Challenging Students: The Sisters

sqfull1.jpgThey were seven and nine and had spent five years in the UK so spoke perfect English; they sounded completely like Brits – to me anyway – and even sometimes spoke English to each other. Remarkably, the seven year old could read in English but not yet in her own language. They didn’t really need to learn English, but their parents wanted them to maintain a good connection with the language so they wouldn’t forget it.

Our first lesson was conducted on the floor in their bedroom. I’d brought a ton of activities in case they felt shy – but it was the exact opposite. I couldn’t get them to stop talking! I’ve heard that in public schools, siblings are never allowed in the same class, and now I can understand why. Trying to figure out how to manage two sisters experiencing rivalry was often above me.

When our lessons moved to the more controlable atmosphere of the kitchen, they argued over who would sit next to me (I sat in the middle). When we played a board game, they argued over who would go first (we rolled a dice), but this wasn’t really a solution because the same sister rolled the higher number again, so suddenly this method wasn’t fair either! When they had a topic to speak about, they argued about who I’d let speak longer. I brought a stopwatch.

They highlight was probably when we put on a play for their father and grandfather. It took us ages to plan it (well, to agree about what would happen) and then to find costumes and props and rehearse. They wanted me to wear their father’s bathrobe for my role. I refused and luckily the older one understood: I didn’t want to wear a man’s clothing. Yes, that was it. When we performed for their father and grandfather though, the sisters’ pride was obvious. They wanted their father to translate for the grandfather, who somehow didn’t speak English, but we agreed he’d do it at the end to avoid disrupting the play. It went off without a hitch.

I finished my lessons with them richer for the experience; I didn’t feel that I’d completely mastered teaching kids one-to-one lessons, much less sibling one-to-one lessons, but I’d sure had some adventures. I’m currently teaching two brothers in their fifties who work together and our lessons might benefit from some of the same techniques like the timing and the dice…