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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The privilege of advanced studies

Having understood the stress that the students were under when we told them that they would not last longer than Christmas at our institute if they did not show signs of improvement in their English tests grades, Omar from Syria (a second-year student) came to find me, to tell me about how he went from scoring a very low grade to obtaining not just a passing grade, but something higher than that, in just two months. He asked me to tell the first-year students to find him and he would tell them what he did. I asked that, instead of students going to find him (which they wouldn't do anyway, mainly out of neglect and - dare I say it - laziness), Omar should come to my class and tell them what he did. He agreed.
What did Omar do to attain such a grade? Here is his story:
"I would go to bed every night at 9.30. I didn't attend any of the social events that the students organised. Then I'd get up at 4am, splash cold water on my face to wake me up and take my laptop and notebook downstairs to the computer study room (so that I didn't disturb my roommate). I would start studying at 5am, never before, because I wanted to treat myself to waking up slowly, so I didn't tire myself out. I studied English systematically for 3 hours every morning, never less, never more, for two months. I used the teaching materials provided (ie my materials), and a book of exercises, all on the computer, nothing on paper. If I didn't understand any words, I'd write them in my notebook and look them up. I made an effort to learn three new skills every day. In the first few days it was hard. After the first few weeks, it got easy. By the end of the two months, I was simply practicing - and answering successfully - everything I learnt."
At the end of the 20-minute seminar, Omar pointed out that this was his way to improve his English skills, and it won't work for everyone, but everyone should be able to tweak the program to find one that suits them. While Omar was speaking, I would interrupt him (we had agreed on how to do this) to reinforce some of his points, eg you don't really need paper tests, you can work on the computer; you don't need to learn things off by heart, you need to study at the RIGHT time, with the RIGHT materials and in the RIGHT way; you don't need to spend hours in a classroom studying English with a teacher, you need to know what questions to ask your teacher when you see her, or better still email her with your query. Teaching and learning is not like in the past when we had a teacher, and books, pens and paper: it's more dynamic now - and much much faster.
At the same time, I had to ask some of other students to stop talking amongst themselves while Omar was speaking. I also had to remind them (while they laughed, especially on hearing 'no socialising' and 'wake up at 4am') that, actually, they have their meals cooked, their rooms cleaned, and their expenses paid while they are here, so there is no excuse for not being a hard-working student. 


Studying is a privilege these days. You need to show some good results to those who give you that privilege. Otherwise, we can bestow the privilege on other more deserving people.

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