Better and better

Better and Better

The lesson starts, the students stand and recite, in chorus, the following mantra:

Every day,

In every way,

I’m getting

Better and better!

As the students learn to understand the words of the mantra, the teacher encourages them to recite the mantra with greater passion and commitment.

Self-belief

In the early stages of learning English, students can often get depressed and feel that the language is too difficult for them. The purpose of the mantra is to encourage self-belief in improvement. If students believe that they are capable of improvement and that they are improving then they will no longer be inhibited by a lack of self-belief and self-confidence.

I have taught this mantra to teachers of all levels in many different countries and, although some may be initially sceptical, those which learn and use this mantra report, when I see the teachers a year later, that their students have made remarkable and rapid progress.

Teaching better and better

The ‘better and better’ philosophy applies, not only to students and self-belief but is also fundamental to the teacher’s methodology. Learning aims are not set to specific achievement targets but are ‘directional aims’ –aimed at improvement. When the teacher grades the results of progress tests, the students who get the greatest praise are those who have made the greatest individual improvement. Tests are still competitive but, students are not competing to be best in the class but better than they were one month before.

Directional goals are more achievable than specific achievement goals.

“I cannot run a marathon, but each time I run; I get stronger, I can run further and I can run faster.”

Understanding failure

Failure, (making a mistake), is not a crime, but merely a learning step towards success. A mistake is a learning opportunity, an opportunity for personal improvement, an opportunity for ‘better and better’. This attitude towards mistakes should not only be adopted by the teacher but also instilled in the students. They should welcome failures as opportunities to learn, opportunities to be ‘better and better’.

Speaking Activities

During speaking activities, you will hear students stumble, pause, and self-correct. Each example of self-correction should prompt an approving and encouraging gesture from the teacher. The student has not only noticed the error, they have self-corrected successfully.

Today, teachers and students have the technology to record and replay their speaking activities. Encourage them to listen to the recordings, think about their errors and then repeat the activity. Although the repetition uses valuable lesson time, it gives the students an opportunity to improve their performance. Although students may not have this opportunity for repetition in everyday situations, the classroom should be used as a language gymnasium where students can repeat and improve.

Each time my music teacher gives me a new piece to play, I usually start by playing very slowly and I often make mistakes. I need to play a new piece several times before I’m satisfied with my performance.”

Noticing progress

By looking back at written work produced during early lessons, students can notice the progress they have made. Invite students to build up a collection of recordings of early speaking activities so that they can listen to their early attempts and notice their progress. If students notice their recent progress, they will build their confidence and make them confident that they can make further progress in future months.

When students are about half-way through their learning course, invite them to look back at Lesson One. Teach the lesson again. Read the reading passages, play the recordings and do the activities. Students should be able to complete the lesson very quickly. This is not time wasted. It will have a considerable value in building self-confidence.

Do it, then do it again

If students have already done an activity once, they should be quicker, more accurate and more fluent when they are asked to repeat it. The first attempt may have been a struggle, but repeated attempts are easier. Of course, we do not want to bore the students with endless repetitions of the same task so invite the students to use their acting skills. If the students first completed the activity as themselves, invite them to adopt different roles when doing the repetition; invite them to become Dustin Hoffman, Judi Dench or another star, invite them to change their nationality or personality, invite them to become shy or angry, invite them to sing, whisper or shout the language exchange.

Roleplay and Roleplays

If students are roleplaying ordering food in a restaurant, first allow them to make their own choices from the menu. In the repetition, let them adopt the character of Rambo, Lady Macbeth or any other character and make their choices from the menu. If they are reporting the loss of a piece of airline baggage, let them roleplay the loss of a kangaroo or a box of ancient pottery, or a signed photograph of the President.

The student playing the waiter or airline official can be friendly, very tired, suffering from a bad cold or in a hurry to finish work and go home. We can vary many different elements in a roleplay to add freshness to the repetition.

Writing Activities

In most communicative writing activities, the person represented by I (the first person singular) is the student writer. But does this always need to be the case? Why can’t the letter / text message / email be from Marcus (a character in a recent video)? Why shouldn’t it be addressed to the manager of the local supermarket where Marcus lost his wallet?

Repetition in writing

Students hate rewriting one of their own texts with corrections but if they adopt a new personality, they will be happy to rewrite a similar text with a slightly different communicative message. Since their original text will have been composed on a computer, students can re-open that text and make any changes necessary. This is much easier than it was with handwritten texts. With keyed texts, repetition is not boring or arduous.

Positive grading

The main purpose of grading written work is an opportunity for the teacher to congratulate the student and celebrate everything she/he has got right. Motivate your learners by celebrating their success. Do not fill the graded text with negative comments about failures. Identifying errors is a lesser purpose. It is important, but learners will only value your advice if you show that you have valued their effort. (You will also feel better if you write positive comments!)

Computer-based practise activities

Computer based practise activities will often highlight any mistakes and prompt the student to ‘try again’. Students should welcome and exploit this opportunity to ‘try again’ until they can they can produce a perfect answer. This is NOT cheating! The student is learning with each fresh attempt to produce the perfect answer. Tools like ‘Spellcheck’ and ‘Grammar check’ are real world applications. Students should be taught to use and exploit them.

The best musicians, artists and athletes need to practice every day. If they have three days without practice, they can feel that their skill has diminished. Everyone needs to practice.”

Get better, feel better

The ‘Every day in every way’ mantra was invented by a Belgian pharmacist called Coué. He discovered that his cures and medications were most effective if his patients believed that they would get better. From this experience, Coué developed “the positive power of self-belief.” The mantra is just a set of words, but if your learners repeat it and believe it, I promise you that it will produce good results. Your learners will feel better and their learning will get better.

Nick Dawson 2015

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