Discussion:  Who Is an Effective ESL Teacher?

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Participants who responded to this PD activity include:

  • Jean Lemire Dahlman, Director of ABLE, Forsyth

  • Jacqueline Teasdale


Write a brief summary or overview of the reading:

-         I, of course, read the  book in its entirety this past weekend.   I was pleased to note that it is a Canadian publication.  I found it very worthwhile reading and would recommend it to anyone in the field.  For the purpose of this assignment, I will confine my remarks to the chapter on Classroom Management.

The prospective instructor is first asked to recognize that :  1) teaching materials have to be created by the teacher; there is no published text; 2)  students will not proceed in a lockstep fashion, doing the same activities at the same time; 3) the class will not be “perfect”  but,  with good planning  and a good deal of flexibility on the part of the teacher , it need not be chaotic,  and can even be very  successful.

Development of GROUP IDENTITY is paramount.  Why?  With an open entry,  open exit classroom, irregular attendance, infrequent sessions, a mixture of beginners, middle and advanced students from diverse cultural and political backgrounds there can be no growth or individual progress without time and attention given to creating a sense of the group in order to build trust, cooperation, even friendship.  The instructor should begin and end each class session with a group activity, using icebreakers whenever possible.  Care should also be taken to ensure that a variety of small groupings are used.


Standard ability assessments, as delivered by Best Plus or TABE, will not be sufficient.  The instructor must  gather anecdotal information  regarding student strengths and weaknesses in particular areas and record their needs and interests.  Why?  The answers will determine both the types of activity that should be presented and the manner in which it is presented.   It will also help the instructor  resist the temptation to rely solely  on ability groupings,  making use of the rich variety available in a multilevel  ESOL class.


Small-group work offers many pedagogical advantages that the multi-level  teacher can exploit,   most of which give  each student more  opportunities to practice and to contribute.   The function of group work is to make the members interact and communicate with each other. 


Groupings can range  from students working in pairs to groups of 3  and up to a maximum of 7.  The  goal of the activity will determine the make-up and size of the group.  


Disadvantages:  patterns of dominance and leadership tend to develop; does not take into account irregular attendance.


Preferable to  have  several equal-ability and cross-ability  groups organized and ready to deploy,  depending upon the activity.  Wise teachers will not rely exclusively  on any  one pattern but will call on all of them,  according to which one is best for the skill being practiced.


Give it a fair trial:  be aware that student resistance to grouping is common, but normally  short-lived.


Advantages:  more is demanded of the student, promotes new behaviors and problem solving, but biggest innovation is students decide what they want to learn and how hard they want to work.

-         This chapter is about classroom management and how it is most effective. A whole class activity is good for community building but group work is needed for get at other aspects for the multi – level students. Group sizes, number and ability levels in the 4 skills of English should be considered because these factors and combinations of them can enhance different lessons.

What was the most interesting part of the reading for you?

-         The author stresses that the teacher must learn to relinquish the “traditional”  role of teacher and  act more in the role of a facilitator.  Listening in on the typical traditional  class, one wonders if student learning can possibly be  optimum --when the teacher is the one doing most of the talking!  It is when the teacher can relinquish this overt leadership role that ESOL learners, adults with valuable life experiences and a range of abilities,  are  subjects, not   objects, of their own learning.  With the  students making their own decisions to learn, they  can and will work out their own solutions to problems  --if the teacher can resist interfering!

-         The part that talked about grouping according to abilities and how each combination can be better targeted for specific language instruction. Also, the point about combining personalities- which I consider to be one of the biggest factors in classroom management in an ESL class.

How might what you read influence your instructional practice?

-         As director of this program,  I do not regularly  serve  as an instructor.  However, I am enticed and intrigued to try  out this multilevel approach.  With only four ESOL students currently  enrolled in our program  we are,  perhaps, limited in what we might achieve , but it might be worth a try.

-         I will group the more talkative, outgoing ones together and group the quiet ones together, which I usually don’t do.

What benefits may result from this influence?

-         Obviously,  the instructor would have the benefit of being challenged in a new way.  Reciprocally,   we would hope that the students might enjoy  this new arrangement and benefit from this new approach.

-         I think the quiet ones will get more of a chance to talk and the talkative ones will have to listen – or at least one of them will!

What challenges might arise?

-         Foremost  would be finding a class meeting time that would work for all four ESOL students.  The other would be finding the time  to  plan and develop a viable multilevel  curriculum  based on various groupings.  Additional expenses may be incurred in the research,  purchase, and preparation of materials.

-         The same challenge will be the one mentioned in the book, which is having different people on different days and them getting an understanding of the directions so that we all don’t feel like we are doing something new more than getting into the lesson.

What would you like to study further?

-         I've looked over the  resources and references cited in the text and would like to follow up on many  of them.   Some of the authors (Elsa Auerbach, Steve Krashen)  I am already  familiar with and even have  some of their books in my library.  Other texts and authors  cited sound very  inviting.

-         I would like more on classroom management dealing with personalities and cultural differences – the things beyond the ‘4 skills’. In my class everyone is kind, but come in with cultural concepts of what school is, what they should do, others should do. Some cultures are very oral; others don’t speak much in school. I am always thinking of how to balance these personalities and how to best serve them in a group.