English language learners Unit

There are many approaches to teaching English as a second language to English language learners (ELL). One of the approaches in ESL teaching, Autonomous learning approach, involves increasing the participation of learners in the classroom and giving learners more control in directing the learning process. This approach challenges the traditional approach where the learner plays a passive role in the learning process and is viewed as a sponge to absorb knowledge in the form of “whatever is thrown at him or her.” From a humanistic point of view, learner autonomy is the notion of learners `self-direction` and `self-initiation` of their learning both inside and outside the classroom as part and parcel of experimentation and discovery. Chan (2001) identified five main characteristics of autonomous learners.
1. Set learning goals, identify and develop learning strategies to achieve such goals
2. Develop study plans
3. Reflects on learning which includes identifying problem areas and means of addressing these problems
4. Identify and selects relevant resources and the necessary support
5. Assess hi/her own progress and defines his/her own criteria for evaluating performance and learning
Therefore, learners should be involved in identifying the key areas to be covered in lessons. They can do this by the instructor conducting surveys to understand which areas the learners feel inadequate in so as to be covered in class. By autonomous learners having study goals, it is easier for instructors to involve the students in fine-tuning the goals of even making them academically relevant.
Building background to learning involves creating the right environment for learning. Education experts have for long indicated that learning takes place in a social environment. This means that the classroom has to maintain a social background to create easiness and even allow learners to learn. Therefore, it is important in this case for the instructor to create a learning background that supports learning. One way of creating an enabling background environment is by devising interesting classroom activities to keep the class environment interesting and not boring. This involves play acting to enable leaners put into practice vocabularies learnt in class. The other way would be having learners even imitating the teacher in the teaching process to challenge them in their language and also provide them with a point of reference in their pursuit of fluency in English language.
Keeping learning diaries or journals. Learning journals or diaries are important in identifying areas of difficulties that the leaners might need extra help and promote balanced learning critical for formulating assessments. In this age of technology and the internet, one way of keeping diaries is writing blogs. Fageeh, A. (2011) says that blogs can be written to capture daily learning activities on the side of the student. They act as a medium of communication between the learners and teachers and learner and other leaners as well as a tool for organizing their learning and reflection. This tool raises learners` awareness of what, why and how of English being learned. The logbook uses the target language and thus it allows the learner to practice using the language and the teacher on the other hand uses it to identify problematic areas in writing in the target language for individual students. This way the teacher can understand what areas of the course material that learners have not understood in two ways. The first way is how learners have used key expression or vocabularies used in class. The second way is student admitting difficulties in understanding certain areas of the course.
Formation of groups by learners themselves and not the teacher. Learners should be allowed to organize themselves into groups to discuss course material. However, these groups should not be formed based on performance in L2 but based on other interests. Lacey (2007) says that the differences between able and low ability students is less obvious when other common interests are used as basis for forming groups. Groups allow learner-to-learner interactions using target language (English) more freely without supervision of the teacher which aid in strengthening their language skills and proficiency. Goals can be set individually or by the group which should have a group leader. Learners should strive to reach their goals over a set time period. The goals should be realistic and challenging.
Regular assessments and constructive feedback. Assessments not only enable teachers to evaluate and grade students but also indicates to them the most problematic areas. In most cases, teachers can identify patters in a group of students in their performance and possibly deduce the cause of such problems. Assessments also encourage students to regularly study outside the classroom and increase their input in the learning process. However, assessments should not be an end unto themselves but should also a point of evaluation. Instructors must be ready and willing to offer comprehensive and constructive feedback to the learners in their tests. A qualitative study by Mustafa (2012) on five Saudi students studying in a private college in Canada revealed that they desired more targeted feedback from teachers than offered. They argued that detailed feedback enabled them to be more independence and thus achieve learner autonomy. This research thus supports use of detailed teacher feedback on assessments and classwork. Therefore, it is important that the instructor gives comprehensive feedback where applicable.
References
Fageeh, A. (2011) `EFL learners` use of blogging for developing writing skills and enhancing
attitudes towards English learning: an exploratory study.` Journal of Language and Literature 2, (1) 31-48.
Chan, V. (2001) `Self-assessment as an autonomous learning tool in an interpretation
classroom education` [Abstract]. Journal of Further and Higher Education 25, (3) 285-300.
Lacey, F. (2007) `Autonomy, never, never, never!` Independence 42, 4-8.
Mustafa, R. F. (2012) `Feedback on the Feedback: Sociocultural Interpretation of Saudi ESL
Learners` Opinions about Writing Feedback.` English Language Teaching 5, 3- 15.

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