Children from first grade are not as dependent as preschoolers. This article will focus on those pre-elementary ages. Here’s the stage …
It’s 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. It doesn’t matter that they can barely communicate in their own language … that you don’t speak. It does not matter that some of them feel that their mother has abandoned them and that they are determined to cry or howl until she returns later that day.
Your first problem is to get your attention and keep it. At this age, children have a countable attention span in nanoseconds. They may listen for a minute, but unless they can understand you and what you want them to do, you will quickly lose them. Then 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 laugh, that teach them something new, and ideally where they don’t even know they are learning. You do it by making it look natural, like storytelling, games, and art. You try to get everyone to join in, even the crying ones.
These young children should get over their abandonment syndrome in a few days, as they realize that mom is coming back and takes them back later. They will make new friends and begin to look forward to this new stage in their lives. What seems like a momentous experience in a minute can be completely forgotten in an instant when something more interesting appears.
What specific techniques can we use to capture and hold children’s attention?
I can’t overemphasize the motto “keep it simple.”
Too often I see teachers who are overly reliant on language for instruction, explanation, and discipline who are frustrated and disillusioned with their work. “They just don’t listen!” That’s how it is. They do not do it.
We need to use less language for better understanding, a faster pace, and more learning.
– Show instead of explain.
– About acting. It’s also a great way to get noticed and laugh.
– Exaggerate your body language.
– Use your voice. Instead of yelling, make it interesting, scary, funny … try whispering.
– Make visual explanations, with single words added to give meaning instead of complete sentences.
– Avoid telling them that they are not listening. If you are not holding your attention, seek the solution in yourself: you are the one who should 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 cannot understand it, they most likely will not even try.
You may be lucky enough to have a native language assistant to help you deal with the traumas of these preschoolers. If the school doesn’t offer one, we suggest you ask about the possibility. If they seem
reluctant, ask about having one for the first few weeks until you get to know the kids better. It is a reasonable request. In Japan, assistant teachers are provided automatically. Many international schools also provide assistants. It all depends on the resources the school has. Most likely, you will be paid much more than a local teacher, who in turn receives a higher salary than an assistant.
A word of caution about using an assistant to translate into the students’ first language:
This should be done carefully, 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 directions, the danger is that children will look at the assistant and not try to understand the teacher. Typically, students just wait for the teacher to stop speaking so they can continue with the task of listening to the assistant and finding out what is really going on. This greatly hinders the crossover that occurs when the student begins to think in English.
It also annoys parents who pay high fees for native English-speaking teachers. Many language schools abandon teachers who use children’s first language too much in the classroom, either themselves or through an assistant.
If you can’t get your students’ attention, anarchy will reign and the classroom will resemble a cross between a race track, a zoo, and a locker room after losing the big game. It is not a pretty sight. You should try to understand what it is that makes each of them tick … one at a time. With most students, this task should be easy.
However, there will always be some that will take longer to understand and others that you may never discover. Do not worry. Keep trying. Do your best and you will survive. You can even come enjoy it! It takes love for young children and a sincere desire to help with their academic, intellectual, social, moral, and emotional development. Anything less and we suggest you consider teaching older people … maybe even adults.
You should have a game plan that includes an action plan for any contingencies. What will you do if one of your new positions:
– Do you need to go to the bathroom?
– go to the bathroom?
– to get sick?
– Won’t you stop crying?
– Don’t you stop speaking (in your own language)?
– dirty the paintings?
– leaves the classroom and you can’t find it?
– falls and gets hurt?
– do you fall asleep during an activity?
– Throwing a tantrum?
– hit another child?
What if you need to go to the bathroom? Who will be in charge of your class?
As an early age teacher, you will have many things to consider. Hold on, Snoopy. Nap time is coming!