Nine tenths of education is encouragement
Nine tenths of education is encouragement (Anatole France).
This quote by Anatole France underlines the importance of encouragement in education. Certainly, encouragement advances education and improves information retention, but what is the way to encourage students? In fact, there are many ways. Some of them are:
1) show respect to your students by asking their opinion and listening to it – you may be surprised how often they will come up with perfect answers about which you have not even thought. Even if this does not happen, your students will be happy to listen to your answer (and remember it). Also remember to be sincerely respectful and polite in any other way.
2) Appreciate – it is important to notice students’ success and to make it explicit even if the progress is modest. There are many way to do so, for example, give good marks to active students (not only those whose answers were right), say that “because you worked so hard today, I am going to cancel (give you extra time, have fewer questions, increase your mark by 10%) the test next time”, say that you are happy with their work/progress today.
3) Be creative – find the way to explain even difficult material in an interesting way. For example, if you teach an ESL class and the topic is “Eating out”, you may want to invite your students (if this is an adult group) to a restaurant and learn the material there, on concrete examples.
4) Exemplify – provide accessible examples for the new concepts that you explain. Sometimes two, three or even four examples are necessary.
5) Ask for feedback – use a form like below to solicit feedback. This should show if your students are struggling with anything in the course and if they do, this will allow to take a timely action, Therefore, it is a good idea to ask for such feedback not at the end of the course, but somewhere in the middle.
6) Have various types of testing – different students learn differently and it is always a good idea to vary your tests: multiple choice assignments, fast quizzes, open-ended questions, and creative individual or group projects are just some of the options. Some student may like one kind of testing better than another kind and will perform better and happier in it.
7) Adjust the material – make sure to adjust your material to the level, age, and language of your students. To be effective learners, your students should be able to get information in an accessible way. For example, sometimes it is a good idea to avoid excessive terminology or to go over it at the beginning of the course (and from time-to-time). If the material is difficult – explain it in an easy way with abundant examples, preferably related to students’ everyday life.
8) Prepare interesting facts – how many people speak English as their first language on the planet? How many people speak English as their second language? Third? How many “Englishes” (variants) do there exist and why is it important to know this? Did you know that …?
9) Let students be independent – do you know how psychologists recommend to encourage little children to eat healthy food? They recommend to do so by allowing children to prepare their own food. In language courses, the class sizes are usually relatively small and this makes it possible to allow students to act as an instructor and to explain certain concepts to their group mates (make a list of such concepts and dates when they should be presented and allow students to sign up for the concepts; then allocate five to fifteen minutes during each class for this purpose. Remember to mark students’ efforts (this should contribute to their final grade) and to appreciate their preparation. Also be ready to give them a hand with the preparation, e.g. during office hours).
10) Learn – as you teach a course, you will see that certain strategies work well, while others need improvements or best to be avoided (e.g. too time-consuming or too difficult for students to cope with). Learn from this and incorporate this when you teach the course again or use it in other courses.
In summary, remember to encourage your students in a variety of ways and they will reward you with excellent knowledge and the desire to learn more.