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How Understanding my Student was the Key to his Success

In one of my favourite Pre School English L4 classes, there are five little five-year-olds. They’re wonderful students.

One little boy, who I’ll call Sammy, always struggled to focus on our lesson materials, he could gaze attentively at the cars and people outside. He sometimes counted the number of vehicles and named their makes, models and colours; he even commented on what the pedestrians were doing. He sometimes talked to his imaginary friends or pretended to fight imaginary bad guys. He was clearly a bright, interesting young boy, but he couldn’t engage with learning. One day, he just sat in a big plastic toy box, as if it were a car he could drive away. He seemed quite miserable in the classroom, and I could tell how hungry he was for freedom.

It soon became clear why Sammy wasn’t interested in our lessons. He couldn’t read. Though he knew some letter sounds, he didn’t have enough phonics practice to blend them together. He barely recognised any sight words, and so the books in class were just a jumble of letters to him. More importantly, Sammy always wanted to be in charge. In his family, he’s an only child surrounded by care and love from his parents and grandparents. When he played with other children, he took control of every game and tried to boss the others around. In the classroom, he didn’t want to be the weakest one, so he just refused to take part, and he fell further behind.

I asked Sammy to join me for extra sessions, where the two of us could work on his issues. These weren’t formal classes, but I designed them to give Sammy the skills he needed to participate in class. Our sessions were 30 minutes, and for the first 15 minutes, I was in charge. We could play games that he chose, but he had to follow my rules to play them. He also brought in his own toys and games to share with me, and he could talk about them in Cantonese if he wanted. When he’d been listened to, he was happy to move on to my chosen activity: reading. We read simple books using the ‘me, we, you’ approach, so he felt supported as he built up his vocabulary and phonics skills.

Sammy wasn’t really interested in reading, as it was still a struggle, but he was eager to follow the rules in my session so that I’d follow his rules next. In these short, focused reading sessions, we built up his vocabulary, blending skills, sight words and confidence. We also read the books that were coming up in his next Pre School English L4 classes. This helped him pay attention in the group lessons and feel better about joining in with the other eager students.

After reading, it was Sammy’s turn to make the rules, and his 15-minute sessions gave me great insights into his ambitious, excitable mind. He shared his secrets and snacks with me, and the bond we built up helped with behaviour management in his main sessions. After a couple of months, his reading skills were greatly improved, he was my little helper in class (even eagerly offering help to his classmates), and his family were very pleased with his new learning attitude. We don’t need our one-on-one sessions anymore, but I can still see the effect they’ve had on Sammy’s learning, and I’m pleased I made the time to get to know him.