I’ve noticed an increasing number of A0/A1 students popping up in my classroom at the moment. Any new student’s first day at a school is a nerve-wracking experience but having little or no English on top of this would be extremely daunting for anyone.
Students usually have some vague recollection of their school day English floating around in the back of their heads but my ability to say ‘I play football’ and count to ten in French would in no way enable me to stroll into a language school with an air of confidence, especially if I were surrounded by students who had different L1s and had already been at school a few weeks.
So when these low level students do appear at your school on day one, what can you do as a teacher or manager to help them integrate, get up to speed in the class and feel confident and included?
What can we do as managers?
School rep/buddy system:
We have recently introduced a ‘student rep.’ system in our school, with great results. We have one representative for each nationality who meets with new students during their first week at school e.g. a Korean student would meet a Korean rep. The rep is a long term student who has been at school for some time. Their job is to check in on the student and answer any questions they may have, they also translate important school and country information (Shops, opening bank accounts etc.) into their native language to help low level students. If a student is struggling to integrate the rep helps by introducing them to other students at break time. The rep reports back to management any issues the students may have and these can be caught and managed at a much earlier stage than prior to the system.
If a low level student is struggling in class, give them a couple of extra classes as a kind of crash course, if feasible. This gives them the essential language to be able to communicate the basics in class and also if you show them websites and books to help them catch up with the class, the student gains autonomy. Typically students rapidly improve after these sessions as they feel more confident and know who to ask if they need extra help in the future. From a financial aspect, a few extra lessons is more cost efficient than having to open a new class at beginner level or dealing with the student potentially dropping out of the course.
Study room monitor:
Something that I find works well is having a monitor in student study zones. This would be a person that students can turn to if they need help with their homework or need advice on where to find extra study material. Again this is another person to turn to so that students feel they are getting the support they need.
If a student wants some personal feedback on their progress or wishes to talk about a matter privately then regular tutor meetings can help. This can be a 10 minute check-in and usually helps to resolve problems before they turn into something bigger.
What can we do as teachers?
Pairing in class:
Do you have a particularly friendly/helpful student you could sit the new student beside? Or perhaps regularly changing the groups/pairings would give the new student the opportunity to meet everyone in the class. Think about how to make the new student feel included.
If you have a low level student you don’t want to single them out by giving them something different to do but you can adapt the material to suit them. Accept shorter answers, use of dictionaries, help from a partner. Praise contributions to the task. Be mindful when monitoring that that student may need some extra guidance.
Don’t frustrate your longer term students:
It’s a fine line to walk between accommodating the new lower level students and not repeating things longer term students have already done. Sending students for extra ‘crash course’ classes is a great help here. That way nothing needs to be repeated in class. You could also exploit a revision/recycling task in class, the stronger students can use this as an opportunity to show off their knowledge and teach the newer students. Another thing to try is project work. Students need to use already acquired language to complete a task and students can work to their own language level following tasked based learning methodologies.
New low level students are definitely in need of some TLC when they first arrive at school. What suggestions do you have to help them have a positive learning experience?