These past few months have been possibly some of the most rewarding in my 20+ years of classroom teaching experience.
I may not have been overly-complimentary about the Government’s handling of Modern Languages provision in British schools both in the recent past and currently, but I feel credit is due to the Government in the way they have supported other aspects of Education during the Pandemic – namely providing the financial support for English Language Mentoring of those pupils in need.
I have recently been working as an English Language Mentor in a Mainstream Secondary School with some students who, for whatever reason, have fallen behind in their academic work and have had to retake their GCSE English Language Exam. That does not mean to say that these young people are any less gifted but, in many cases, their academic development has perhaps been undermined by ‘unfavourable circumstances’ such as an unsettled home life and upbringing or a generally negative schooling experience, with all the associated knock-on effects.
Some of these students show an apathy towards learning and improving but the vast majority, once they gain greater confidence in their own ability and are provided with the skills and techniques to improve their work, have shown a real hunger and zest to succeed and to improve academically. This has been a most heartening experience for me and my colleagues, personally, because I believe these students’ academic development has restored faith in their own belief in themselves as human beings. It has also opened the door psychologically for their succeeding in life where, perhaps, the door was left slightly afar or, to some, seemed pretty much closed.
In the current world in which we live, especially during the Pandemic, some young people do not seem to have the resilience to cope with failure or setbacks. Of course, we, as humans, can learn through failure in order to hopefully become stronger but it can be difficult for some pupils to remain buoyant when they have may have experienced perceived failure from a relatively young age, (ie. GCSE Exams), ……and especially when their peers may have performed relatively better. For sure, the negativity surrounding the Pandemic hasn’t helped either.
From my observations within the classroom, it has only taken a few little ‘tweaks’ to help these students improve the quality of their work – namely;
- Being better organized – ie. planning, organizing work into paragraphs, improving paragraph technique.
- Getting into good habits – ie. applying and using familiar techniques when dealing with Language or Structural analysis of a text and with their general Study Skills.
- Modelling good work and using a scaffolded approach to producing good written answers – so that the students clearly understand what is required.
- Having someone on hand to help on a 1:1 or in a small group – has been hugely significant for these pupils who may have been ‘lost’ within a bigger class.
In this respect, I think the Government’s English Language Mentoring Initiative has certainly helped some of the young learners that I have encountered in the school where I have worked and I believe it has been a great success. The apparently small amounts of input some of these students have received from their ongoing Mentoring, which have helped them boost their language skills, will have also helped them bridge a ‘stepping stone’ for future sucess where, for some, there seemed to be no clear way forward to develop and to grow. There will no doubt be a ‘tightening of the belt’ in the months and years to come after Covid, and rightly so, as there is a mountain of debt to clear, but it is clear in my mind that there are a lot of students in our schools who would greatly benefit from the ongoing financial support for the Mentoring Scheme which the Government has provided so far. For this, it should be applauded.