Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Teaching the Thickie Group

No matter what names you give your groups, children are not stupid they are in fact quick at realising they have been labelled or assessed by the teacher. Jayne Moon in Children Learning English.

I inherited a group of such kids this year. The thickie group. Now of course I didn't label them, (well not aloud ) it was their peers who did this. We all know that kids can be extremely mean. I inherited my little group from the English 'specialist'. For those of you who don't know, I work as a language assistant in a state primary school alongside non-NEST teachers of English.

I was asked to take my group around early springtime when I suspect the teacher couldn't take much more. The children came from a large class of about 26 10-11 year olds. A 'problem' class with quite a few kids uninterested in school, underachieving and from difficult homes. To be honest I often wished I could get out of going to their class and did. It's not very nice but it's true. In general I left the class frustrated and pretty annoyed with certain individuals.

The individuals that really got my goat (annoyed me ) turned out to be a couple of the ones that I inherited. I actually relished the chance of getting them on their own to see if I could make a difference. It was a bit of a science experiment in the beginning. These were kids who were rude to the teacher and other students, argumentative, uncooperative, failing and only ten years old. When I was in class with them and 24 other kids I have to say that I didn't really like them (their behaviour). They really, really annoyed me and I would have been much happier if they hadn't been there. Bad huh?

I'm happy to report that after teaching them in a small group of 6 they became two of my favourite students. We achieved limited success in their marks but we made friends and they started to enjoy English, they  stopped acting out (behaving badly) in class. They started to do their homework regularly and became a pleasure to teach.

How did we do it?

1. I started out with the rules. They told me the rules and I added a couple more and then I made sure they were enforced without exceptions. They respected the rules and I never raised my voice to them. This was a minor miracle for them as most teachers spent all of the class constantly shouting their names.
2. Instead of negative attention I praised them for doing their work.
3. We had fun. We played games that got them out of their seats and used their energy.
4. We made a contract if they didn't do their homework three times in a row they were excluded from our special class.
5. I was strict when I had to be and let things go if they were of no 'real' importance.
6. I had high expectations for them and told them so.
7. We worked together as a group and we learned that we weren't The thickie group. We had so much fun that very soon other kids were asking to come with us which made us feel SO superior!

Three years ago I had no idea how difficult it can be to teach in a state school where your English class is such a mixed bag. I've always been privileged to work in private language schools where the children are assessed and grouped according to their level, where parents are involved and where behaviour is never a 'real' problem.

I'm a better teacher for having taught the thickie group and I hope they're better for being part of it too!

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