By Chrysoula Lazou*, EFL state school teacher
The beginning of a school year involves embracing newcomers with diverse demographics, from all walks of life, with different needs and expectations. It inaugurates the beginning of a new path in learners’ life and the educator’s role is to ensure a welcoming and safe learning environment where all learners have the opportunity to enjoy a rich learning experience maximizing their potential.
Ryan (2006) notes that “everyone has the right to participate in what the world has to offer and reap the benefits of this involvement” (p. 9). Social-constructivism advocates the need to boost learners’ self-esteem and enhance social and emotional presence and soft skills.
On this premise, first school year sessions should rather focus on building a learning community, a Community of Inquiry, either in face-to-face, blended, or online learning environments. Successful interaction with the content, the teacher, and peers lays the foundation for a promising, constructive change in attitudes, skills, and knowledge.
But what are the introductory steps for an educator to apply so as to achieve the intended learning outcomes for a newly-created group of learners? What should one be aware of before proceeding with a well-designed curriculum? A placement test seems to be an easy way to check prior knowledge. But is that enough?
Each educator, based on one’s own practices, may have numerous suggestions and good practices. English language teachers can best cope with the new multicultural educational landscape, as the medium of content delivery, the language, is universally spoken and understood (Frank, 2013). As such, it is a priority and opportunity at the same time to promote inclusiveness in education, celebrating the benefits of diversity rather than posing barriers to its implementation. Maslow (1954) has provided us with a valuable reminder: the pyramid of needs; we have to satisfy our students’ basic needs, physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem before they reach self-actualization. This hierarchy should be prevalent in our practices and simplicity may be the key to brilliance. On this premise, I would like to share some practical tips that have successfully facilitated my embracing newcomers in my classes in a positive frame of mind. In all cases, teachers should present themselves, acting as a role model and a host at the same time.
Warm up activities that refer to cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic domain of learning in face-to-face classroom involve the sharing of worksheets entitled “Find someone who…” Students circulate in the classroom or even in the schoolyard, interact with their peers, and ask the ones that affirmatively respond to the question to sign their name next to statement. All they need is their worksheet and a pen. After the time set, the teacher asks students to share their answers with the rest of the students and what unexpected insights and feelings this activity arose. A list of questions, such as,
Find someone who…
- … loves swimming
- … is good at drawing
- … speaks 3 foreign languages
- … can cook
- … plays a musical instrument
- … is good with technologies
- … is an only child
- … has more than 3 brothers and sisters
- … has travelled abroad
- … was born in the same month as you, etc., that has to be completed in a specific time set can have multiple benefits for both students and teachers.
- move around the classroom/schoolyard, familiarizing with their new learning environment
- find classmates that share common interests, habits, and personal experiences
- raise awareness of diversity and its benefits
- build soft skills and socialize
- feel welcome and safe
- build learner-centered conscience, autonomy, and self-regulation
- learn to comply with classroom rules and clear instructions
- practice receptive and productive skills in the target-language
- participate and interact in an entertaining, ice-breaker task
- promote student-centric learning based on engagement, social and emotional intelligence, and adaptability
- act as the facilitators and supporters of the learning process
- build bonds among members of a newly created learning community
- monitor students’ reactions and feelings, identifying any cases of behavioural patterns that an educator should be aware of (Lazou, 2015).
The list of questions is not of major importance; it can be adapted according to cognitive level and age group. Limitations, such as mixed-ability groups of learners or with no prior basic knowledge of language can be accommodated with the use of body language and pantomime. In an online learning context, though kinesthetic and total physical response (TPR) cannot be supported, it is successfully implemented on synchronous online sessions, introductory discussion boards, or with the use of digital collaborative tools, such as Padlet, where instructors and learners present themselves with interesting threads of discourse, diminishing transactional distance (Moore, 1999) and allowing for decisions on dynamic group formation within the learning community.
Building relationships and connections among peers is more successful if there is a common task to start. Having a common goal helps them develop bonds of trust and mutual respect, core values for the development of the 21st century skills, that is, learning, literacy, and life skills.
Frank, J. (2013). Raising cultural awareness in the English language classroom. English Teaching Forum, 51 (4) (2013), pp. 2-11
Lazou, C. (2015). Does a teacher possess the power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous? (pp.58-66). In Gkantidou, E., ELT Teachers’ Personal Philosophy Statements on Classroom Discipline. ISBN 20150427085032
Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harper
Moore, M. G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.) Theoretical principles of distance education. New York: Routledge.
Ryan, J. (2006). Inclusive Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
*Chrysoula Lazou is an EFL educator in the public sector. She holds a BA English Language and Literature, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a Master's degree of Education in Distance Education, Athabasca University, Canada's Open University. Chryssa is a founding member and past president of the Association of State School Teachers of English in Kavala, a Member-at-large of the Executive Committee of IABL (International Association for Blended Learning), and an IVLP and U.S. programs alumna with a specialization in media literacy, cultural awareness, and inclusive leadership and practices in education and community. Chryssa organizes and co-ordinates events and webinars, participates as a presenter and inspirer in national and international conferences and workshops, and facilitates MOOC courses with international students. Her teaching practices are based on the Universal Design for Learning principles and involve the incorporation of new technologies and project-based learning on various fields, leveraging CLIL method and blended learning. Her most recent U.S. program participation and project implementation involves Alumni TIES Seminars with a specialization in media literacy and critical thinking in the digital age. She is the co-ordinator of “Media Literacy for TEENS.gr” and “DigiTEENS.gr” projects. She is a Northern Lights Award recipient (2017) and a World Learning grant recipient (2019).