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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

June 15, 2003

Free Study Workbooks as Vehicles for Individual Differences

Kids The first thing I noticed when I observed my son's Japanese elementary school class many years ago was that all of the students did the same thing together. In addition, students who finished their work ahead of time had to sit around and wait for the other students who took a longer amount of time to complete their work. This infuriated me as a mother and a teacher. Why didn't the teacher have short, additional tasks for the faster students? Not only would such a project give the faster students extra challenges to meet their needs, but it would also allow for individual differences in students' abilities.

I am sure this has been an age-old problem for teachers since the classroom began. What to do for and with students who finish up early? We all know that these students usually do one of two things: They sit around bored, waiting for their classmates. Or they start fooling around, disrupting the class. In the English classroom, this means they start speaking Japanese.

Since I am a bona fide control freak and realize I lose control once the students are given opportunities to speak Japanese, I am always orchestrating ways to challenge all the students in English the whole class period. The use of individualized workbooks solves ALL my problems for students who finish up quickly.

In brief, this is how it works: When students join our schools, all the way from preschool up to high school, they receive their English materials plus one workbook. We call this workbook their "free study" workbook. This workbook serves two purposes: It is used as a filler for them to work on individually after thay have completed a project in class that the other students are still working on, such as copying a blackboard, doing a dictionary activity or completing a test. This "free study" workbook can also be worked on at home to challenge students who are self-motivated.

When a student completes his "free study" workbook, he goes to the office to turn it in to the secretary. She takes it from him, gives him his new "free study" workbook, which is one step higher than the one he just completed. Our teachers correct the completed workbooks, affix a sticker to it them, and they are returned to the students the following week. That is all there is to it!

Our range of workbooks covers such skills as ABC printing, letter recognition, shapes & colors, reading readiness, letters & sounds, phonics, spelling, spelling puzzles, cursive writing, reading sentences, vocabulary, grammar, etc. Many of the beginner workbooks include stickers and seals or require some coloring; these short projects appeal to young learners.

Students move along at their own pace and acquire English skills on their own, which only adds to the richness of the classes. And the really great thing about "free study" workbooks is that the students feel satisfaction each time they complete a page! And they feel even more satisfaction when they complete their "free study" workbook completely. They are always excited when they announce to the teacher, "I'm finished!" and receive permission to run to the office to get their next workbook.

So these precious little workbooks accomplish the following deeds: They challenge students who need extra work; they allow all learners to advance at their own pace; they are vehicles by which students can feel satisfaction as they progress in the English classroom. And in the long run, they contribute to making for happy students and a happy teacher!

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