Prior to joining the Academy of Singapore Teachers (AST), Mr Tan Cher Chong had ample experience working with students who require educational support. Now a Master Teacher for Educational Support at AST, Cher Chong conducts courses for teachers who support low progress learners. He shares tips on how educators can motivate and engage students in need of educational support.
1. Build Positive Teacher-Student Relationships
Positive teacher-student relationships (TSR) are key to engaging and motivating low progress learners as they facilitate communication between teachers and students, and foster trust between both parties.
“When students are able to connect with their teachers, they are more likely to respect them and heed their advice,” Cher Chong shares. Furthermore, students would also feel comfortable sharing the difficulties that they are facing when they know they can trust their teachers.
To build positive relationships with students, teachers can make the effort to know students on a personal level, such as through learning about their interests or their likes and dislikes. They can also explore using positive teacher language in the classroom to encourage and engage students.
2. Explain, not Instruct
Students may ask “Why do you tell me to do this?” because they are not able to understand its rationale. Instead of simply saying “You must do this because I said so”, the teacher can explain the rationale of doing a task and how it would enable the student to learn something useful. If the student can see the relevance or draw a personal connection to the task, it increases the chances of him attempting and completing the task well.
“In doing so, students would understand why a teacher would like them to complete a task and be motivated to take ownership of their learning,” Cher Chong says.
3. Pay Attention to their Attentiveness (or Lack of)
One of the challenges that teachers may face when working with low progress learners is their short attention span. Recognizing and understanding this is important because attention is central to learning and effective retention of information.
Cher Chong shares that teachers can ask themselves “Is the student unable to focus because he is hungry? or “Is the student not alert because she did not get sufficient rest?” when thinking about why their students are not attentive in class. “This also enables teachers to have greater clarity about the issues that their students could be facing and how that could have impacted their attention span,” adds Cher Chong. In addition, teachers can find out if a student’s attention problem is an issue of alertness, orientation or something more. This would help teachers support the students with clear and workable strategies to stay attentive in class.
4. Nurture the Love of Learning
Students enjoy going to school but for many, the stress of exams is one reason why they may not. This may be due to several reasons, including past exam failures and disinterest in a subject. Teachers can thus try to understand why students may dislike a subject and reignite their love of learning.
“As educators, we have to convey to students that exams are never set to fail them – in fact, they are set to assess their understanding of the various topics taught,” Cher Chong says. In addition, students should also be commended for their effort and progress to assure them that they stand a chance at doing better.
5. Take it Slow
As low progress students often struggle to grasp new concepts, teachers can adopt strategies that would help students understand the lesson. “Once they understand a concept, they would feel more motivated to learn,” he shares.
Should time be limited, teachers can consider setting aside time for remedial lessons or revising earlier parts of the syllabus to strengthen students’ foundational understanding of a subject. It is more important to “fix” the fundamental misconceptions than to keep teaching more. He adds, “After all, education is more about learning than teaching, isn’t it?”