My English clubs started a few weeks ago after a brief post-summer hiatus. The first two sessions were small, with less than eight kids and easy to manage, but now I have 25 regulars. I had meant for club to be invite-only in order to avoid having different English speaking levels, or any kids who would make classroom management hard or “ruin” the club for the other kids.
(It sounds exclusive and unfair, but I do have a group of seventh graders who make fun of me and my accent in class and wanted to come only to mess with me more. I told them if they behave better in class they can come to club.)
So when my 5thgrader known for running around the classroom hitting other kids and loud outbursts came, my heart completely sank. In his own classroom his behavior—which I’m sure he can’t help— lends to exactly the sort of classroom dynamic I was hoping to avoid. He gets loud, and bothers other students— they react negatively to him, and he reacts more, like a feedback loop. Nothing really gets taught, because we’re busy trying to calm everyone down.
In class, I’ve been able to work with him alone a few times to moderate success— we did the letters for about 15 minutes before he lost interest and stole another kid’s ruler. But the kind of one-on-one attention that he needs I wouldn’t be able to provide in the club I’ve tailored for my advanced students. Plus, my Counterpart who is usually able to help and calm him down isn’t there for my English clubs.
My advanced students, the ones who’d brought the pre-club homework assignment and waited extra time after school, they wanted me to send him home. And I’m not proud of it but I thought about it, I really did. How could I be effective with the advanced group I prepared all my materials for if I was constantly supporting one student?
“Miss Maddy,” a student from his class whispered, frowning and annoyed. “He wasn’t invited and he didn’t do the homework.” She glared at him sideways.
He looked up at me. “Khntrumem?” Please, he asked me.
I nodded. “Of course you can come,” I said in English, then translated. Gave him a big smile.
All 20 some of us filed into the classroom, and I had him sit at the teacher’s chair in the front and asked him to help me put tape on my word cut-outs. I told him that today he was my helper teacher and he seemed to really like that.
Despite my worry about letting him come, and the embarrassing fact that I almost didn’t, he was fantastic. Handing me cut-outs and putting on tape him kept him busy, and one of the older boys with some of the best English came over to help him organize the words and teach some new ones. He played my games, and waited his turn, and followed my no touching or hitting rule, and was thrilled when I gave him a sticker after speaking a few sentences in English.
And all of that is important, because he usually doesn’t get a chance to participate in the classroom and keep up with the lessons, but what is maybe more important is that the way the other students treated him changed.
One of my older boys with better English saw him struggle to sort the words and came over to help him, and even sat next to him and began to explain some of the easier words and concepts. “օրինակ,” he began, explaining the difference between “I am” and “you are”.
The two girls from his class offered to be his partner to practice rather than tell him to go away like they do in class. The way even the older “cool girls” were kind and helpful to him, after we went over the club’s rules and I made it clear that in this classroom we are nice to each other.
My initial plan for this 5th grader, and a few of the other students who might have different academic needs, was to create a separate club for them, and maybe I’ll still do that, but I think there are some real benefits to having a diverse classroom too.
It can be hard to address the varied levels of English, but ultimately it lets the students who know more step up and be teachers, and can show the students who are struggling that they deserve the same attention as the students who are doing well.
I guess where I’m going with this is that every student deserves to feel like they belong in the classroom. And sometimes people need to be given the space and opportunity to prove that they can do something.
I don’t mean to give the impression that things have been simple and smooth sailing in clubs and with classroom management because I assure you they have not, it has on occasion been a disaster, but I do want to focus on this one way that it wasn’t.
And there have been a lot of times I have felt very in over my head. Like any time I meet a fast-talker.
But one of the best things I can do is create a space where all students feel welcome and important, and just be kind and patient.
I think I can do that.
Some things that have worked in my club for varied levels of English:
- Keep the grammar concepts introduced simple, but add a few harder vocabulary words.
- Create opportunities for speaking, and give students the chance to push themselves when creating with the language. A lot of the more advanced students will.
- Create questions to ask in increasing difficultly and use a lot of speaking time (i.e., some students are asked “what is your name?”, others are asked “what do you like to do?” and others are asked “what are you doing tomorrow?”).
- Break into smaller groups based on levels. I write out fill-in-the-blank conversations of increasing difficultly (see above photo), and have students work in groups of four on a conversation that fits their level. After, I’ll have each group “teach” their conversation to the rest of the class.
(All views expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government or the Armenian government!)