Today, the class had an AH HA moment during the Conversational English program I have been teaching. I have never been able to find a method to demonstrate to the students that they are improving. I can see the improvement with their confidence to speak English. But, they cannot. I had not found a way to show them that they can speak English. That they are improving through the use of the techniques I have developed for them. They could only take me at my word that they are doing better. That was until today.
During the class, I had done some exercises with some students at the front of the class. I do this often. No big deal. The kids are either very shy or do not want to lose face in front of their peers. So, the results are usually less than stunning. But, I soon realized that it was not about the kids at the front of the class. It never was…and never will be again. The AH HA moment is what happens with the students in their seats. These are the students that feel safe and secure. They are not the ones being evaluated and judged by the peers. There is no threat of losing face. During the presentation, these students are the ones encouraging their fellow classmates on. They are the ones shouting to them what to say next. They are the ones providing the dialog. And, they are not giving instructions in Chinese. They are speaking in English. IN fact, many of them are talking to their classmates next to them in English about what needs to be said or done next. That is the AH HA moment. And, I am suddenly aware of this. I stop the class. I ask my presenters to sit. And, I begins the ultimate revelation to them. As I explain to them what they are doing, what they are saying and that they are using English to help their friends, I see rhetorical light bulbs going on above their heads. They now realize that they too were speaking English. They can speak English. Granted, it is not fluent or perfect English. There is much work to be done to get them to that level. But, they now are beginning to have confidence in themselves. That is the whole point of my lessons. It is not to improve their speaking. It is just to give them the confidence to know that they can speak English. And, they now know they can. I am over joyed with the results. This program keeps evolving and keeps surprising me with new things. In another year, I hope that it will be very polished and near perfect.
I had a discussion with the teacher and the teaching assistant after the class. I explained to them that for the next six months, they should not, nor should any English teacher, discipline or provide any negative feedback to these students about their spoken English. They should only use positive reinforcement with these students. It is fine to correct them and to give directions to them. But, it must always be in a positive way. For the next six months, no bad grades, no critical evaluations, and no disciplining them regarding the spoken English. If they do, the teachers will undo what we have accomplished. The students will revert back to having little or no confidence in themselves. They need six months of as much support as they can get. They need to be built up and strengthened in their skills and confidence. After the six months, then you can gently begin to be critical and evaluate them properly.