My beginner student, Natasha, was recently swept over by a wave of determination and decided to do more studying than usual. Unfortunately, her ambitions, though admirable, were not realistic. When she expressed frustration and admitted to being overwhelmed to the point that nothing was making much sense, I asked questions to identify the problem. It turned out that she was sitting at the dining room table with all the notes from every lesson we ever had along with our current textbook and other books from her collection of English language resources. Her laptop was there, too.
In my Study Tips for independent learners, I stress the importance of setting realistic goals and choosing resources wisely. I’ve also shared a Goals Sheet on this blog in the past. The problem is that Natasha’s level doesn’t allow her to easily read my Study Tips or answer the questions on my Goals Sheet. I thought we had settled on a plan for the time being, so I didn’t consider the possibility of there being difficulties during her independent study time. We’ve been working with a reading-vocabulary textbook for the past few months, and I’ve assigned a few extra speaking and listening tasks. I’ve also made suggestions for extra practice. For instance, I encourage speaking aloud while doing housework, that is, narrating what she sees, what she’s doing, what she plans to do next.
After realizing that Natasha was trying to accomplish too much in too little time with too many different resources, I understood that we needed to develop a clear study plan right down to the the number of minutes and the sequence of tasks I wanted her to do each time she sat at the table to study. We began by acknowledging that weekends were out. Then we agreed that a minimum of fifteen minutes each weekday was realistic. Many days she would be able to do more, but given that sometimes her children get sick, errands outside the home pile up, etc., we agreed that even on a challenging day, finding fifteen minutes was possible. I then requested that she limit her resources for the next month to our current textbook and a few videos that I would assign. I explained how she would use readings in her book for those 15 minutes. We also agreed on goals that she would meet by the end of next month. One of those goals is to learn two children’s songs, which she can sing with her younger children. Of course, it’s possible to learn more, but I stressed the importance of setting a goal that was manageable. “Within one month,” I asked, “can you learn just two songs?” She confirmed she could.
I feel Natasha and I are on the right path now at a pace that is realistic. Based on this recent experience, I offer my Individual Study Plan_handout to other teachers who must guide the independent study of learners. I hope it makes your shared path clearer.