An EFL teacher has an interesting position in life. They are tasked with the job of instructing students, or Ss for short, in the proper way of reading, writing and speaking English without actually using those students’ L1, or native language. The teacher not only has to convey the information properly in the students’ L2, but they also must be able to assess the learners’ strengths and weaknesses. By doing that, the instructor is able to adapt their teaching contexts and methods to the students’ needs. So, the teacher should always keep one question in mind. How can I address an individual’s learning needs while still providing sound instruction to the rest of the Ss? I will demonstrate how to do that in the following passages.
The first thing a teacher needs to know when attempting to instruct a learner in a new language is the student’s cultural and linguistic background. I selected a student to interview and teach for this project demonstration. He was asked a series of questions so that I might gain a better understanding of his current abilities in English and exactly why he is motivated to learn an L2. The student, whom I will refer to as David, is still currently attending High School, but he is highly motivated to expand his knowledge of English. According to my interview and the needs analysis survey, David has been reading English for many years in the form of “tech” manuals. It was the most abundant source of literature for him. However, David has had little experience and opportunity with actually hearing and speaking English as an L2. David wants to better his understanding and use of proper grammar such as irregular verbs to further his writing skills, but his main motivation is to be able to understand English speakers, to be able to converse openly with them and to have the opportunity to travel abroad.
Now that I know what drives or motivates David extrinsically to learn an L2, I need to focus on keeping him motivated intrinsically. He clearly enjoys reading, which is evident by my interview with him, so this tells me that David does have an innate desire for learning. My focus would be to continue to fuel that desire by catering to his different learning styles. David clearly has a linguistic, or verbal, style of learning since he does prefer to use words in both speech and writing. So, I would normally cater to that style by providing various reading and speaking activities for him in groups with other students of similar degrees of their L2 understanding, or he could interact with me one-to-one. However, it is always good to reinforce a dominant learning style with support of others to break the monotony of a given subject, enhance understanding by using different approaches and to perhaps broaden the student’s understanding of their own learning styles. That is where teaching aids such as visuals or mimicry become very useful. Also, it not only addresses the individual’s needs for learning, but it would assist the other students in the class that have different dominant learning styles such as visual or kinesthetic preferences. I believe that if the teacher understands his or her students’ needs, and the roles in the classroom are clearly defined, then the teacher will be successful in expressing the knowledge that they are wanting to instill. In turn, the student will be successful in absorbing that particular knowledge that is expressed by the teacher.
As a teacher, your role is to not only control the classroom, but to facilitate learning to all Ss that are participating. However, the teacher/student relationship is not a one-sided flow of information. As the teacher feeds information and the student absorbs it, the student is in turn giving cues for the teacher to pick up on and adjust their lessons accordingly. For example, David wishes to improve his word pronunciation and his fluency with reading. I can address both of those desires at once by allowing him to read aloud. If there is a mistake that is made, then I will be available to correct it right then, so that he can continue reading and learning. However, the information I will be getting from David would be which reading proficiency level he is currently at. If he has no problems with reading and proper pronunciation of the passage, then that tells me that he is ready for something more challenging. I would then have to adjust to accommodate his needs. Again, not only would this cater to David’s needs, but also in a classroom setting it would facilitate learning in other Ss that are following along with the passage being read. I think another important thing to remember is to evaluate oneself when teaching. You can gain much insight from observing your students, but a teacher should always take time for self-evaluation. (Nikolik, 2000) This makes you a better teacher, and helps to progress your students as well.
Another way to engage a student, keep their interest and further their learning is to place them into a role-playing activity. This could be done in a one-to-one setting or in a classroom. The objective is to keep things interesting while thrusting the student into a situation that they would not normally find themselves in. This could bring about new vocabulary, understanding of given emotions associated with particular situations or phrases and it would allow the student to hear how others pronounce particular words or syllables and express themselves emotionally. The activity can provide a sort of third-person perspective to how others pronounce and read the same text as the student in question. Such a perspective allows us to learn from our peers regardless of whether they err or not. Since I will be teaching David one-to-one, then we will focus on him reading aloud so that I can assess and correct if it is needed, but I also think that role-playing with him is important as well. As a native speaker, I can demonstrate proper pronunciation and expression of emotion through punctuation that he would not normally be exposed to by just reading his “tech” manuals. I will still have to manage to keep a proper balance between teacher talk time (TTT) and student talk time (STT) though. As a teacher, I have to keep in mind that the student is the one learning to speak, read and write in English, and the more opportunity they have in class translates to faster progression in their L2.
So in conclusion, an EFL teacher has a unique task, but also a unique opportunity. We do more than instruct someone in how to speak, read or write in his or her L2. We also expose them to a new and interesting culture, and at the same time, we are gaining knowledge and insight into a different culture as well. Whether we are teaching one-to-one, or to an entire classroom of eager learners, we must remember that we are to constantly impart knowledge and to continually glean information from the Ss as well. As I interact with David, I will continually get cues from him through how he reads, understands and pronounces various texts. With this information I will become more aware of his particular needs in that stage of his development, and I can adjust accordingly. Then I can know how I should interact with him, how I should have him participate and what material I should address regardless of whether he is my only student or if there is a full classroom. I will be able to keep him motivated to learn by using the various learning styles and activities, but at the same time I will be meeting the needs of the other Ss as well, both on an individual basis and as a whole. Ultimately, the goal is for everyone to walk away with more knowledge than what they came in with.
Nikolik, Vesna (2000). Am I Teaching Well? Self-evaluation strategies for effective teachers. Canada: Pippen Publishing Company