My 1st graders
~ By Mario
I’ve found from my first month of teaching here that there’s no group I love and dread more than my 1st graders. With four different groups at this level, it’s been a challenging but rewarding experience discovering how to reach such young students who are still learning to sit still, let alone learn a foreign language. In contrast with first grade classrooms I’ve observed in the United States, first graders at Independencia seem to have more trouble with typical classroom etiquette such as sitting down, raising hands, and paying attention. This reflects the Mexican culture in that parents believe it’s the responsibility of teachers to instill in their children how to be “buen educado” (well-mannered) more so than well-educated.
Although I often have difficulty completing all parts of the lesson with my first graders, I stay positive and motivated as keep in mind the main goal of Cycle 1: to create positive associations with learning the English language. They might not remember the names of all the animals in the Turtle and the Rabbit story, but you’ll definitely see their faces light up when they shout out the Spanish word for “giraffe”. They won’t always correctly say the word “sleepy” when I draw a tired face, but you’ll hear their laughter as a pretend to fall asleep in front of the whole class.
Aside from making the lessons fun, creating positive association also entails a behavior system based on reward rather than punishment. One of the most frustrating parts of certain lessons is waiting for the students to finishing copying into their notebook. Rather than scolding students for being slow or failing to bring out a notebook on the desk, it works much better to give a generous time limit and show positive reinforcement to those that are copying well. Something as simple as a compliment on their coloring, drawing a smiley face, or putting on a shiny sticker on their copies means the world to them.
Overall, first graders are a challenging group to both teach a new language to and instruct how to behave. However, following the main goal of creating positive associations with language learning makes the group more manageable and enjoyable. Through fun lessons and positive reinforcement, making positive associations reflects a saying which I believe is true in all factions of life: you won’t remember what they said, but you’ll remember how it made you feel.