Term Paper: Reflections from TESOL Practicum
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) practicum experience is an important part of training for all TESOL students. This experience offers an opportunity for all students to develop self-awareness on some of teaching practices in a natural environment. In this practicum, I took part in observing English class undertaking ELL class in a high school. I spent up-to 80 hours while working with students in this class in order to learn and apply some of the theories I had learnt earlier. There was time to incorporate a number of teaching and non-teaching activities that helped in my self-awareness in terms of the theories in place and appropriate classroom practices. This report contains some of the theories that I have developed during the practicum, showing ways of applying them in order to be effective as an ESL teacher. On the same note, I discuss some of the points that all ESL teacher students must know in order to be effective, as advised by the practicum experience. I also share some of the difficulties I faced while teaching ESL. Indeed, the practicum has changed me in many ways. This paper shows some of the changes I have experienced from the practicum. Lastly, this paper enumerates some of the lesson from this TESOL program, especially towards being an effective ELL teacher.
Theories of Learning and Teaching
Studies have exposed me to a number of theories various methods of approaching teaching English to speakers of other languages. However, I had never developed the ability to identify myself with a specific one. Numerous study materials present many ways of approaching training ELL students. After a careful reflection, through a process of self-awareness, I realize that the first theory that I identify with is the Natural Approach Theory, as advanced by Stephen Krashen. This theory puts more emphasis on developing interpersonal relationship between the instructor and the student (Nath, 2010). Such a relationship helps in creating an environment where both parties communicate in a manner that helps building confidence in the learning process. According to Xia (2014), the teacher is responsible for coming with appropriate comprehensible that student can grasp easily. During my practicum, I realized that I had to remodel my communication to the level where the students could easily comprehend. By doing this, it was easy to create ease of comprehension because of the input. It becomes difficult for the student when the teacher does not develop a language that is in line with ELL level.
Learning is made difficult in an environment with much anxiety and unease. Natural Approach theory encourages “low affective filter in order to enhance the learning process” (Xia, 2014). I am a person who likes making everyone around feel at ease in order to make communication easy. For this reason, I tend to create an atmosphere where every student is free make expression irrespective of his or her levels of English comprehension. Such an environment enhances chances of the students to grasp and comprehend the English language and the ability to communicate with each other.
Natural Approach theory is effective because it approaches learning from an understanding of the common experiences in an environment. In order to make this real, I employ other teaching methods like group work that help students express themselves as they make contributions towards an issue or topic. On the same note, other activities like role-plays, skits, and games make this theory very practical in teaching ELL students. The controlled environment creates an avenue where the students easily practice the use of language in a given setting, something that prepares them to use English in a natural setting. Therefore, Natural Approach theory is a way of teaching students of other languages in a setting that exposes them to much reading and practice, an interaction that can be used in other classes or in the natural life settings (Nath, 2010).
Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is another theory that I can identify with, besides the theory of Natural Approach. This theory seeks to connect the student’s “actual cognitive capacity verses the level of potential development” (Xia, 2014) During my ELL teaching, I like making informal and formal assessment of my students in order to find out their cognitive capacity and their developmental potential level when it comes to learning and comprehending English language. I do this by making informal interaction with the students in the natural setting as well as planning some formal question-answer method that give me a sense of their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Such awareness helps in developing learning materials that does not fall way below ZPD or way above it (Shehadeh, & Coombe, 2010). Such an approach makes me prefer the theory as one of the ways of developing teaching materials for the ESL teaching. In order to make the theory more fruitful, I ensured that students who were more advanced in English would seat with those with less comprehension in order to develop peer support during classes.
What an ESL Teacher Must Know
Speakers from other languages come from diverse backgrounds, requiring an in-depth understanding on the part of the instructor. An ESL teacher must first develop the ability to deal with multicultural backgrounds. In most cases, the teacher should have background information on the various cultures of the students in order to be sensitive on various aspects of the same. Such information is important in helping the ESL teacher know how to manage a class of multicultural students. For this reason, it would be a requirement for all ESL teachers to undertake multicultural education training to develop skills on management. Many teachers are likely to fail in their practice due to lack of class management skills, especially when it comes to multicultural settings. Major problems may arise from the fact that what is sensitive in one culture may never be so in another culture. Therefore, a class with students from various cultures may have tension that may cause barriers to the learning process, especially if the teacher does, ignores them.
The teacher must learn and understand the various learning theories, including principles related to the learning process, cognitive and child development. Such knowledge helps in developing management skills as well as effective teaching methods. All ESL teachers must realize that achieving success in practice will depend on the ability to convert the learnt theories and principles into real classroom practice. Therefore, knowledge is not enough but applying the same into daily practice. In addition, classroom management may entail helping the students develop certain characters that are essential to the general development and communication in the country. I realized that majority of ELL students have never had formal education, meaning that they lack basic concepts and order to coexisting in a class setup. The teacher is responsible of developing all necessary characters in the learner. Some of these characters may include respect to each other and class order.
Background information of individual students helps in developing learning materials that consider various factors in place. For instance, I realized that some of the students under the program had earlier lived as refugees in various camps. This came to my attention after identifying certain students who appeared reserved, never wanting to interact with the other colleagues. In an attempt to find out what the problem may have been, I came to realized that their behaviors were product of their earlier lifestyles. Some of these students had never attended formal, if so, very little. They had little courage to participate like the rest because of the difference when it comes to the learning concepts. The teacher has the responsibility of identifying such cases and working out a way of helping out.
Supervision of the learning process by the teacher is essential. Otherwise, there may be certain little problems when it comes to grouping of students to perform tasks. Group work should be able to enhance multicultural existence. Pairing a girl and a boy from the Muslim background may lead to certain challenges on gender discrimination. For instance, a Muslim boy may hold the notion that a Muslim woman is not capable of performing certain tasks or experiments. Therefore, the ESL teacher is responsible for explaining to all students that women are capable of doing experiments that men can do. There should be equal opportunity to all students when it comes to the learning activities.
Difficulties in Teaching ESL
Working with the older ELL students provides a challenge to the teachers. During my TESOL practicum, I realized the difficulty balancing the need to teach the older students the basic concepts language that should help them effective in English-speaking society and graduation requirements. In the normal setting, most of these older students are forced to undertake high level content rather than taking time to learn the basics. According to the state laws on education, a student can only graduate with high school diploma after achieving 24 credits. For this reason, all foreigners who come to the US when older have to accelerate their learning process in order to achieve the necessary credits before they turn 21 years old. It becomes more tasking if the students never enrolled for high school education in their native countries. Credit transfers are possible for those who studied in their countries. It is important to note that mastery of English is important in order to understand and comprehend other subjects. Therefore, it becomes strenuous for the teacher to balance between have comprehensive learning and the enhancing learning in order to graduate, without taking time to learn basic English-speaking skills.
The number of non-English speaking immigrants to the United States continues to increase each year. Consequently, the number of students joining ELL program in the institution continues to grow. During the observation, 120 students had enrolled for the English class, all working towards graduating. On the other hand, only three ELL teachers and two paraprofessionals had been employed to teach these students. It was obvious that these teachers were overwhelmed by the workload. However, it was good to note the close working relationship among the teachers in order to achieve their work schedule goals. Due to the high number of students and scheduling challenges, many of the students at the beginning level of learning English are forced into mainstream classes that lack ELL focus. Mainstream English classes lack the focus that is required for the ELL students.
It is important to appreciate the hard work by the TESOL in the institution; however, they are overwhelmed by the workload. Therefore, budgetary constraints make it difficult for the employment of more teachers. Many ELL students fail to graduate of fewer teachers employed to offer personal and focused attention on the learning process. In order to provide a remedy, maybe the ELL teachers and paraprofessionals should work towards developing tutoring classes for those students who require more focused attention. Such a program should be on a voluntary basis in order to improve success rates for the willing students.
Developing as a Teacher
One can never be a master teacher the first time he or she teaches; teaching skills are developed with time. This statement became a reality when I enrolled for the TESOL practicum. Other the training in class to be an ELL teacher, I had not entered into a natural class setting in order to teach and observe a class. The first time I entered into a class, I found myself struggling with some of the tenses. My inability to pass the required to the students was evident. I am happy because of the ELL teachers I interacted with during the practicum. Their mastery of their subject was obvious, having developed the ability to connect with their students and pass the correct information. It was admirable to see the students create various communication components after the introduction by the teachers.
In my second class, I realized that I developed some order and flow when it came to passing of information to my students. I never mixed the tenses and the students had a better understanding of my topic matter. On the same note, I realized that holding on to one theory might not work in all cases. Certain students respond well to some theories and principles than others. Therefore, the practicum gave me the opportunity to experiment with various theories and principles in order to become more effective in class. I had the opportunity to change specific methods that never worked in order to model teaching methods that suited the occasions. I also realized that the ELL teachers at the institution never used the same methods all the times they went to classes. In one of the chats with one of them, I came to realize that a teacher develops the ability to read the students and adopt the method that works at the instant.
According to Molina, Cañado, & Agulló (n.d), all teaching methods have something to offer in the learning process. A motivated teacher has the ability to use various methods in order to pass information. On the same note, motivated students will work hard in order to learn new concepts. A good teacher should develop skills that help in motivating students to learn new concepts. I also realize that students respond well to those teachers who are patient and empathetic with them. Therefore, teaching skills can evolve with time, depending on the experience. I struggled as I started the ELL practicum; however, I opened myself to other teaching techniques and principles that have helped me improve my skills. I hope to continue learning and applying various theories to be more effective.
Knowledge Gained from TESOL Program
This TESOL practicum is one of the best things in this course. I find out that all the TESOL courses are essential when it comes to the actual practice. Some of these courses are intercultural communication, methods of teaching foreign languages, Applied Linguistics for ESOL Teachers and English as a Second Language in Content Areas.
Intercultural Communication: I realized that communication is an important component of teaching ELLs. The importance of the course comes from the fact that TESOL entails dealing with students from different backgrounds, something that requires care (Shehadeh, & Coombe, 2010). This course helped me understand how to understand different approaches and perspectives when it comes to communication by different cultural groups.
Methods of teaching foreign languages: this course had various theories that helped in developing content for teaching. It entailed a section that required of us to develop a teaching material in a foreign language in order to present to the class. Therefore, during the practicum, I was able to think of some of the techniques that could be applied in each context. Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) was a method we had been taught in this course that I used during my practicum in order to teach English and help the students develop their mastery of the language.
English as a Second Language in Content Areas: I love teaching languages; therefore, this course helped me understand the power of language in the learning process. Teaching native English speakers content subjects can never be the same as teaching non-English students (Molina, Cañado, & Agulló, n.d). Therefore, English as a second language in content areas has helped me understand how to be effective in teaching other content areas to the students who learn English as their second language. During the practicum, I have been able to understand that I have the responsibility of training other content area teacher become effective while teaching their subjects to the students who learn English as second language. Content teachers have to understand the basic language to use in passing information while training or teaching. This course has been essential in training on how to develop teaching methods for the content teachers. One of the methods includes Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol Model.
Applied Linguistics for ESOL Teachers: this course is based on the development of semantics, syntax, and pronunciation of English language. After my training, I got the chance to put into practice, during the practicum, how to develop English pronunciation by use of phonetics. Mr. Audrey gave a chance in one of his sessions in order to teach a class on the same. I had to rely on the course content in order to successful, and I am happy I did my best. While at the practicum, I found out some of the errors that occur when it comes to the teaching students who learn English as second language. I was able to think of various ways of avoiding pronunciation errors while communicating.
TESOL program has exposed me to the real teaching environment, something that has built my knowledge and experience. I believe that growth is a process that I will cherish, especially in my line of career. I realize that different learners prefer different methods; therefore, I will have to continue studying in order to equip myself with necessary skills in order to be effective while teaching ELLs.
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