This week’s Tips for Tuesday was written by Liam Pressley for our January Newsletter.

We have all been told “no” at some point in our lives. This may have been said by a parent, a teacher or even a boss, and regardless of who said it or why it was expressed, we tend to always remember the experience as a negative one. 

Perhaps you wanted to work on a project in school that you were passionate about, only to be told by your teacher that you would yield a stronger result focusing on another topic? Or maybe your parents flat out rejected an important life decision you were keen to pursue? 

Both instances are distinct from one another in scope, but both share the same sense of demotivation and disappointment that usually comes with our ideas being shot down by others. This rings especially true when this type of nullifying speech is made by those we look up to for inspiration and guidance. 

It is of course impossible and unrealistic to never say “no,” as we cannot always provide others with exactly what they desire or what they want to hear. Occasionally, saying “no” is very much needed indeed, such as at 2am when your friends try to convince you to stay at the pub for just a little longer. 

The key is to knowing how and when to say “no” in a manner that neither offends or demotivates those we are speaking to. 

As teachers, it is essential that we master this skill and keep our students feeling confident, motivated and actually excited about their lessons. The question then becomes: How can we correct students and make them understand that an answer or an approach is incorrect without demoralising their willingness to participate and learn? 

The Example

Instructors confront this situation everyday:

Imagine you are teaching colours in a taster session. You ask the child to find for you an object that represents the colour red but instead he or she picks up a pink crayon. 

You respond with “No that is not the correct colour”. 

While this may seem like the logical approach seeing as they provided the wrong answer, it is imperative to remember that language students of any age or English level may feel ashamed or insecure about making such a big mistake in front of you.  This may make them hesitant to answer in the future, and therefore render the remainder of the lesson much harder for both of you.

The Solution

Let’s take a look at how we can help the student more effectively in the above situation. 

Rather than respond with a negative, a better approach is to start your “correction” with a positive (see positive reinforcement from last month’s newsletter).

This could be “close but…” or “great effort but…” or “nice try, however…” 

In doing so, you reinforce your encouragement of the student for attempting the task and remind him or her that they are definitely capable of achieving the desirable result. 

This approach motivates students to learn from their mistakes and try again. With our support as teachers they are eventually likely to answer correctly for themselves. This ability to correct oneself in the classroom is a key part of learning for pupils of any subject. 

The Answer

Let’s take that same example and complete it with a more appropriate response.

You ask the child to find you something that is red and instead the student picks up a pink crayon. 

This time you respond with, “Great effort but that is pink, can you try again and find me something that is red? You are really close!” 

By stating that you are proud of the effort first and then further encouraging the student by reminding them that they are “close to the right answer,” he or she is more likely to continue to search for a red object. 

This may seem logical but it is also easily forgettable! 

As teachers we must recognise our students’ efforts whenever they are in lessons with us, and we must avoid only focusing on the answers they provide. This is how we can play a much greater role in their English-language developments, as it is the process and not the results that really counts.

Ironically, making a few mistakes is usually the best way that all of us learn!