NURTURING COMPETENCE IN TEACHING INTERMEDIATE AND LOWER INTERMEDIATE ESL/EFL LEARNERS THROUGH R.E.S.
Learning a second or foreign language is a complex process as learners are required to cover all aspects of a new language such as vocabulary, structures and culture of the target language (Brown, 2007). To facilitate and promote learning, teachers’ roles, learning methods and strategies are vital (Mohammed, 2018). However, we cannot deny the fact that some ESL/EFL teachers fail to carry out their roles effectively due to a number of factors. Some of them have to face numerous challenges in making sure learning takes place in their classrooms. Their teaching challenges are heavier when they have to teach lower intermediate ESL/EFL learners who possess very limited English vocabulary and low motivation. This paper will highlight an approach that has been embraced by the researcher; R.E.S.E.T (Reflect, Explore, Stop, Execute, Test), to deal with challenges teaching lower intermediate learners. This acronym is a five-step approach that has been guiding the presenter to address many learning and teaching issues as well as developing numerous innovative strategies to promote learning among intermediate and lower intermediate ESL/EFL learners.
Educators have been highlighting 21st century teaching and learning strategies in this information age. No doubt, in line with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is vital for education to keep pace with the rapid changes that are taking place. Simultaneously, the roles of teachers and teaching strategies are constantly being modified to deal with the increasing complex conditions of classrooms and the specific needs of learners. The field of teaching and learning English as a second or foreign language (ESL / EFL) has also been witnessing changes due to the global challenges and demands. However, one thing remains the same for ESL/EFL teachers – there are always challenges to be faced teaching learners of diverse backgrounds particularly the lower intermediate learners.
ISSUES AMONG LOWER INTERMEDIATE ESL/EFL LEARNERS
Learning a second or foreign language is a complex process as learners are required to cover all aspects of a new language such as vocabulary, structures and culture of the target language (Brown, 2007). It will be a monumental challenge for ESL/EFL teachers when they have to face lower intermediate learners who have limited English vocabulary, refuse to complete any writing task, fail to understand clearly a simple reading text and possess zero confidence to communicate their ideas in English.
Other learning issues involving lower intermediate ESL/EFL learners also include their own negative attitude and mind set. Moreover, many of them do not see they need to learn and master English. In short, their motivation to learn the language is very minimal. The list can go on and on but it is better to end here and start asking about possible ways to overcome, if not all, some of the issues among the learners.
ADDRESSING ISSUES THROUGH R.E.S.E.T
To facilitate and promote learning, teachers’ roles, learning methods and strategies are vital (Mohammed, 2017). Kannan (2009) highlights the importance of teachers’ roles in guiding and providing a friendly atmosphere for the learners. As for me, to address the learning issues faced by learners especially the lower intermediate learners, I have been applying R.E.S.E.T. The following are further details about this effective approach:
STEP 1: REFLECT
I would reflect the issue at stake one by one. This part involves either critical thinking or self-examining, investigating or academic reading. For an example, when most of my lower intermediate learners refused to write or write very little for their essay, I investigate by talking to them one by one to find out the reasons for zero or little attempt to write the essay. This, I believe is in line with Schon’s (1983) reflection-on-action; reflection that happens after a particular event has taken place, either through verbalised or non-verbalised thought.
STEP 2: EXPLORE
After understanding the issue well, I would develop a strategy or a technique to address the issue. I use the word ‘explore’ as for sure, I would not know whether the self-developed strategy would work well or not to overcome the issue. There would be amendments and changes if there is a necessity throughout the process of implementing the strategy or technique. The period of exploration depends on the availability of time as well as the complexity of the issue. Learners are required to give their commitment and are informed about a progress test at the final stage of the implementation of the strategy or technique.
STEP 3: STOP
As an explorer, it is always like a trial and error process for me. Undoubtedly, there are always rooms for improvements. I would pause to see the effectiveness of the strategy or technique. At this stage I make it mandatory for me to check my learners’ progress. I must make sure, if not all, at least some of them should show some progress or improvement. Definitely, how I check progress varies as it depends on the issue. If we take the zero attempt to write an essay as the issue, in this phase, lower intermediate learners should have little or some confidence to write sentences on their own.
STEP 4: EXECUTE
After making further improvements, the implementation of the revised strategy or technique is continued. The execution of the strategy or technique once again depends on availability of time and complexity of the issue. During this stage, learners would get more personal attention from me especially those who show little or zero progress. Most of the time, individual or small group coaching and motivation are given to them. It is also at this stage, my learners are reminded that there will be a progress test for them.
STEP 5: TEST
As mentioned above, this is not a surprised and an unexpected test for the learners. They are informed from the beginning and also reminded about the test. Normally, the test depends on the issue. It could be a test to write a Continuous Writing essay in 60 minutes if the issue is their inability to write a Continuous Writing essay. This post-test is crucial to me as their performance in the post-test will be compared with the ones in the pre-test to determine the effectiveness of the strategy or technique implemented.
Learning English as a second or foreign language is a complex process which many factors and areas are at play. Likewise, teaching the language can also be highly complex to some teachers especially when they have to deal with lower intermediate or oppositional learners. I would like to conclude this paper by presenting some highlights on the implementation of R.E.S.E.T:
There are always learning and teaching issues in our classrooms especially when we have to deal with lower intermediate learners. As ESL/EFL teachers, we cannot simply ignore those issues and just keep quiet, do nothing about them.A vacuum is created by the silence of the practitioners.
Our critical reflection on the learning and teaching issues and the planned and thoughtful actions we take will mould us to be teacher-researchers. It is notable that the paradigm of the teacher-researcher is considerably supported by Schön’s theory of a reflective practitioner. Schon (1983) perceives teacher-researchers as intentional, systematic, ethical and contextual in their classroom observation and reflection.
Teachers must have confidence that each learning and teaching issue can be addressed. All we need to do is explore and make improvements as we go along the process.
Time and again, many teachers hold a set of beliefs which directly influence the ways they design classroom strategies and they are not consciously aware of those beliefs (Farrell, 2015). To me, teachers need to examine their beliefs as I have personally come across teachers who have negative beliefs when they have to teach lower intermediate learners. I am fully aware it is easier said than done when someone has to face challenges teaching lower intermediate ESL/EFL learners. No matter what, as teachers, we have no choice but to ensure learning takes place in our classroom. R.E.S.E.T is an option which works well in my context and hopefully R.E.S.E.T can also address issues in other learning and teaching context, in shaa Allah.
Brown, H. (2007). Principle of Language Learning and Teaching. United State of America: Jungle publication.
Farrell, S. C. (2016). The Teacher is a Facilitator: Reflecting on ESL teacher beliefs through metaphor analysis. IJLTR 2/1, 1-10
Kannan, R. (2009). Difficulties in Learning English As Second Language. Retrieved from www.esp-world.info. [Accessed on 11th Dec. 2017]
Mohammed, H.M. (2018). Challenges of Learning English as a Foreign Language by Non-Native Learners. International Journal of Social Science and Economic Research. Volume:03, Issue:04 2018. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328253083_CHALLENGES_OF_LEARNING_ENGLISH_AS_A_FOREIGN_LANGUAGE_EFL_BY_NON-NATIVE_LEARNERS
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