The most common mistake students make is not preparing for class or feeling that they don't need to.
Being prepared is crucial!
When you don't prepare, you are less likely to engage and ask questions and you put yourself outside of the lesson when you should be in the middle of it. It has nothing to do with level and everything to do with effort.
-Do you prepare for your English lessons?
-How do you prepare?
-Do you help your kids prepare for their lessons?
I know, I know....everybody's busy these days with, school, work, homework, sports, cooking.....games...TV...smartphones.....manga....wait a minute. How busy are you, really? Let's be honest! Why don't you prepare?
"If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail." -Benjamin Franklin
Too busy is a myth! People make time for things that are important to them. If you don't have the time, don't start to begin with.
With my school, I do everything I can to make sure the lessons are relevant, important and meaningful. I start where my students are, know where they're going, focus on quality, not quantity and never work harder than they're working. Did that last one raise some eyebrows? Yes, I don't work harder that my students and I think this is important! The students’ work happens during the class period where it is their jobs to do the work of learning. It’s not that we should sit idle during class time, but we should never do anything that lets students off the hook for doing the work of learning themselves. When we do our job properly as teachers, we set students up for meaningful and engaging learning experiences. But, when we work harder than our students, we cheat them and ourselves.
Getting students to prepare
As a teacher, it's important to make your expectations about preparation clear. With my school, I handout a shitajiki (pencil board) full of prep questions to help students prepare for the lesson and these questions are the starting point for all ages in my school. These questions are in English and Japanese, so there's no reason to be unfamiliar with them after a few lessons unless the student is not preparing at all. All new students have a two month trial period and after this period I decide if they can join or if I need to talk to them or their parents.
Telling students and parents of young students to come prepared is stressful for me, because mentioning it often results in the student quitting, especially adult students. I wish I knew the solution, but after all these years, I think there isn’t one. Until some of the responsibility is put on the students themselves and their parents, we are lost.
After the trial period, I encourage all of my students to keep diaries and I even provide them for free. Younger students can bring stuff from home to show and tell, teenagers can bring their phones, adults can bring whatever they want and I even give out digital copies of textbooks to study at home for free if requested. From here, I focus on quality, not quantity and match the work of each student. My lessons are thought-out, stress-free and easy to engage with. Once students engage, the sky is the limit.
I'm going to be honest, most of my students don't keep diaries, bring stuff from home to talk about or ask for digital textbooks. I encourage them to do something, but it's all optional. All of my students are active in class and if they stop being active, I schedule a meeting to talk about it.
Looking back, many of us can recall a teacher who had a profound influence on us, for better or worse, but it’s important to remember these are individual experiences. There is no one size fits all teacher or school out there.