How can we provide challenge for a child who is learning English

  • Children can really learn a language if they are playing.
  • Never force a child to speak, they will when they are ready.
  • Children learn best when they are interested in something.
  • Children pick up languages best if there is a context and reason to use it.

Young children learn through their senses with a trial and error approach. While gradually learning boundaries and expectations is important, it is totally normal for very young children not to behave in the way that an adult expects. By observing children and really tuning into their interests, we can plan activities and experiences that are age-appropriate and engaging. When children are engaged in motivating and meaningful activities, their ‘behaviour’ is less of an issue.

When we assess a young child, we are asking ourselves “What do my observations tell me about this child?”Assessment is about analysing our observations and understanding the potential of each child.

When a child learns something new or develops a new skill, we often call this a ‘magic’ or a ‘wow’ moment. Observation and really knowing the child are key to recognising these developmental milestones. We can plan the next steps for a child’s learning after we have observed a developmental milestone.

All young children are learning something, and assessment in early childhood means analysing what a child can do. Comparing a child to his or her classmates is not useful, as it doesn’t tell us anything about what individual progress a child has made (what they knew or could do before, what they know and can do now). Assessment in early childhood is about helping children move forward in their learning and development, and labelling a child ‘intelligent’ doesn’t help them make progress in any way. To give a child confidence, it is more useful to comment on a specific thing they have done well, rather than give them a generic label.

Children should be assessed in a genuine situation rather than through a contrived, adult-led test. Asking a child to count is not a reliable way of gathering information, as the child may become anxious when asked to ‘perform’, may not understand why they are being asked to count, or may not feel confident enough to share what they can do, even though they actually do know how to count. By observing the children while they are playing, the teacher sees that, as well as being able to count to five, the child also knows the colours blue and pink. Had the focus of the assessment just been on counting, the teacher might have missed this.

Spending time with children, and observing what they know and can do, will help you provide the right amount of challenge and support. For a child who is learning English, this could be knowing their favourite story or song and encouraging them to join in with key refrains, observing that they understand the words for different toys in English and encouraging them to say some of these words, or modelling key language associated with a particular activity.

© British Council

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