Addressing Frequent Failure in ESL Classrooms

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How do you deal with ESL students who frequently fail to improve?

Failure often leaves students (and teachers) with a sad and puzzling feeling. Formative and summative assessments are excellent tools to help track student progress. They also may reflect on the overall effectiveness of the teacher’s methods.

What went wrong? I thought I understood this! If you only paid more attention in class, then you would have received a higher grade.

These and other thoughts  may ring in students’ heads as they see that low score (or for teachers, when they write that score). In ESL classrooms, failure might happen on a grammar or vocabulary exam. It may also happen while students are asked to speak (i.e. a role play, speech, or general answer). ESL students are heavily dependent on guided practice while in a classroom setting. Countries such as China, South Korea, and Japan have a low percentage of English speakers overall. English is rarely used outside of the classroom, so students receive little to no practice in daily communication. A communication breakdown doesn’t mean the end, but allows teachers to focus on areas that need improvement.

Using the Communicative Language ApproachEducation & Languages

The Communicative Language Approach  is based on the idea that learning language successfully comes through having to communicate real meaning. When learners are involved in real communication, they use natural strategies for acquiring their second language, and this will allow them to learn to use the language. These strategies may be

It became popular in the 1970s and early ’80s in Europe first, then moved over to the United States. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) emphasizes using a meaningful exchange of language rather than simple call and response. Many ESL teaching methods still rely on traditional tests, teacher-led drills, and excessive teacher talk time. While traditional tests, drills and teacher lectures aren’t bad, in fact sometimes they are very necessary to check for comprehension and ensure the students correctly pronounce words and phrases. But such techniques don’t allow for meaningful practice for the learners.

CLT has five major features:

  1. An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
  2. The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
  3. The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the learning process itself.
  4. An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
  5. An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom.

These five features show a desire for L2 learners to use effective, and meaningful communication in their second language. Using authentic texts, such as novels, provide opportunities for ESL learners to experience the various was English is used in literature. Television shows and movies provide examples of English use in real-world situations. These features also allow ESL students to make connections with their own lives and culture.

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Classroom activities for using CLT

Classroom activities guided by the communicative approach are characterized by trying to produce meaningful and real communication, at all levels. As a result there may be more emphasis on skills than systems, lessons are more learner-centered, and there may be use of authentic materials.

Classroom activities used in communicative language teaching include the following:

  • Role-play
  • Interviews
  • information gap
  • Games
  • Language exchanges
  • Surveys
  • Pair-work
  • Learning by teaching (flipped-classroom)

 

To bring this back to the original premise, even though ESL students may consistently fail in performance, that just means a different approach should be used. Failure provides opportunities to learn in greater detail, and to focus on specific areas. I want to close with this quote by Sir Winston Churchill:

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4 Comments

Filed under Assessment, China, Classrooms, Education, Elementary Education, English, ESL, Failure, Grades, Japan, K through 12, learning, Middle School Students, Secondary Education, South Korea, Teaching

4 responses to “Addressing Frequent Failure in ESL Classrooms

  1. This is a really comprehensive piece of information that we should all listen to. Yes there needs to be alot of communication in the classroom and sadly that is often the difference between the ‘okay language centre, and the ‘GREAT language centre!’.

    I do think it all comes down to the teacher. If the teacher feels confident to let students speak, there have already conquered the first mountain. After that it is just coming up with interesting activities (which you have included above!) but also understanding the whole reason why communication is the key in this all.

    However also there are some students (of which we have all have some, that just find learning a language really difficult. Often it seems like they are really ‘left brained’. It doesn’t mean they can’t learn, it just means they need many different strategies to help them. That’s the challenge for the teacher.

    I have a post myself called ‘What kind of ESL Learner are you?” which gets students and teachers to think about how they learn best. https://aiyshahelit.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/what-kind-of-esl-learner-are-you-take-the-quiz/

    Thanks for the great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting! I agree that sometimes, student progress does come down to the teacher and other times the students may have difficulty learning a new language. It’s hard to accept that some students just cannot learn another language. Part of being a great teacher, in my opinion, is knowing your students’ abilities and helping achieve their best in whatever they excel at. If a student cannot learn a second language, then find out what the student can do well and help them find the right resources to do well.

      Like

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