Anabel Alcántara García was born in Cádiz and currently lives in this southern Spanish city. She has been teaching English in Pre-school and Primary for five years and is currently working as an EFL teacher in the “Nuestra Señora del Carmen FEA 1826” school in Cádiz. She is interested in making sure her students learn in an active way and uses a variety of communicative techniques in class.
As we know, the most effective way for children to acquire a language is through interacting actively with the world around them. To achieve this, it is of a vital importance that children feel safe, feel themselves, and feel free. It is scientifically proven that the real acquisition of a language is based on having fun, showing curiosity and taking emotion into account. When we are happy, we learn more and better. This is why the socio-affective climate we create in our classrooms is fundamental when learning a new language.
What can we do to make our students happier in class?
- Give students jobs and rewards. It is very important that we value them when they do something properly, and that we make them feel at the centre of their learning by giving them simple jobs and responsibilities, in this way, giving them autonomy. We can use a range of resources to reinforce them positively, for example: stars of the day, different rewards for different tasks, medals, stamps, certificates…
- Establish routines and be a good example of what you want them to do or imitate. Small children feel safer and happier if they know clearly what they are expected to do later. For this reason, your sessions should be well-structured while at the same time being flexible.
- Use positive language. Sometimes teachers forget the power of words and their repercussion on our students. Remember the well-known “Pygmalion Effect”: if someone who I love tells me many times I cannot do something, I will end up thinking I am unable to do it. Always try to use optimism and inspiring language and believe that all your students can learn. Help students manage their frustrations and help them identify capacities that they did not know they had.
- Give them limits and rules. We cannot confuse giving affection with the absence of authority. We need to find a balance between affection and rules. Children at this stage need limits which help them to feel safe in their contexts. Their minds are like computers: they are empty; they do not know what is right or wrong. Well set up rules improves the happy coexistence in the classroom. These rules must be clear, definite and direct. It is much better saying “if you shout you have to abandon the game” than saying “you must not misbehave if you want to keep playing”. The child must know what misbehaving means for us, and which attitudes are important. Finally, we must be constant and straight with the execution of these ones in order to avoid children’s disorientation.
- Respect the Silent Period. During many months, children absorb and understand their mother tongue without being able to speak it. Sometime later, they reproduce the language. As we want them to learn the new language in the same way they do it with their mother tongue, we should not force them to speak in the new language. Communication should emerge in a spontaneous way once they feel ready for it and forcing them brings on anxiety that will complicate their learning.
- Finally and the most important of all without hesitation: give them lots of love and affection. Children need kisses, hugs, they need to feel loved and valued to see themselves as they really are and to have their minds relaxed and ready to learn. We must listen to them, know them well, and talk to them in class about their homes, families and their lives. They have to feel we are concerned about what is important to them, and make sure that they can rely on us because we are an active part of their lives. We should not forget the most important thing in our profession: it is better to create good human beings than to create good professionals.
To conclude, giving love is giving education itself. Because, truly, the teaching that leaves a mark is not the one that goes from one head to another, but the one that goes from one heart to another.