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Students learning English as a foreign language are often confronted with the challenge of learning and using English effectively. Some students seem to cope with the difficulties of language learning with great success and neither little effort, while for others the task is neither an enjoyable nor a successful one. What is it that makes learning a new language so easy for some and so difficult for others? One reason is that “each student has his/her own preferred way of learning that is determined by his/her cultural and educational background and personality” (Shoebottom, 2007).
BRIEF LESSON OUTLINE
In this assignment I evaluated differences in learners’ responses and considered ways in which the quality of their learning could be improved. The lesson was aimed to help the students understand and use the 2nd Conditional in the context of life survival. I designed a lesson of an escape survival plan at school which consisted in following rules of a fire exit plan in every room. It’s the kind of thing you always see on your hotel door, with a plan of all the exits, staircases, elevators and rooms. I gave them a fun and language rich way to use these plans in a zombie-infested building right here at school, of course, containing plenty of grammar-juice in it.
There are 20 students in my class. The learners described are intermediate students whose ages varied from 16’s to 17’s.I have been teaching them for about 9 months. They show great interest in language learning and most of them like my teaching approaches and interact with me well in class. 2/3 of the students are of average level of the class. They like to communicate in class but are weak at the accuracy of language.
DIFFERENCES IN LEARNERS’ RESPONSES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Having observed and taught the class, I can figure out that each student has his/her own way of following my teaching stages and activities during the
lesson. These different ways seemed to influence how they responded to different teaching methods I applied in each activity and how successful they were in understanding and using the language focus. The differences discussed later include the learners’ age, motivation, personality, and social and cultural background.
Compared to motivation, personality, and social and cultural background, age seems to be easier to define and measure. Nevertheless, the relationship between learners’ age and their potential success in foreign or second language acquisition is still a subject of debate. “Linguists argue that many young learners are capable of communicating successfully in a foreign language, in terms of accent, word choice, or grammatical features because they begin learning a language when they are young” (Lightbown & Spada, 2003). I, therefore, planned and set up activities that helped them understand, practice, and produce the language form gradually in a relaxed atmosphere and a non-threatening way. My group stated that they preferred working in pairs to other options. They were shown to be well balanced in the primary senses; Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic which people use principally in learning. This information is in line with my observations of this group in class and I believe is also somewhat representative of their age. Being teenagers, they have still to fully develop their preferred learning styles and learners of this age group often feel self-conscious about being ‘criticized’ or corrected in front of others. Having said this, I found my group to be attentive and well-balanced learners.
My students were very motivated and excited planning their way out of a zombie-infested building. They started acting a little, and they could not wait to start the lesson. They did not mind following my instructions and were willing to do any activities set up in each teaching practice. In order to sustain the pupils’ motivation, I set up a variety of activities, i.e., guessing pictures, role play, listening tasks, team work, highlighting form and pronunciation, mingling speaking activity. By doing these various activities, I could avoid boredom and increase their interest levels during the one hour lesson. Williams (1999) cites the work of Gardner (1985) and defines motivation as consisting of effort, plus desire to achieve the goal of learning, plus favorable attitudes towards learning the language. A distinction is made between integrative (or intrinsic) orientation, which occurs when the learner wishes to identify with the culture of the target language, and instrumental (extrinsic) orientation, which occurs when motivation arises from external goals, such as passing exams, financial rewards, or furthering a career. Lamb, M. (2012) adds a third category: success in the task, which is a combination of satisfaction and reward.
One of the challenges I faced teaching this lesson (in the beginning) was the discipline. I made clear right from the start of the lesson what the rules of the classroom were and the consequences of not behaving well, this made the students’ behavior in my classroom much better The personality of the group as a whole was of outgoing teenagers. They were eager to participate and even the shy ones contributed willingly in this lesson. A few of them, the extroverts, were the ones who volunteered more. Usually, these are the most prominent students, and this helped in modeling correctly for their peers. They had no problem in following instructions and started work immediately. I was pleased to see they agreed to work without hesitation. They did prefer to work with a friend, as it often happens when they have been together for at least three years, but still they worked collaboratively.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL BACKGROUND
The social background of the students in this Institution is of a well-off family with moral values. The majority of them go abroad for their holidays and own a house and one or two cars. Their parents either own a business or have an executive position in a company. They belong to a club and have lessons in the afternoon of martial arts or practice a sport. During this lesson I noticed an active participation, students also play active roles in developing the knowledge that was to be learned, this in my own way of seeing things is that a student that has a better social status tends to be
more organized and more structured this also involves some shifting of roles and responsibilities; teachers become less directive and more facilitative, while students assume increasing responsibility. During this class my students took risks with the language in communicative tasks. They expressed their ideas orally without being afraid of making mistakes. They were more concerned with speaking fluently than speaking accurately. Altogether, I believe a good social and cultural background contributes for a better learning environment. (Shoebotton, 2007) ✔
IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LEARNING FOR THE LEARNERS
Having described my students above, I am determined to improve their learning quality through some teaching strategies I elaborate in the following paragraphs. The strategies will be in accordance with their age, motivation, personality, and social and cultural background. During the class I noticed that some students did their best to maintain communication with their peers, but their pronunciation and their structure was not very successful. I was very happy to see that the language was produced but I think it was not good enough for an activity of this magnitude. In the future I will conduct oral productive stages to cater the weak learners. Later, I will also monitor them and give feedback on their erroneous expressions so they will find the communicative activity more meaningful and almost at the same time they will pay more attention to form in a more interesting way. I will maintain highlighting form and pronunciation since they like to pay attention to details of language, especially grammar rules. I will set up activities related to language form so that they can be more motivated to show their grammar competence. Afterwards, I will ask them to practice the form in a guided speaking activity so that they will be more ready to enter a freer speaking activity. In relation to the students’ motivation, besides setting up activities that suit their learning characteristics, I will also keep setting up various activities ranging from initial to main activities and from receptive skill to productive skill stages. By doing so, I can avoid teaching patterns that potentially create boredom and gradually demotivate their learning spirit. Instead, I will conduct different activities in each stage that can optimally increase their motivation.
Having stated the learners and learning issues above, I believe that varying classroom activities, teachers will make sure to cater learners with different learning styles at least some of the time. If we balance the activities to suit the learning styles, it is quite probable that the outcome will be the result of a well-planned lesson. Timing also plays an important role in planning lessons. While some activities like completing a task in a limited time proves to set pressure upon the learners. This assignment makes me really reflect on my teaching experiences. I believe this assignment contributes a great deal towards my teaching skills and in turn potentially develop my understanding towards my students’ learning styles, responses, and achievements.
Shoebottom, P. 2007. Language learning styles. Retrieved on November 23, 2007 from http://esl.fis.edu/parents/advice/styles.htm Lightbown, P.M. & Spada, N. 2003. How Languages Are Learned. UK: Oxford University Press Williams, M., & Burden, L. R. (1997). Psychology for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gardner, R. C. (2006). The socio-educational model of second language acquisition: A research paradigm. EUROSLA Yearbook, 6, 237-260. Lamb, M. (2012). A self-system perspective on young adolescents’ motivation to learn English in rural and urban settings. Language Learning, 62, 997-1023.