In Grade 4, the teacher was keen to have students communicating more confidently in English so I set to work on this immediately. One of the first things the children were required to do was to respond to my greeting "How are you?" in English. When I spoke to one student; Carlo, I was greeted with a blank stare. I encouraged him to respond. However, he simply stared back at me. This wasn't in defiance but more a look that said, "Don't do this to me." And just as I was about to give him exactly what he wanted I changed my mind.
I told him I would help him. I scaffolded his attempts. It took a few goes but eventually he and I said together in English, "I am fine, thank you." I affirmed him; telling him he should be proud of the way he persisted even though it was uncomfortable for him to speak in English. Over the coming days, I continued to scaffold Carlo as the oral tasks increased in complexity. Over time, he no longer gave me a back off look but rather a look that said, "Help me."
After a few weeks, the classroom teacher and I were discussing Carlo's progress. She commented on his improving English but also on his growing confidence and willingness to 'have a go'.
When I came home from shopping one afternoon Carlo eagerly asked me if he could borrow the new ball. That was a surprise. Even more surprising was the day he came voluntarily to the staffroom to help by colouring posters for classrooms. This meant spending his whole break speaking in English! I was sure to give Carlo affirmative feedback once again.
Back in Australia, I have taken this learning on board. I recognise just how often students (and staff, too) attempt to back out of activities and tasks. I now let them know that opting out is not an option but their attempts to participate will be strongly supported and affirmed. Students quickly learn that 'opting out' is simply not acceptable. 'Having a go' is what we value in this classroom.
Click here to read other interesting teacher related articles on Facebook.