Updated: Jan 30
It happens all the time. A student brings home not one poor test grade, but two in a row, or maybe more. Many parents see this as cause for concern, and fear that their child has slipped too far behind to catch up before taking exams. In a desperate effort to rescue their child’s English grades, the parents enroll them in rigorous “cram classes,” hoping that the increased intensity of study will compensate for the lack of revision, focus, teacher competency, or whatever other factor has been attributed to the poor performance. But in most of these cases, the outcome is the the opposite of what is expected. Instead of finishing the course and being prepared for success, the child emerges even more confused than they were in the first place. This can be frustrating as a parent, but it is not the students fault! The fact of the matter is that cram classes are not optimized for students who need extra attention in particular areas, but this is only part of what leads to poor outcomes on exams. In most cases, inadequate performance on English exams occurs because students don’t have solid foundational knowledge of basic English concepts. This is especially true for students who have only received instruction at school, which usually takes place in a group setting as opposed to private 1-on-1 instruction; because schoolteachers work with larger groups, not every student receives the attention they need to thoroughly understand all concepts. This is not because the schoolteachers don’t care about their students, but because practices such as standardized testing force them to stick to a predetermined schedule and curriculum that caters to the average student’s level of ability. Consequently, students who are both ahead of and behind what is considered “average” often fail to receive the attention needed to achieve their full potential. It’s unfortunate, but this phenomenon is seen in any setting where standardized testing is used to measure performance. In the event that a child does not seem to be receiving enough help in school, there are multiple options for ensuring that they receive adequate support while learning English.
First, consider hiring a certified ESL instructor to assess your child’s needs. Accredited instructors have both the knowledge and experience necessary to develop a course of action to enrich your child’s development. This option provides the most direct route to improvement, but understandably, not everyone wants to hire a private instructor. If that is the case, parents can take several measures to assist their children at home.
Those with reservations about hiring a tutor can work together with their children to help them improve. Perform an assessment to determine their strengths and weaknesses. These can be found easily online, and schools often perform them upon request if the parents aren’t able to assess the child independently. If the student is falling behind, it is more than likely that one or more fundamental areas will need improvement. With the results of the placement test in mind, the parents can now help the child find exercises to focus on areas that tend to be problematic, such as English articles. After improvement in one area is obvious, take another placement exam to identify other areas for improvement. Rinse and repeat. Keep in mind that not all children learn at the same speed, and that failure on one or two exams is not indicative of incompetence. Trust in your child’s ability and be patient as you practice together. Offer praise when answers are correct, and gentle correction when they are not. Doing so will reinforce correct answers, enhance recall, and improve fluency. Do NOT punish children for incorrect answers under any circumstances. Remember, mistakes are requisite in the learning process. When a child is reprimanded for providing incorrect answers, their confidence to explore the language is negatively impacted. In many cases, this is enough to dissuade the child from learning English altogether. In extreme cases, diminished confidence could even lead to decreased performance in subject areas extending beyond English. When providing correction, do so without giving direct answers. Instead, use questions to guide the child towards the correct response. Parents who are not fluent in English may need to put additional effort into learning the rules themselves before they can help their children improve. They can refer to the student’s schoolbooks, where concepts are often explained in both the target language and the mother tongue. Finally and most importantly, the best way to ensure that your child’s English improves is to make sure they are interested in the subject matter. For parents who opt not to hire a private instructor, this may mean adapting English concepts to fit themes and topics that interest their children. As a basic example, imagine a student who hates math class, yet needs to learn arithmetic in English. This student also loves candy. Here, the parent might consider playing math and counting games using candy as a reward to maintain the student’s interest. Additionally, use spoken English with your child at every available opportunity to improve fluency. More exposure is always better! If opportunities to speak around the home don’t exist, look for English versions of the child’s favorite programs and characters. Oftentimes, students can be motivated to learn independently when they see that there are real-life benefits to being able to speak two languages. At the end of the day, no two children learn at the same speed. If your child isn’t picking up English as quickly as the others in school, they might need additional attention. And that is perfectly acceptable. When any existing gaps in fundamental knowledge are filled, improvement will be noticeable. Rapid improvement will be visible if the child is engaged throughout the learning process.