Closing the Curriculum Gap for ESL Teachers
by Jen Cullerton Johnson
As the school year approaches the midway mark, many ESL teachers may grow more anxious as the countdown begins. One looming question may be on their minds: How do we fit everything in with less time? How do we determine what is essential?
There are no magic formulas to add extra hours into the day. There are, however, some tried-and-true suggestions that may calm ESL teachers' nerves and help them refocus at the mid-year with higher aims that will inspire their students to study more.
First, ESL teachers should be familiar with the curriculum guidelines, as well as State and Federal education goals. These objectives are paramount in organizing lessons, field trips, independent study, and end of the year evaluations.
Review each point, carefully. Determine what is essential to daily plans, and what can be saved for freer times, such as days before national holidays. After ESL teachers have studied the curriculum they should establish which skill they want their students to master after one year of learning. If an ESL teacher believes that speaking English is the most valuable skill, than for each lesson reinforce the importance of speaking through activities and materials. If another teacher thinks that reading and writing is the essential skill, plan the lessons according to those objectives.
Identifying and designing instruction with a particular skill in mind is an enormous advantage for the ESL teacher and by doing so, the teacher will establish a strong bond of trust with the students. When students enter the classroom, they will recognize what is expected of them and perform to that expectation. Students need consistency. They require practice to master a skill. Each opportunity to learn brings them closer to achieving success.
Secondly, an essential key to closing the curriculum gap is trying to figure out what exactly are the students' "needs." A need is something that the student lacks---be it an academic skill or a social skill. To determine the "need," teachers must know their students. Even if a teacher has new students or last year's students, s/he should start all over again with a clean slate. Meet your students, like one would a stranger on the street, knowing nothing about them, then dig in and get to know them. What do they lack? What do they have? What could they have? Determine what they know about English. How well do they speak? How well can they write, read, and listen? Once a teacher has determined that, the next step is to find out which they are as individuals. What are they interested in? What are their dreams, goals, hobbies, and fears? What music do they like? What food do they prefer? How do they like to spend their free time? From those answers, teachers will know what is the best learning approach for their students. Teachers will also distinguish the individual strengths and weakness of each student in less time and this will contribute to successful learning and lesson planning.
Finally, ESL teachers should consult their colleagues and outside sources for new ideas and theories. As the old saying goes, a student is only as smart as his or her teacher. Therefore, looking at new methods of learning, doing research on language acquisition on the web, and trying out new ideas with other English teachers will enhance the teacher's knowledge of English as well has his or her students.
There are many ways to get a handle on curriculum and how to implement its principles in an ESL classroom. These are just some suggestions for what teachers can do before the year ends.
Remember that teachers are in a unique position to close the gap between guidelines and real, successful learning. In order, to do that, they must know what they think is an essential learning skill, they must know their students, and they must consult with others in order to plan a lesson that motivates students to achieve their highest levels.
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