ABC: The Alphabet Boosts Confidence

Claire reviews the alphabet with her class As a TYO intern, I am teaching English as a foreign language to two age groups: 4-5 year olds and 9-11 year olds. As expected, there is a clear difference between the level of comprehension and students’ ability to speak, write, and understand English in each age group. However, each day the students in the Early Childhood Core Program continue to impress me with their capacity to learn at such a fast rate. After 5 weeks of English instruction, students are not only learning the English alphabet, but they are also building a foundation of vocabulary similar to my older students. The Core AM students’ English skills are impressive, but I am most excited by the development I see in their personal skills like self-confidence, adaptability, and resilience.

At the beginning of the session, there were at least 5 students I worked with that were so intimidated in my English class that they refused to speak. I applied different strategies to engage these students including large group activities, individual attention, and introducing English through art and sports. After a week passed and I noticed little change in the students’ confidence, I felt discouraged. But, slowly, each student has broken through the barrier of fear and discomfort they first felt when faced with a foreign language and teacher. Rather than thinking of English class as an intimidating environment, students now associate it with discovery and creation. English is like an unknown terrain, and each day we use different tools to uncover new ways to describe familiar objects. Once the students have made this connection by doing an activity or creating something themselves, they take pride in and ownership over their work. After receiving positive reinforcement, students’ confidence grows, creating a cycle of increased participation and language acquisition. Now, certain students who were the quietest at the beginning of the session (literally) jump at the chance to show off their English skills.

The most rewarding part of teaching this age group is witnessing the connections students make with English outside of the context of the activity. Students are demonstrating their critical thinking skills at the young age of 4 or 5, and this is a direct consequence of early language learning. Because of the cooler weather in Nablus, one of my students, Fadi, was wearing gloves when he came into class last week. His gloves had the letters A, B, C, D, and E printed on each finger. I pointed to each letter and asked Fadi what he saw. I was ecstatic as I witnessed the concept clicking into place for Fadi and two other students nearby as they started identifying the letters. This ability to adapt and apply their language skills to contexts outside the classroom is a skill that will serve TYO’s beneficiaries throughout their lives.

Finally, students are building resilience in the classroom. I make it a point to engage the students through humor and body language to create an environment where students are comfortable making mistakes. I participate with the students, more often than not making a fool of myself, to let them know that it’s acceptable to laugh at ourselves. When students do make a mistake, they continue to try until they get it right without fear of being embarrassed.

Students have learned basic introductions in English, almost half of the alphabet, and an English vocabulary word associated with each letter. When these students enter primary school, they will have an invaluable advantage in English because of their time at TYO. Their confidence and optimism about what they can achieve in the classroom will contribute to both the quality of their education and, consequently, the positive and sustainable development of their communities.

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO