will treat English like a silly curiosity and only worthy of speaking example sentences. Use English wherever possible when giving directions. If they don't know the directions, teach them. Get the Japanese right down to just explanations of complex games and grammar when needed.

6. When you introduce grammar, try and demonstrate it first in a context that they might understand it. Use gestures and facial expressions and get them guessing. If you just explain it they will be bored.


Yes. As long as the function of the English is clear (clearly demonstrated, and clearly needed, useful), a limited use of Japanese won't distract too much and may in fact be almost completely unnecessary.

Quote:
7. When they can't answer your question, don't give them the answer. Give them as little help as possible and be a bit of a hard ass. I wouldn't be surprised if they know the answers, but are nervous of saying it without you modelling the pron. At the very least if you draw out the process, they will get more incentive to learn as opposed to being able to reliably wait for you to give them the answer. Hell even try not going them the answer sometimes.


I think part of the problem is that a Japanese child must hear so many rhetorical questions during their upbringing and schooling that they get rather tired of answering even when they know the answer they could give is correct (and even then, I imagine that some Japanese adults, or the more jaded of ESL teachers, would be unimpressed or even try to find fault. A bit like, hey fluffy you used 3 evens in a row then). It's easier in every sense to let the adult continue on with their inexorable train of logic (they'll eventually stop, provided they're not "encouraged" or "provoked"!).

Quote:
Oh and "Do you like to play basketball" is combining to grammar points, so probably a bit hard for their level.


I agree (I tend to assume that kids who answer 'Yes!' to 'Do you like basketball?', unless they're paralysed from the neck down, aren't averse to playing it, but if I was unsure I could easily go on to ask 'Do you (like to) play (it)?' then perhaps 'Do you want to play/fancy playing (a game) after school?' etc).
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Kootvela



Joined: 22 Oct 2007
Posts: 513
Location: Lithuania

PostPosted: Tue Sep 16, 2008 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been tutoring a 10-year-old child for 3/4 of the year. His schools tests improved but what we did in our class didn't. He hardly remembered what we did last time.

I guess it's just that teaching kids is something out of this world. I refused to continue this year. I've had adults as hopeless as he but here there was his unhappy mom, too!

I suggest you quit.
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dodgee



Joined: 01 Jun 2005
Posts: 47

PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Have not read the entire thread but on reading the OP I would wonder also whether they are considering the fact that for many Asian English- learners (regardless of age) a simple question is very often left unanswered as it is not worth answering on a number of fronts. e.g worthless waste of time on irrelevancies, losing face by answering a simple question, etc. I have observed many inexperienced teachers asking questions at a lower level than the students were at and then when the ss say nothing they then ask even simpler questions. Leading to frustration on both sides of the educational equation.

As I said I am not sure on what the other posters have said but food for thought at least.
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