Difficult Students

For general discussion between ESL teachers.

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Erina
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Difficult Students

Unread post by Erina » Sun Apr 30, 2017 6:00 pm

Hi, I'm new to this forum, glad to be here! I have a question about how you handle difficult or stubborn students.

I teach via Skype (private classes) and for the most part it works very well. I am fortunate to have great students, all very nice people and easy to work with, ....except one. A nice woman but I am having a very difficult time making any progress with her. For example:

Grammar - no, she doesn't want to bother with that
Listening exercises - only if she can have the transcript of the conversation with the audio tape. I explain repeatedly that this is not a good habit to develop but to no avail - "it's too hard, too much for me, etc." Even going to a lower level listening exercise doesn't change anything.
Videos for listening and speaking practice - only once in awhile, "it's too much for me"
Well
She does not listen to instructions, when she doesn't like an exercise or if she has to try a little bit to get it, she just tunes out and goes looking for something that she wants to do, which is basically talk, only she can't really do that because she has no grammar, listening or speaking skills developed.... :shock:

I am patient, I try to explain, to guide, to... you name it, all to no avail. I feel like I am wasting her money and my time.

How would some of you handle this type of student? I'm not the type to just throw up my hands in defeat, but I certainly can't give her the magic pill that will make her speak perfect English without doing the work like she seems to want. So, I'm coming here to see if anyone can offer some suggestions that I might try before I decide if I should just tell her that we maybe aren't a good fit and she might do better with a different teacher or perhaps in a classroom situation with other students. HELP! and thank you!

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Susan
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Re: Difficult Students

Unread post by Susan » Wed May 03, 2017 7:43 pm

It sounds disheartening. It's a difficult one. You've done so much to make it work.

A few suggestions:

Tell her the aims of the lesson before you start. You can negotiate them or not. Ask her to evaluate herself in relation to the aims at the end of the lesson.

Do conversation that will involve a lexical set or grammar point, thereby giving her the conversation she wants. Ask her to evaluate her speaking skills and language ability. Help her see where she needs to work.

Give her a section of a transcript and use it as an activity: gap fill or marking intonation and stress are two examples.

Hope this helps.

Susan

Erina
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Re: Difficult Students

Unread post by Erina » Wed May 03, 2017 8:36 pm

Thank you Susan. She seems to have it set in her mind that she will learn all she needs to know by just talking but I will try some of your suggestions. She gets frustrated easily, especially if she has to try at all to understand something and it seems no amount of trying different approaches or ways of encouraging/guiding help so I'm left sort of scratching my head at how else to help her. She is a pre-intermediate level that is horribly dependent on reading to understand. Basically she said she just wants to pick a topic and talk, no grammar, no exercises just.... talk. Sigh.

NiallHoughton
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Re: Difficult Students

Unread post by NiallHoughton » Mon Jan 01, 2018 6:39 pm

She wants to be taught in a certain way, but you as the teacher have your ideas about how she should be taught. It might be worth spending a short period of time exploring this difference in opinion, exploring what she wants to achieve by taking part in the lessons, reminding her of what works with someone at her level and then (hopefully) continue with the lessons with renewed focus.

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Re: Difficult Students

Unread post by AaronTNelson » Wed Apr 18, 2018 5:17 am

HI Erina,
I am new to this forum, and I suspect you've already solved your trouble with your difficult student?
If I were you, and maybe you already have, I would let your student know that you are no longer able to work with her. Maybe you could offer to connect her with another teacher if you know one. I've had a few difficult students of my own - and some difficult companies - and I learned the hard way: difficult students tend to remain that way. They want it their way, and will often dominate your time as a teacher. Do yourself a favour and move on.

Maybe an idea for the future: do you work with a "How I work" sort of policy or document? Have your prospect students (You're not working with them yet) read through it, and sign it. It likely won't weed out all difficult students, but I may help you spot them if they start peppering you with a million challenges or suggestions to how you work....well, that might be your red flag waving. What do you think? Hope you were able to make things work with your challenge!
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