Expert answer:SUNY at Binghamton Best Practices for Teaching the

  

Solved by verified expert:This is one of the required modules. Read the article “Best Practices for Teaching the ‘Whole’ Adult ESL Learner” by David Schwarzer. This article was written for a different context than ours. However, the article clearly lays out many fundamental principles that we will use in our ESL classrooms.1. Various ideas were given in the reading section on motivation. In fact, many of our students are mainly motivated by the carrot of grades. What do you think you can add to the ESL class in terms of motivating our students to hone their English skills for other reasons? How do you, personally, motivate yourself when learning progress is difficult?2. Choose one of the seven basic principles of the Whole-person Approach (pg 28). Describe how it was important in your own second language experience. How will you support this principle as an ESA?
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Based on adult second-language acquisition research and
whole-language principles, this chapter describes some
best practices for teaching adults in ESL classrooms.
Best Practices for Teaching the
“Whole” Adult ESL Learner
David Schwarzer
Justin is a twenty-eight-year-old volunteer ESL instructor at a local nonprofit
community program. In “real life,” he is an accountant. As part of the orientation for new instructors, the community program provides the volunteers
with twenty hours of training, during which they hand out the curriculum and
a series of topics to cover during a four-month period. He will also inherit the
former ESL instructor’s grammar textbook. He will have a group of fourteen
adult learners of five different nationalities and language backgrounds in his
class. Justin will also learn that attendance is an issue at the language program.
This vignette presents a typical scenario for an adult English as a second
language instructor working at a nonprofit English language program. What
have other ESL teachers done that have worked? What do we know about
adult second-language acquisition theory that can help Justin? How can he
create a learning community in his classroom with this diverse and shifting
learner population? In the following sections, I will illustrate how the ideas
of “whole-language learning” can be used to answer these questions.
Brief Review of Adult SLA Research
For a long time in the area of second-language acquisition (SLA), we thought
of second-language teaching in terms of four language skills: listening,
speaking, reading, and writing. Speaking and writing were considered active
NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION, no. 121, Spring 2009 © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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BRINGING COMMUNITY TO THE ADULT ESL CLASSROOM
skills; listening and reading were viewed as passive skills (Celce-Murcia,
2001). This way of thinking has evolved as we look at language usage and
communication as negotiation processes. What has come to be known as
“communicative language teaching” (CLT) has eclipsed the four-skills
approach. “By definition, CLT puts the focus on the learner. Learner communicative needs provide a framework for elaborating program goals in
terms of functional competence” (Celce-Murcia, 2001, p. 18). However,
focusing on achieving effective communication does not mean that teaching
grammar is not important because “while involvement in communicative
events is seen as central to language development, this involvement necessarily requires attention to form” (p. 25). It is important to keep a healthy
balance between focusing on meaning and focusing on form. Process and
product are important, and some class activities could focus just on meaning (for example, writing in a dialogue journal to share with a classmate),
and some others could focus on grammar and form (for example, writing an
essay and editing for correct language structure). As a matter of fact, several
researchers agree that vocabulary development, learner motivation, and
meaningful interaction are critical aspects in adult ESL learning (Bello, 2000;
De la Fuente, 2002; Ellis, 1999; Gass, 1999; Krashen, 2003).
Research suggests that word knowledge is the first step to becoming a
competent communicator in a second language (Coady and Huckin, 1997).
However, knowing words is not enough; knowing word families is also an
essential part of second-language vocabulary-building activities (Laufer,
1997). Teachers can help learners enhance their vocabulary in several ways.
For example, Gass (1999) points out that “incidental vocabulary” learning
(the vocabulary we acquire when we are doing something other than formal learning, such as watching TV in the target language) is an effective way
of enhancing learners’ vocabulary. Teachers can incorporate television shows
into class assignments and initiate discussions of and draw vocabulary from
programs that are of high interest in U.S. culture (such as American Idol or
Friends) or programs the language learners themselves suggest.
Another way to help learners enhance their vocabulary is the use of
extensive reading (Burt, Peyton, and Adams, 2003; Krashen 2003). Learners’
vocabulary increases dramatically through extended reading and follow-up
activities (Wesche and Paribakht, 2000). Reading texts that are interesting
and challenging for the learners also has a powerful effect on their vocabulary
development (Burt, Peyton, and Adams, 2003). Importantly, vocabulary in
the second language (L2) seems to increase over time when learners engage
with text in meaningful ways and are encouraged to actively negotiate its
meaning with others (De la Fuente, 2002). This means that a part of the
teacher’s job is finding reading materials of high interest and relevance to
the language learners’ lives and making them a part of the group’s conversation and vocabulary work. Doing this could enhance the adult learner’s
motivation to learn.
New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education • DOI: 10.1002/ace
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Motivation is “why people decide to do something, how long they are
willing to sustain the activity, [and] how hard they are going to pursue it”
(Dornyei, 2002, p. 8). In this respect, it is also important to remember that
adult ESL students in community programs are a shifting population; they
move and change jobs often, and their motivation to learn ESL also transforms
and evolves with the changes they face in their lives outside the classroom. As
stated by Dornyei and Kormos (2000), motivation is not static; it may
change from day to day, from task to task, and from learning community
to learning community. For example, “integrative motivation” (willingness to
learn a new language in order to become part of a particular speaking community) and “instrumental motivation” (willingness to learn a new language
to accomplish immediate goals and needs) are both important aspects of
why adults try to learn languages (Gardner, 1985; Oxford and Shearin,
1994). Depending on the circumstances under which the adult learner
migrated to the United States, the ESL instructor may find different
responses to the new culture among learners that influence their approach
to the new language. Some may not want to adapt to the new culture or are
experiencing culture shock. Others may be adapting very well to the new
living environment, culture, and community. Some adult learners are very
motivated to learn ESL because they need it to communicate with their colleagues at work or to obtain a promotion, accomplish educational goals,
help their children with school assignments, or just feel confident speaking
the language of the community in which they live.
Teachers need to discover what motivates the learners to come to
their classes and take on the very challenging task of learning another
language. They can tap in to their learners’ motivation to both improve language learning and enliven the class by identifying high-interest popular
media in the form of television programs, films, newspapers, magazines, and
even signs, billboards, and posters that the learners encounter in their day-today lives. They can also use scenarios relevant to the learners’ lives, such as
renting an apartment, trying to get a job promotion, or going to the emergency room. When adult learners see their English class as connected and
helpful to their real lives, they are more likely to invest the effort it takes to
attend class and to approach their out-of-class lives as a language-learning
laboratory. Teachers can support this by identifying individual, pair, or group
projects (Florez and Burt, 2001) of importance to their adult learners, particularly projects that identify and build knowledge about community
resources and how specific institutional systems work, such as the school
system, banks and mortgage companies, and the medical establishment.
The ultimate goal of learning a language is to be able to communicate
and interact with the people that speak it. Interaction is what happens when
two or more people exchange ideas and negotiate meaning in order to
prevent “breakdowns” (Ellis, 1999). This does not mean that we should
focus only on listening and speaking skills; teaching grammar, vocabulary,
New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education • DOI: 10.1002/ace
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BRINGING COMMUNITY TO THE ADULT ESL CLASSROOM
and pronunciation to adult ESL learners is equally important in preventing
communication breakdowns (Finn-Miller, 2004). However, interaction is
crucial, as it makes learners aware of the gaps between what they want to
say and what their listener understands (Schmidt and Frota, 1986).
Building a community in the ESL classroom helps provide a safe environment where learners can interact and try out using the new language.
When they interact in class, they receive comprehensible input and feedback from each other (Gass, 1997). As language instructors, we can build a
setting in which adult learners can learn and practice communication strategies and tools such as paraphrasing in order to describe, questioning for
clarification, drawing on linguistic and world knowledge in order to build
meaning, and using sentence fillers (well, I mean, you know, and so on) in
order to become successful language users. Having different group activities
in the ESL classroom provides opportunities for them to learn and practice
these strategies and use these tools with others. One way to help them is to
have them work in groups and pairs. Research has shown that students produce more and longer sentences when they work in groups and pairs
(Doughty and Pica, 1986), and we know that language is best learned when
social interaction is occurring and learners use the new language for social
communication (Lantolf, 2006).
Whole Language for Adult ESL Classrooms
Whole language implies that we look at adult learners as whole persons
rather than just ESL learners. It asks us to see the learners in our classes as
parents, spouses, employees or business owners, neighbors, churchgoers, and
members of various communities. In other words, when we approach learners in our classes as whole persons, we view them as adults with accomplishments, responsibilities, relationships, personal histories, and hopes.
Moreover, whole language encourages the teacher and the learner to look at
language not in segments but as a whole. In whole language, all language
skills are integrated, class participants learn about the cultures of their peers
and their communities, social rules are openly discussed, and class activities
incorporate the students’ knowledge and talents. Seven basic principles support the whole-person approach to second-language learning and teaching
(Schwarzer and Luke, 2001): a holistic perspective; authentic learning; curriculum negotiation; inquiry-based lessons; language learning, a developmental process; alternative assessment; and community of learners.
Holistic Perspective. Taking a holistic perspective means looking at
language as a whole rather than approaching it in pieces, such as studying
adverbs in isolated sentences or practicing verb conjugation out of context
merely to memorize the endings. It means studying the language in context so
that the learners experience it in a realistic way. It prescribes integrating reading, writing, listening, speaking, and cultural activities; reading a chapter
of a book or an article from the newspaper instead of isolated paragraphs,
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sentences, or words; and listening to an entire segment of a news or reality
program before breaking it down into short interactions, sentences, or vocabulary. It helps the learners develop an understanding of the whole and then
allows them to examine the pieces after that. Think about the context within
which the piece was written or produced. Who was the audience? Why did
the author write it or the producers produce it? What does it say about life,
society, or politics in the author’s or producer’s society or culture?
Authentic Learning. Authentic learning means to incorporate learning materials and learning experiences from the learners’ daily lives. Use
classroom activities that learners could use tomorrow or the next day in real
life. Use your learners as authentic audiences to practice on before they venture beyond the class. Make sure that in-class learning activities represent
both the cultural context of the learners and the cultural context outside the
classroom. For example, if they come from Latin America, ask them to
explain about their culture, holidays, and what they miss from their country and at the same time to request information about the American culture
and holidays to an English-only speaker. Not only are they learning the
culture of the United States, but they are at the same time bringing their
own language and culture to people who have lived in the United States all
their lives.
Curriculum Negotiation. Curriculum negotiation involves asking
learners to participate in the decision-making process related to the curriculum they will study. You cover the “mandated” curriculum but also make
room to address learners’ learning needs and wants. Integrate, if you can,
what is mandated with things the learners are interested in their daily lives.
Providing options is a good way to start the negotiation. Creating a chart
with learners’ needs and wants for the class may be another way to recognize
and subsequently incorporate what is important to them into the class.
Inquiry-Based Lessons. Inquiry-based lessons promote the development of inquiry skills in the classroom. Encourage learners to ask questions
and pursue answers to them. For example, the instructor can elicit questions from the students about a text they have read together. The students
can formulate possible questions they would like the author of the text to
answer in an interview, or they can formulate questions to help them understand the text more fully and pose them to their classmates. When learners
ask their own questions, learning becomes more meaningful to them, and
they invest more in their learning.
Language Learning: A Developmental Process. Language learning is
a process, and learners will inevitably make mistakes when they are actively
learning. The goal is to make “better” and more sophisticated mistakes as
the learners progress in their learning. Therefore, taking risks and making
mistakes should be embraced. Also, remember that what learners can produce
in English does not necessarily reflect what they know about the language.
Part of your job is to provide contexts and tasks that will help them use
what they know and identify and fill in what they don’t know.
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BRINGING COMMUNITY TO THE ADULT ESL CLASSROOM
Alternative Assessment. Alternative assessment requires that learning
be measured by means of various evaluation methods, not just standardized
testing. Such alternative assessments as portfolios, anecdotal records, and
videotapes of learner presentations are effective tools to assess learners’
progress over time, and these techniques also provide learners with useful and
actionable information about their own progress. It is important to look not
only at the product but also at the learners’ processes of language learning.
Community of Learners. It is important that adults in the ESL classroom feel welcome and accepted for who they are. Developing a sense of
belonging to the adult ESL class is crucial. The instructor and the learners act
in both roles—as learners and as experts—in such a community. Adult learners are more willing to invest in their learning and continue attending the ESL
class when they feel welcome and part of a caring learning community.
Teaching the Whole Adult ESL Learner: A Few
Practical Ideas
The following section suggests ways in which the principles of the wholelanguage approach can be applied in adult ESL settings.
Building the Classroom Together. Like a new house, the ESL classroom is empty before the instructor and the learners meet for their first
class. The first step when you move into a new place is to take ownership
of the place and make it comfortable and welcoming for you. This is also
true of the classroom. When you meet for the first time, invite your learners to “build the classroom” with you. Invite them to bring or make their
own furniture such as shelves to store and display material or students’
work, picture frames, and learning materials for their new class. Provide
opportunities for them to make the classroom feel more like home. Let them
bring food. Often adult learners arrive to class after a full day’s work and are
tired and hungry. Share your family and culture, and encourage your learners
to share theirs. This helps learners take ownership of the learning environment, and that feeling may spill over into their other learning responsibilities
in the class. And by integrating the learners into your classroom, you are
focusing on their strengths and acknowledging that they bring valuable
resources to the learning environment.
Capitalizing on Learners’ Expertise. Adult learners bring a lifetime
of knowledge and experience to the ESL class. They bring specialized
knowledge from their professions and occupations. It is not unusual for ESL
learners to have practiced as well-educated professionals (doctors or teachers) or skilled tradespersons in their countries of origin. Capitalize on their
strengths; you can help your learners become “expert of the week” and take
turns making class presentations on their topics. These presentations will
enhance their vocabulary skills in their areas of expertise while integrating
all language skills in an authentic and meaningful setting. Other students
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in class as well as the instructor benefit from learning the new information
provided by their classmates on health, nutrition, cooking, beauty, construction, and carpentry depending on their occupations and professions.
Creating Independent Learners. Adult learners should depend as little as possible on their instructor for learning. The instructor should be one
of many resources available to them. One way to start building independence
in the learners is to have class routines. When there are clear and relevant
class routines, learners are more focused on learning, and learning anxiety
diminishes. Even if the instructor is absent, they know what should happen
in the different segments of the class. Having class routines does not mean
having a boring class. It means having direction and a clear set of procedures
and expectations for the learners. Part of the routines you may consider
are setting learning goals, having hands-on learning activities, and implementing self-assessment. These routines need to be consistent. When adult
learners set their own learning goals and monitor their own progress, they feel
more independent. Independent learners are more motivated to learn and are
therefore more likely to keep attending class. They are also developing the
skills to continue learning the language when they are not in your classroom.
Extending the Classroom to the World. Field trips are a great way to
connect the learning that happens in the classroom with the life that goes on
outside of it. Adult ESL learners need to learn about the new culture in reallife situations, and it is important to remember that what ESL te …
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