Everything that we say to our students can have a big impact. For us ESL instructors that can be exhilarating, but it’s also a big responsibility. Unfortunately, without realizing it, some instructors are sending the wrong message to students with “innocent” comments. These are four statements that are in this category.
1) Teacher’s statement: Just before handing out the quiz, she says, “This quiz will be easy.”
Message that students get: If a student starts the quiz and notices that it isn’t easy, he’s likely to think, “Wow! I must be stupid. This quiz is supposed to be easy. My classmates probably know all this.”
What the message should be: “This quiz will help us see how well you’ve developed your skills so far and what we’ll need to practice more.”
2) Teacher’s statement: “You have all worked so hard this week, so I won’t give you any homework. I want you all to just enjoy your weekend.”
Message that students get: “Homework is painful. It just interferes with free time. It’s best if we can avoid it.”
What the message should be: “I’ve prepared a homework assignment that will lead you to developing your skills more. It’s going to help you do well on our assignments next week and in the class that you will be in next term.”
3) Teacher’s statement: “Tomorrow’s quiz is hard, so you need to study tonight.”
Message that students get: “The teacher thinks the quiz will be hard for us. Why? Didn’t she teach us what we need to do well on the quiz? Didn’t she prepare us for it?”
What the message should be: “The quiz is about what we’ve been studying/practicing. The purpose of it is to give you an idea about how well you developed the skill and what you’ll want to work on next.”
4) Teacher’s statement: (Situation: Some students aren’t paying attention to the teacher’s explanation of the lesson or not taking an activity seriously.) “If you are more serious or don’t start paying attention, I’m going to give you extra homework tonight.”
Message that students get: “Homework can be used as a stick. Teachers use it to punish students.”
What the message should be: “I’ve thought very carefully about what will help you the most with your skills and put together this homework assignment.”
For those of you who have studied the Suggestopedia approach to teaching languages, this may all be familiar to you. Everything we say is suggesting something to our students.