Although retired from secondary school English teaching, I do offer my services as a private tutor – and currently teach two primary school children, a girl and a boy.
It struck me forcibly, during my years teaching English, that there is often a vast chasm between the intellectual expectations, and advanced vocabulary, of degree-level subject specialists and their young charges.
This is particularly true of children who struggle academically and who are, more often than not, placed in low sets for all, or most, of their school subjects. Very often teachers fail, not because they lack subject knowledge and enthusiasm, but because they cannot deliver that all-important knowledge to the children in a way which engages and enlightens.
If there was one thing I learned above all others, it was the importance of thinking, and acting, outside the box with the disaffected, the low in ability and the underachievers. It was the ability to think, ‘All right, so the conventional route does not work with these kids. What alternative came I come up with?’
One of the things I noticed very quickly was that many children are what is now known as Kinaesthetic Learners – that is to say, they absorb things far better when there is a hands-on, physical element to the learning process. So, I used a form of colour-coding to help with basic punctuation, imagination exercises to bring out creativity – and, most recently, have invented Word Boxes to assist the little ones I teach with understanding parts of speech.
This is labour-intensive, but fun to do. It is not expensive – and it works. Basically, for both of my pupils, I have taken a shoe box, covered it with an image which means something special to the individual child (the little girl had a picture from ‘Frozen‘ on hers; the lad, who will get his next week, has images relating to Lionel Messi, his favourite footballer!) and then taken several envelopes, each one containing a specific part of speech. The last part of the creative process, from my end, consists of cutting up loads of little squares of coloured card and writing examples of all the parts of speech on them – plus some extras with connectives, punctuation marks and so forth on them.
We then play with them during lessons: Making sentences on the table, or floor, using the parts of speech in a conscious way; adding to them, as the child grows in confidence; putting them away in the correct envelopes – the possibilities are endless!
The first box was received rapturously by the child concerned – and she has improved hugely as a result. She will ask to play with the box towards the end of lessons – and, although we do keep it at the level of playing and fun, she has learned a lot from it. Nouns, verbs and adjectives have now become things to be looked forward to for this child. Before, they were things she dreaded because she did not understand them and felt too scared to ask.
I do feel that teachers, at all levels, forget the crucial importance of learning through play. If all lessons are dry, dusty and punitive, children switch off, become afraid or angry, stop trying. Feeling that we can succeed is vital for all of us – and, if my boxes help children to understand and to feel better about themselves, job well done, I say!