During my practicum experience, every new lesson fit a format designated by my mentor teacher. The format of every class sort of followed a general “present grammar point, structured practice, less structured practice” format. I understood this format to mean that we were slowly releasing students to use the language structure freely after providing structured practice activities that elicited the target language and presenting the grammar rules explicitly. I think this way of presenting the material worked well in the grammar class context, but I’m not so sure it works as well in a reading and writing class context.
With my current students, a certain amount of explicit rule instruction seems necessary most of the time, as they are at quite a low-level of proficiency. However, I sometimes find myself wanting to reverse the “instruction, structured practice, free practice” format to allow my students to try to extrapolate the language structures and rules by first experiencing the structures in context.
For example, we have learned about the parts of a basic paragraph over the last few weeks, and I asked my students to write a paragraph about a trip they took (we are also learning the simple past tense this week). First, I asked the students to write sentences that could be in the body of their paragraph in a shared Google Document. Each student had to write at least five sentences. After they were done writing, I asked the students to help each other correct mistakes in their sentences (mostly grammar and mechanics). After everyone had a number of detail sentences completed, I gave each student a copy of an example paragraph someone wrote about their trip to Chicago. We examined the topic and concluding sentences and created a title for the paragraph together. I gave this paragraph to them in the hopes that they would use the basic format of the paragraph as a guide for their own writing. While we had already covered the general “rules” regulating how to make topic and concluding sentences, this example paragraph was an explicit example of the sort of writing I was expecting them to produce.
We will go over their first drafts tomorrow in class, so I’m anxious to see how well they used the example paragraph as a guide to their writing.
When it comes to my own continuing education on how to be an ESL teacher, I think examining the ways I’ve formatted my lessons (in whatever class I’m teaching) and how effective or ineffective the lessons were with regard to the format is important. I think one lesson comes up every time I try to draw any conclusions from my teaching: teachers must be flexible and willing to adapt to their learners and each educational context. It seems to me that this is the most important skill new teachers can learn during their teacher education programs. Being flexible and able to adapt to new teaching (and learning) contexts can mean the success or failure of the students involved and the teacher’s own continuing professional learning. It almost seems that every other skill can be learned as you go, as long as you are able to seek out the support and resources you need to adapt your teaching to your students and the classroom context.