The class I observed consisted of eight students, all of varying ages between 27 and 60; they came from different countries and entered this class to practice their English skills and to improve their vocabulary. They had different levels of English proficiency, depending on their age, and how long they had both been in the country and had sought formal education. The classroom was located in Boston, taught by a single American teacher, in an intimate setting. The teacher instructed the students to work together in pairs to practice exercises in English.
The teacher gave them exercises in reading in English, in listening and responding to his statements and questions, in having the students listen to and question each other, grammatical lessons, and writing simple sentences in response to simple questions posed by the teacher. The main goal of the lesson was to teach new vocabulary and begin to use more complex words and phrases as they worked to master their knowledge pools. According to O’Malley, Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Kupper, and Russo, students tend to expend the least energy to accomplish a task, including sticking to the least complex language options (“Learning Strategies,” 42). This means that since the students have such simple tasks, the teacher should be aware of the efforts they put forth, to be sure their learning is most efficient.
The writing exercises were very basic and may not have taught the students how to truly express themselves in the new language. A study by Zamel says that “Students wrote more and with greater fluency and satisfaction when their writing involved them personally, while they wrote with less facility when the writing was more objectified” (197). These findings suggest that students who are only writing from textbooks or lessons may not be learning a new language to the best of their potential; the teacher might benefit from allowing the students to partake in creative writing pieces, to share their lives and their experiences with their classmates, and to help them connect to the language on a deeper level, allowing them to absorb the vocabulary more efficiently and more thoroughly.
The teacher went through a brief review at the beginning of each class, engaging the students in a brief dialog, such as asking what they did between classes, if they had any questions about the review material, such as something they didn’t understand in class, or failed to understand once they got home. The students are encouraged to try and answer each other’s questions if they can, which helps them to work through the rules and subtle difficulties of English. They can relate better to their own experiences in learning such a difficult language, and can sometimes more intuitively understand how to guide each other through the lessons where they struggle.
The teacher also summarized the main points, going through a few of the main vocabulary words, before pushing onto the new lesson. Some of the lessons went a little more smoothly than others in transition, because they drew directly from the previous lessons, either as variations of the rules, or in different parts of speech and grammatical structures, or the vocabulary was in a similarly themed group, such as words around the home, or words for feelings, or related verbs.
Some of the students struggled a little more than others, because of their prior experience with the language outside of class, but they could sometimes help each other during group exercises, which seemed to encourage them as they worked through the lesson. I observed the students correcting and helping each other mostly in their pairs and groups as they did busywork when they had more freedom to speak freely together and to give feedback in real-time.
O'Malley, J. Michael, Anna Uhl Chamot, Gloria Stewner-Manzanares, Lisa Kupper, and Rocco
P. Russo. "Learning Strategies Used By Beginning And Intermediate ESL Students." Language Learning 35.1 (1985): 21-46. Print.
Zamel, Vivian. "Writing: The Process of Discovering Meaning." TESOL Quarterly 16.2 (1982): 195-209. JSTOR. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.