A strength-based approach to teaching English learners

A strength-based approach to teaching English learners

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being”.

— John Joseph Powell

It’s an approach based on the strengths and abilities of learners. The basis of teaching English is to teach what students don’t know, to “fill in the gaps” of knowledge rather than on focusing on what students know. When we use this approach, we focus on what students can do rather than what they can’t. No doubt the analysis of students’ weaknesses and gaps is essential. However, we can consider their background as an asset to English learning.  Find “what is already there” to stimulate change and encourage progress.

One of the ways to improve students outcomes is to see what assets children possess. This way you can support students, make them more confident, sociable and more educated.

How do you apply this approach?

  1. Identify students’ capacities, interests and background.
  2. Help students become aware of their abilities or make them believe in their abilities when it comes to learning.
  3. Make them see you value their strong points and show the purpose of constantly demonstrating them.
  4. Inspire them to make efforts to do more, to develop and to improve.

Another point is to make sure students understand that social interaction develops the learning process. Interacting with others, collaborating is equally important as getting new knowledge. Therefore, students mustn’t be or feel isolated from the group. Thus, when you teach a new language provide students with the opportunity to use this language and communicate in it with others. Create an environment that encourages teamwork, sharing, participating!

Working as teachers make sure that young learners’ school life is effective, helpful, beneficial, rewarding and satisfying. However, we as well must be positive in our behaviour, in the language that we use and we must be strong in our belief that all students can succeed. We should have a wide mindset, transform obstacles student come across into opportunities for the students, influence and change their negative perspectives. Once students know what their “power” is, they can develop their skills to become active and independent learners. It’s all about creating a positive environment or community and building relationships where everyone is considered capable, needed, contributing and learning.

So how can we use this approach in the classroom?

  1. Think about different ways to engage your learners by integrating their interests, strong points, and different backgrounds in a lesson; challenging them, and motivating them to learn. Think of different ways learners can express what they know, personalise your lessons.
  2. Scaffold the tasks and grade the level of activities to demonstrate the individual approach to students. Help them get to the answer by themselves using what they already know, guide your learners.
  3. Encourage students to share what they know, give them more time to speak, let them talk on the topics they’re interested in, give them a chance to speak out on a lesson. Provide them with opportunities to show their strong points. If you notice a student who is good at grammar, let them clarify the rule and enjoy the moment. Or if you have a holiday topic and there’s a learner who’s just got back from vacation, let them jump at this opportunity to share their experience.
  4. Praise students (but be specific), motivate and compliment them in front of the class. Make them see you appreciate what they can do and value their skills and talents. For instance, there is a learner who is good at listening tasks and catching new phrases. Have them first repeat the chant, assign them a teacher for this activity to hold it.
  5. Use predictable classroom routines and rituals to make them feel safe.
  6. Include more paired and group work to teach them how to cooperate, express feelings, show empathy, value others, solve conflicts, etc.

All that builds confidence and grow a huge potential in students when they learn English. They know you see them as individuals and not only as learners that you have to transfer the knowledge of English to. It helps create a safe, positive, environment where learners feel they’re valued as they are and capable of learning.

Read more on this topic here and here.

Have positive lessons!



Наринэ Егорова

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