So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the fifth one.
I'm starting to hate this class. They want specific answers to questions whose context is completely unknown. I realize their point, but hypotheticals in teaching pisses me off. It's a useless endeavor. Anyway, enjoy.
Imagine that you work in a language school. You have just received a new student from Korea who wants to study English prior to entering a university in the U.S. The student takes the placement test, which is all grammar and vocabulary and mostly multiple choice. She scores quite high; however, she does not speak very well and has difficulty understanding even the simplest spoken language. What balance of the four skills and the four systems would you recommend for her study program? For example, would you focus on reading and writing or utilize her strengths in grammar to introduce topics, but make the exercises mostly listening and speaking? Would you focus on function, pronunciation, productive skills because the test was multiple choice and not a fair assessment of her success in a university with writing papers and listening to lectures?Explain what an appropriate balance would be. How did you reach that recommendation?
It is important to remember that the four skills and the four systems are inextricably bound to one another, both in a practical and an academic sense. That said, there are so many lessons and activities that can integrate any one of many combinations of the four skills as well as the four systems of language. As teachers, I think one of our jobs is to recognize how much of each skill and system we’re incorporating in a lesson or activity, so as to keep the students from being overwhelmed, especially in the given case, in which the mastery of skill sets is quite disproportionate.
The confidence of the student would initially play a large part in the development of an individualized approach. While we want to increase STT, we don’t want to challenge a person’s self-esteem by putting their mistakes on display before they are confident in risk-taking. This can have a dramatic effect in our planning approach for said student.
Because our model student has what seems to be a highly developed sense of grammatical structure and vocabulary, we will use these strengths as a platform upon which to structure activities that focus on her speaking and listening skills, developing phonological awareness. Of course, as she gets more advanced, the vocal inflection that allows us to determine questions, commands, and so on, will be developed, and verbal hints about functionality will be more easily picked up on.
I would probably structure some activities in which other students in class, especially those with a highly developed sense of verbal prosody and fluency, coupled with confidence and clarity, would speak or read aloud, perhaps even act, for the rest of the group. The other students, including our Korean student, would be provided with a copy of the text that is being read. That way, she can follow along as they recite, picking up on the relationships between sounds and letters, solidifying her understanding of the alphabetic principle. This activity would focus on phonological system of English, as well as a listening and reading skill.
As the student gets more comfortable and has been given a chance to see good fluency and prosody modeled in this way, she could give reading aloud a shot herself. This helps the Korean student in her reading and her speaking. While she may not be creating the text she is verbalizing, she is learning the ways in which she manipulates her tongue, teeth, throat, and lips to create the sounds of the English language. This is a focus on both speaking and reading skills, along with assisting her in becoming comfortable with the phonological system of the language.
Once our student has advanced in her ability to manipulate inflection in a way that fits a written text, we can do a lot of practice conversing. I know from experience how beneficial the act of just chatting can be. While this doesn’t work so much on the skill of reading and writing, we’re helping to model good speech, helping her to hone her listening skills, and she is afforded the opportunity to share in a relaxed way. Informal discourse such as this will open us up to more advanced grammar and vocabulary that can help our student gain ownership what have been her strengths to this point. Furthermore, the student has a chance to see the practical benefit and the personal connection with the task of learning English, which can be a great motivator.
It is clear that the skills the student possesses will be of great benefit. We need to structure activities in which those skills are utilized so that she can develop a strong phonological understanding of the English language. This is done via a combination of speaking, listening, and reading. We can increase the utility of an activity or lesson if we are able to integrate one skill with another, such as reading aloud (integrates reading and speaking), or following a text as another student reads aloud (integrates reading and listening).
As our student overcomes her challenges, we can continue to work on all four skill sets within all four systems of language in a more balanced manner.
RESPONSE FROM ONLINE TUTOR
Your choice to utilize a balanced approach to facilitate an intensive listening and speaking focus shows an astute grasp of integrating skills based on individual student needs. Also, your ability to match the items listed in the question with the appropriate language system shows an excellent grasp of the systems concept.