УДК 37.013 Galina M. Kuzenko
Focus on the Learner
Each teacher must deal with a class - a group of individuals with different needs often growing out of their different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. ESL students have widely different needs, because of differences in cultural background, age, and previous education. Even if the students in one class are all from the same language group, they inevitably have different learning styles and needs. It means, that the teacher needs to be aware of the difficulties involved in teaching students. Their social needs, their assumptions about school, and the academic needs peculiar to each group also need to be taken into account. One way to deal with these differences - perhaps the only way to do so creatively - is through individualized instruction.
In Handscombe's article we can find a number of practical suggestions for individualizing ESL classes for adults, high school students, and elementary school children. Handscombe and his colleagues suggest that teachers should individualize ESL instruction so that they teach in the ways in which students learn. They should assess each student's needs, recording a profile with such items as age, previous education and attitude toward education, preferred learning style, previous language learning, personality, occupation, and home environment. The teacher can assess student needs through observation, class discussions, individual talks with students, and assigned essays or questionnaires. Then, ideally, the teacher will have some notion about the student's needs, including these aspects of their learning style: preference for learning alone, in small groups, and in large groups, ear / eye preference, preference for observation vs. participation, use of language analysis, rules, and explanations, preference for immersion, use of translation, use of visuals, uses of rote learning.
When the teacher has some idea of his / her students' needs and learning styles, he/she suggests a variety of individualized activities. Students could use the language lab alone during and out-side of class. Even at the very beginning level, they could observe and note down the words they see on billboards and bring them to class for discussion. More advanced students could be assigned to find out prices and other information from restaurants or airlines, and later report back to the class. A variation of this would be to have students interview people in the community, such as personnel managers for a factory or a social worker at a clinic, and report back to the class or what they find out.
Teachers have to be concerned with the different emotional needs of their students and the importance of meeting these needs. To have some idea about a student's social needs, emotional needs, and learning style, observation and intuition may be more productive tools than assigning questionnaires or essays to the students. Contrastive analyses may be very helpful for the teacher, not just in pointing out phonological, syntactic, and semantic problems, but sometimes in describing areas of cultural differences or discourse differences. Teachers can take social and emotional needs into consideration when they pick topics for discussion and assign students to groups. Every teacher must remember that every ESL student is unique because of his / her background. Some factors which combine to make students unique are native language, cultural background, age, emotional and social needs, learning style, level of education, and previous instruction in English. Teaching English the teacher has to remember that some students have a strong need for an authoritarian classroom atmosphere. Because of personality, age, some students want to be told exactly what to do. They feel tha a class is a place not for learning but for being taught. Other students want a democratic atmosphere; they want to contribute to discussions, give presentations, and make suggestions about what activities should go on in class. One way for the teacher to deal with this situation is to make his or her own objectives and standards clear to the students and accomplish some of these objectives through "democratic" teaching methods.
One methodology currently receiving much attention is cooperative learning, a classroom arrangement wherein students are divided into smaller groups or teams that complete various curricular tasks. Cooperative learning models offer great promise for making effective language use accessible to many language learners. When implemented appropriately, cooperative learning is more than simply group work, for students have specified roles and individual responsibilities create the need for particular kinds of communication to clarify tasks and solve problems. Second language learners can practice language in small groups without the fear of making errors in front of the whole class. Futhermore, because students operate as a team, it becomes important for other group members to provide input adapted to the individual comprehension skills of those in their group; moreover, because rewards depend on team achievements, individual learners are more likely to be motivated to accomplish the tasks using as much of the secnd language as they can muster. Cooperative learning techniques put second language learning in the service of interesting tasks used to teach content. These techniques make all students, language tutors for other students, and thus give learners many more sources of input and correction than they would get in a solely teacher - centered classroom.
Cooperative learning should certainly not be used to the exclusion of other methods, but together with other methods it encourages dialog as a basis of learning and offers a better chance for providing the cognitive and linguistic scaffolding that supports further language development.
Obviously, all language learners show individual variation in their learning patterns and preferences. Moreover, each classroom is different, so teachers need to modify relevant techniques to suit their particular local contexts. Research indicates that both teacher training and teacher attitudes are important in providing successful instruction, so teachers need to examine their own attitudes toward the students they instruct. The relative success of any new technique is premised both on the teachers' knowledge and on the teachers' belief that students can succeed and on their ability to communicate this belief to the students. In such a supportive environment, the instructional innovations in materials and techniques will help teachers provide better instruction for all students.
Handscomble, J. Individualizing the ESL program (or teaching in the ways in which students learn). - TESL Talk, 1974
Logan G.E. Individualized Foreign Language Learning: Organic Process. - New York: Newbury House, 1973.
McKay S.L. Language Diversity: Problem or Resource? - New Yorky: Newbury House, 1988.
Simon S. B. Howe, and H.Kirschenbaum. Values clarification: A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students. - New York: Hart, 1972.