Lesson 15 on Group Learning.
I taught my first Remedial English group at the Convent for their entire 5 years there. We were based in the old Domestic Science room, which was a cavernous space occupying the whole top floor of an old Victorian building. It had not been decorated for years. It was dusty and cold, with tall sash windows, placed just high enough to prevent pupils and teacher being distracted by the outside world.
We arranged our tables in a rectangle at the far end, so we could all see and speak to each other. The black board was pushed behind my chair. The remains of the original classroom storage units screened us from the door. It was our space. We were seldom disturbed.
One day I arrived to find everybody clustered around Tracy’s chair. Tracy was sobbing, refusing to be consoled.
“What’s wrong? What on earth has happened?” I exclaimed, fearing some major disaster.
“It’s French, Miss.” one explained. “She hasn’t done the homework and Mrs Priest is going to be so angry!”
“She can’t do it, Miss. It’s too difficult!” added another.
“I’ll never be able to do French!” wailed the inconsolable Tracy.
” Well, that’s not the end of world, ” I pointed out. “I am sure you can have a long and happy life without speaking French!”
“But Mrs Priest, she gets so furious! It’s really important!”
“Well, of course it is, for her! She’s a French teacher. It’s right she should want her pupils to learn it properly and do well! But answer me this, once you leave school, is your life going to be in ruins if you don’t manage to learn French?”
“She’s right, Tracy!” her comforters backed me up. Tracy’s sobbing reduced to a sniffle.
“So the only problem is the homework then?” I asked. Tracy nodded.
“Right, can anybody help? Do any of you understand the homework?”
I couldn’t help. I did German at school. Unusual, but “German is the language of science,” the head had explained. “When you are doing your PhD, you will want to read the research in the original.” (How’s that for high expectations!)
Amongst the group Maria (mother tongue Italian) and Anna (Portuguese) were the first volunteers in offering what assistance they could . Rosemary (best at writing) then took charge of the chalk and Sian (best at organising) stood beside the blackboard to facilitate the session. The group then proceeded to analyse the task, clarifying it so that Tracy could understand. They reassured her. By exchanging ideas they arrived at simple steps to show her how it could be done.
I was amazed! I let them get on with it! By the time the bell went, Tracy was smiling.
When it came to teaching, my “Remedial” group were stars!