PLANNING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF ESL TEACHING AND LEARNING STRATEGIES: TAKING “BABY STEPS” WITH ESL LE
Teaching English especially among weak learners is always challenging and the scenario is worsened by some of them who have negative attitude towards learning. ESL teachers need to approach these learners in a very subtle manner; most of the time teachers may have to opt for developmental approach. Developmental approach is akin to taking baby steps with the learners – CRAWL, TODDLE and WALK. Certainly, it is challenging to teach, coach, guide, train and re-train our learners, especially the lower intermediate learners to go through these stages before they can actually “run”.
Personally, in implementing developmental approach in my ESL classroom, I always divide the implementation of strategies into three phases; Phase 1 (crawl), Phase 2 (Toddle) and Phase 3 (walk). The LENGTH OF EACH PHASE depends on a few factors such as the amount of time that a teacher has and the kind of learners the teacher has to teach. For an instance, if we begin implementing a strategy in January, perhaps each phase can be three months. However, if the strategy is implemented in June, perhaps this is a possible duration for each phase; Phase 1 (June – July), Phase 2 (August – September) and Phase 3 (October).
How much to cover in each phase? What about the CONTENT to be given emphasis in each phase? Again, the answer for both questions – “It depends”. There is no definite answer as it depends on what the ESL teachers focus on. The contents for strategies that focus on grammar, writing and vocabulary enrichment are not the same.
For an example, when I implemented OPA Style, a strategy to promote mastery of past tense verbs (for more details, please read the article posted in this blog on 14 April 2018), these are my contents:
Learners’ PROGRESS can be measured by examining the length of their paragraph and time taken to complete each paragraph.
Then, when I implemented DIVER FORMS (for more details, please read the article posted in this blog on 21 December 2017), a strategy to promote language accuracy among learners, I divided the three phases this way:
Based on Table 2, it is obvious that learners’ PROGRESS can be measured based on their ability to construct error-free sentences and identify as well as correct errors on their own.
In enhancing my learners' vocabulary, a vocabulary enrichment programme was implemented in three phases too. As many of them were quite reluctant learners, they only had to learn 3 new words per day during Phase 1 (Jan-Mac). Further details on how to enrich their vocabulary were briefed to them. The learners had to learn 5 new words per day in Phase 2 (Apr-May). On the other hand, in Phase 3 which began in June (until July) the learners had to learn 6-10 new words per day. No doubt, looking at the number of words learnt per day, progress was a bit slow. However, to me, what is more significant is the systematic and ongoing efforts to learn new words on daily basis.
In implementing any strategy, ESL teachers need to consider the process or phases that their learners should go through. Most of the time, teachers have little challenges teaching good or excellent learners. These learners do not have to take any “baby steps” to complete their tasks. If it is an essay writing task, they can just write the 350-word essay straight away independently.
However, when it comes to intermediate learners and below, I believe, ESL teachers should consider implementing their teaching and learning strategies in three phases. These are the reasons:
Intermediate / Lower-intermediate learners do need much guidance from teachers. It is not fair for ESL teachers to expect sudden progress such as having error-free sentences from them straight away or after only a few lessons on grammar. When there is Phase 1, teachers can offer the much needed guidance to their learners.
Learners, especially the weak ones, feel less stressful to accomplish their task as they are heavily guided first for quite some time before they become more and more independent.
Learners also feel it is more manageable to complete the tasks given to them, especially in Phase 1 and Phase 2, as in those stages they are much guided either by the teacher or peers.
Teachers as well as learners themselves can easily gauge progress in learning. When learners shift to Phase 2, they can notice the little progress made. Similarly, they will be able to witness and experience more progress when they reach Phase 3.
I would also like to highlight the GENERAL FEATURES of each phase. Hopefully, these features would be a resourceful guide for ESL teachers especially the new ones. Based on my experience, I prefer to describe the phases as:
Introduction of the learning and teaching strategy (name, aim, objectives)
Understanding the concept involved
Revision of a selected item, if relevant e.g. basic grammar rules
Exploration of the strategy; doing practices
Applying the strategy with minimal requirements (e.g. lesser number of new words to learn, write only 30-word paragraph for the writing task).
Much guidance offered by the teacher
Activities are often in groups
Longer time is allowed to complete the task given (e.g. 20 minutes)
Maybe the longest phase depending on the focus of the implemented strategy
Lesser guidance by the teacher and peer coaching is encouraged
Roughly 50% group work, 30% pair work, 20% individual work
Continuation of practices to reinforce understanding of the strategy
Time to complete the task is shortened a bit (e.g. 15 minutes)
Normally the second longest phase
Minimal guidance by the teacher; roughly 50% individual work, 30% pair work, 20 percent group work
Reinforcement of the implemented strategy
Time taken to complete the task should be practical (not too long, not too short). For an instance, the time taken to write a 70-word paragraph in Phase 3 should only be 10 minutes. This time limit is in line with the amount of time given for Continuous Writing in SPM (If one 70-word paragraph takes 10 minutes, then to complete an essay, pupils need to write about five paragraphs; five 70-word paragraphs will take 50 minutes)
Can be the shortest phase
For myself, as mentioned earlier, I always implement my teaching and learning strategies in three phases. Planning is crucial as the three-phase implementation of any strategy involves a duration, sometimes several months. Poor planning for each phase may contribute to the ineffectiveness or the worst case, failure to achieve the desired outcome. Therefore, ESL teachers should plan wisely as the saying goes “THOSE WHO FAIL TO PLAN, THEY ARE ACTUALLY PLANNING TO FAIL”.