Children from Grade One up are not as dependent as preschoolers. This article will focus on those pre-elementary ages. Here is the scenario…
It is the first day of school and you are the new teacher at Happy Flowers Kindergarten *. Your job is to teach the little ones to communicate in English. Never mind that they can hardly communicate in their own language… which you do not speak. Never mind that some of them feel their mother has abandoned them and that they are determined to cry or howl until she comes back later in the day.
Your first problem is to get and keep their attention. At this age, children have an attention span countable in nanoseconds. They may listen for a minute but unless they can understand you and what you want them to do, you will lose them quickly. So what do you do?
You make them laugh. You keep them busy in a light and fun way with activities that are varied, that make them giggle, that teach them something new and ideally where they do not even know that they are learning. You do this by making it seem natural – like story-telling, games and art. You try to get them all to join in – even the criers.
These toddlers should get over their abandonment syndrome within a few days as they realize that mommy does come back and get them later. They will make new friends and begin to look forward to this new phase in their lives. What seems like an earth-shattering experience one minute can be completely forgotten in an instant when something more interesting comes along.
What specific techniques can we use to get and keep children’s attention?
I cannot stress too strongly the motto “keep it simple.”
Too frequently I see teachers who rely too heavily on language for instruction,explanation and discipline become frustrated and disillusioned with their job. “They just don’t listen!” That’s right. They don’t.
We need to use less language for better understanding, a faster pace and more learning.
– Demonstrate rather than explain.
– Over act. It’s also a great way to grab attention and get a giggle.
– Exaggerate your body language.
– Use your voice. Rather than shouting, make it interesting, scary, funny… try whispering.
– Make explanations visual, with single words added to give meaning rather than full sentences.
– Avoid telling them that they don’t listen. If you are not keeping their attention look to yourself for the solution – you are the one who must try some new techniques and initiate the change.
As children learn more vocabulary and “tune in” to you, they will be able to understand more complex instructions and explanations.. However, if they have already learned that they can’t understand you, they most likely won’t even try.
You may be lucky enough to have a native language assistant to help you to deal with the traumas of these pre-schoolers. If the school does not offer one, we suggest that you ask about the possibility. If they seem
reluctant, ask about having one for the first few weeks until you get to know the children better. It is a reasonable request. In Japan, teaching assistants are automatically supplied. Many international schools provide assistants as well. It all depends on the resources that a school has available. Chances are that you are being paid a good deal more than a local teacher who in turn is receiving a higher salary than an assistant.
A warning about using an assistant to translate into the students’ first language:
This should be done with care, preferably only when necessary for administrative matters, when a child is sick or in urgent need, etc.
If you use an assistant to explain language or instructions, the danger is that the children will look to the assistant, and not attempt to understand the teacher. Students will commonly just wait for the teacher to stop talking so that they may get on with the business of listening to the assistant to find out what is really going on. This greatly hinders the crossover that occurs when the student starts to think in English.
It also bothers parents who are paying high fees for native English speaking teachers. Many language schools will drop teachers who use too much of the children’s first language in the classroom, either themselves, or through an assistant.
If you cannot get your students’ attention, anarchy will reign and the classroom will resemble a cross between a racetrack, zoo and locker room after losing the big game. Not a pretty sight. You need to try to understand what makes each one of them tick… one at a time. With most students, this task should come easy.
However, there will always be a few that will take longer to understand and some whom you may never figure out. Don’t worry. Keep trying. Do your best and you will survive. You may even come to enjoy it! It does take a love of small children and a sincere desire to help with their academic, intellectual, social, moral and emotional development. Anything less and we’d suggest that you consider teaching older ages…perhaps even adults.
You must have a game plan that includes a plan of action for any contingency. What will you do if one of your new charges:
– needs to go to the bathroom?
– does go to the bathroom?
– gets sick?
– doesn’t stop crying?
– doesn’t stop talking (in his or her own language)?
– makes a mess with paints?
– leaves the classroom and you can’t find him?
– falls and hurts himself?
– falls asleep during an activity?
– throws a tantrum?
– hits another child?
What if you need to go to the bathroom? Who will take over your class?
As a teacher of young ages, you will have many things to consider. Hang in there, Snoopy. Nap time is coming up!