Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rising to the Challenges Faced by Mature Age Students

by Eve Pearce

Learning foreign languages in one’s late childhood early teens is often wrought with challenges but for mature learners, these can sometimes seem insurmountable. Those who take the time to enrol in an English course will often do so for a specific set of reasons: to improve their qualifications, increase their chances of promotion or simply indulge their passion for a language they have always wanted to master. Despite the strong motivation they usually possess, however, mature age students can also have higher dropout rates (around double, in some Universities and academies), for a number of reasons, which include economic hardship, insecurity and a perceived lack of support from their learning institution. As teachers, we can sometimes find ourselves in the precarious position of wanting to help our students, yet being limited to do so by the regulations/ time limits imposed by the academy or school we are working for. In this article, we discuss some of the most pressing concerns for mature age students learning English, and look into ways we can ameliorate their situation:
  • Fragility: An abundance of free time, which younger students often take for granted, is often scarce for mature age students. Often, they will have to reduce their workload in order to attend and prepare for class, which can make them feel like they are putting their own and their family’s welfare at risk. The student’s sense of vulnerability is exacerbated when age-related conditions such as heart disease, hearing loss, or high blood pressure are brought into the equation, since frail health can detract from one’s confidence when it comes to multi-tasking and juggling the competing responsibilities posed by work, family and English classes. As teachers, it is vital to work on increasing the student’s sense of autonomy, targeting specific courses at mature age students if necessary. For instance, if part of the course content or homework is provided on the Internet and students are insecure as to their computing skills, a short introductory course can be offered focusing on these skills (the class can delve into useful computer language in English while teaching practical skills). Students can also be referred to useful online computer training courses.
  • Inflexible timetables: Mature age students require more flexibility and understanding. Sometimes, despite their best endeavours, family and work demands may force them to miss more than one class, or fall behind on set tasks. Opportunities should be provided for students to attend make-up classes and if this is impossible, teachers should work on providing material or notes that summarise important points. Quick, 15-minute tutorial sessions can also be useful to go over missed material.
  • Wasted time: Mature age students have a very heightened awareness of time – i.e. they want to feel like very minute they are spending at the academy/learning institution counts. Make sure you are not wasting class time on activities such as reading or writing, which they can do at home. Use your time together to practice their conversational skills and answer their doubts. Provide students with target language areas prior to class to give them a head-start.
  • Social isolationOlder students in English academies or learning institutions can feel isolated from younger students. Some of the most popular English language classes take place in social settings; make sure that the next museum, pub or theatre visit includes students from a wide range of ages. If you have quite a few mature age students in your class, you might suggest that they form a mature age/ part-time students study group. While this is a useful way for students to share resources and tips, it is important that they do not limit social interaction to this group exclusively.
  • A lack of support from friends and family: This challenge often lies beyond our control as teachers, yet it is also one of the most important challenges many mature age students will need to face. Family members, friends and work colleagues may question the utility of learning English to the student’s life, sometimes because they feel threatened by the student’s desire to improve themselves. The most teachers can do in this regard is to provide all the support we can to our students, keeping them motivated, stressing the importance of consistency and discipline, and providing a social network where students can feel like they are understood. One of the most important ways of making a mature age student feel valued is by encouraging them to share their life experiences in class – older students are a vital component of an interesting, lively class, where opinions, stories and advice are shared. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Behaviorally Challenged: How to Address Difficult and Challenging Behavior in the Classroom

by Eve Pearce

An alarming survey conducted in recent years in the UK suggested that 4 in 10 teachers quit their jobs after only 2 years in the profession. It’s a sad fact that many teachers, most of them excellent at what they do, are deterred from teaching at the very start of their careers, and find themselves in a position where the only viable option is to hand in their notice. The most common reason cited in the UK, and indeed, on a worldwide level, is behavioral issues in the classroom. Of the teachers asked, many said that they felt helpless whilst teaching, unable to control their students, and in some regrettable cases, unsupported by their school. Though it’s undoubtedly the issue that many teachers dread, it is useful to know that it may not be the unsolvable problem that it initially appears to be. Challenging behavior in the classroom can raise feelings of inadequacy, panic and lack of control, but with a few useful tips, the situation can be turned around.

Challenging Behavior: Some Basic Tips

As with any problem in the workplace, it’s a good idea to attempt to get to the root of it, to locate the problem at its source and address it from there. However, in the classroom scenario, when you are also dealing with many other students, this isn’t always initially a viable option. Here are a few useful tips to keep in mind when dealing with difficult behaviour.
  • Don’t ignore it. How you want to address the behavior depends very much of the nature of the act. But, whether an act of open defiance or a muttered comment, it’s important to let the student in question know that you have registered the gesture and that you are in control of the situation.
  • Don’t over-react. It can be particularly difficult, especially for newly qualified teachers, to not over react to certain behavior. The stress of the job, combined with nerves, can often result in an overblown reaction, which can occasionally serve to undermine your authority in class. Try to keep a level head, take a few deep breaths and then address the situation.
  • If possible, avoid confrontation. Confrontation in the classroom rarely ends with a positive result. At best, it results in an upset child, at worst, a completely disrupted classroom. It’s a good idea to attempt to have a quiet word with the student in question alone, or when the class are engaged in other activities.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

One important thing to always keep in mind is that students are human too. They too may be having a bad day, or may have problems at home to contend with, that are unknown to the school. Or they may simply feel unengaged and unmotivated with the subject, and not necessarily through any fault of your own. Addressing engagement in the classroom can be a good place to start though. Think about how you can go about encouraging more active engagement, whether it’s through using multimedia materials, creating an exciting project or taking the class on a visit to a relevant location. It can be very tricky, if you suspect that there is a rare more serious underlying problem, to know how to address the issue. An excellent place to start is to check with other staff, to see if you can find out any information about the student’s life at home. If anything has occurred in the past, it will be in the child’s records. With older students, be vigilant for tell-tale signs of substance abuse or other drug related issues, and for all students, be aware of evidence of other types of abuse or even a school related problem, such as bullying (though thankfully, bullying is now reportedly on the decline in Israeli schools).

Be Informed and Have Confidence in Your Ability to Cope

As a teacher, you will inevitably face some level of challenging behavior in your lessons at some point or another. It is, regrettably, inevitable. However, the key to coping lies firmly in your hands. Be aware of any potential issues in your classroom, take the time to get to know your students, and above all else, remember to keep the situation in perspective. Dealing with challenging behavior is not pleasant, but it is manageable. With the right approach, you can turn the situation around.