Teach English in Kundu Zhen - Chifeng Shi

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Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) is both uniquely rewarding and challenging. In a traditional ESL teaching model, the roles of teacher and learner are fixed and static. The teacher teaches, the student receives and replicates. This teaching model trains students to be fundamentally dependant on their ESL teachers for their learning needs. Students view the instructor as a subject matter expert and rely on her to divulge her wisdom and in doing so (somehow) transform the students into fluent speakers of English. The inevitable outcome of this model is to mould students into passive recipients of information transmitted by the teacher, leaving the student ill equipped for post-school and/or life-long learning. “To teach is to learn twice.” ~ Joseph Joubert In contrast to the traditional ESL teaching model, the Peer learning (PL) model of teaching and learning is highly effective in the ESL classroom as it allows instructors and students to break free of their rigidly defined classroom roles. PL covers a broad range of activities, however, in its broadest sense the PL model can be loosely defined as ‘students learning from and with each other in both formal and informal ways’ (Andrews and Manning 2016). In its simplest form, PL loosely describes a learning method through which one student provides instruction to a fellow student in material on which the first is strong and the second is less strong. The PL concept places a very strong emphasis on encouraging students to become actively engaged in the teaching process through pair and/or group work. In a PL classroom, the teacher may only be actively involved as group facilitators or they may simply initiate student-directed activities such as workshops or learning partnerships. Often, in a PL classroom, it is the students themselves that are driving learning activities, while the teacher takes a more subtle role in the students’ learning experience. In an ESL classroom, peer-to-peer assessment can be utilised for learning feedback skills, self-reflection and increased learning. To accomplish these objectives, it is critically important that the teacher provides students with effective scaffolding, in the form of well-constructed, easily understandable rubrics, with detailed explanation, and numerous examples and walkthroughs. Without this scaffolding the students cannot be expected to succeed in the task. The teacher must walk students through the peer assessment process and show them how to make valid decisions and construct valuable feedback for their peers. It is important that the rubrics are detailed and offer specific examples. As students become familiar with the criteria then fewer examples will need to be used. Rubrics should also draw attention to the current curriculum with targeted questions. If the current focus is on grammar, build the rubric around common grammatical errors (with examples). Students will start to recognise these errors in their peers work and then will hopefully begin to recognise when they make these errors themselves. The feedback received from fellow students is often better received than feedback received from teachers. Students are able to explain mistakes and make suggestions for improvement to one another on a level that is more approachable and understandable. Students generally have more time and less bias than the teacher. Furthermore, the actual giving of feedback and suggesting ways to improve is a skill in its self and leads to self-reflection and increased learning. Studies have shown that students who learn in cooperative learning groups acquire more knowledge at a greater rate, take greater responsibility for their own learning and maintain focus for longer periods (Fernandez-Santander, 2008). Other research has found students' reading (Katims and Harris 1997; Klosterman, 1970), verbal skills (Shaver & Nuhn, 1971), and self-concept (Scruggs & Osguthorpe 1986) is improved through peer-mediated instruction. “You can pay people to teach, but you can’t pay them to care.” ~ Marva Collins. A further and greatly undervalued benefit of PL in an ESL classroom is the interpersonal relationships formed within a student cohort and the effect these relationships can have on the student learning experience. Whereas an ESL teacher may only meet student for as little as 1-2 hours per week, students engage with each other over a medium to long period (weeks, months, years) and they engage in multiple ways, both inside and outside the classroom through formal and informal interactions across different mediums (online and offline). This repeated, ongoing interaction builds trust, understanding, emotional connections and creates levels of comradery and support that cannot (and arguably should not) be replicated by the teacher (regardless of her/his skill level or intentions).PL activities typically lead to greater team-building spirit and more supportive relationships; which, in-turn, leads to greater levels of psychological well-being, social competence, communication skills and self-esteem (Briggs 2013). One of the greatest hesitations among teachers to introducing PL into the ESL classroom, is the concern that students will not have the ability (or motivation) to truly offer each other helpful feedback. However, this concern has been demonstrated to be unfounded. In terms of summative assessment, a number of studies have found student ratings of their peers to be both reliable and valid. Orpen (1982) found no difference between teacher and student grades of assignments in terms of average ratings, variations in ratings, agreement in ratings or relationship between ratings. Furthermore Arnold et al. (1981) reported that peer ratings of students were generally consistent with the teacher. Arnold et al. (1981) also found that students considered feedback received from peers to be unbiased and valid. It has been the experience of the author that introducing P2P learning and assessment into the ESL classroom encourages a greater sense of involvement and responsibility, establishes a clearer framework and promotes excellence among students while directing attention to skills and learning and provide increased feedback. In summary, the traditional model of teaching is outdated and ineffective for learning, especially for English language learners and particularly for those in a school-based environment (Primary, Secondary or Tertiary). At the very best the traditional teaching model will allow students to ‘parrot’ phrases and there is rarely scope for students to experiment the flow, rhythm and cadence of the English language. PL improves critical thinking skills and encourages self-reflection and increased learning. While those benefits alone make PL worth implementing in the classroom, the time spent by students engaging with each other, uninhibited, in the target language is greatly increased, and this (in the author's opinion) is the single greatest thing any ESL teacher could hope for. Mastery of a language (or any other skill) comes through hours and hours of practice, repetition and implementation. The more repetition and engagement (i.e. speaking/thinking/communicating in English) opportunities that are provided for students, the faster they are likely to learn effective communication in English. Peer-assisted learning is extremely useful in an ESL classroom as it offers much greater opportunities for English learners to practice and utilise language skills and concepts . ================================================================================================== BIBLIOGRAPHY Andrews, M., Manning, N. 2016. A Guide to Peer-to-Peer Learning. How to make peer-to-peer support and learning effective in the public sector? Effective Institutions Platform. Arnold, L., Willoughby, L., Calkins, V., Gammon, L., Eberhart, G. 1981. Use of peer evaluation in the assessment of medical students. Academic Medicine 56: 35–42. Briggs, S. 2013. How Peer Teaching Improves Student Learning and 10 Ways To Encourage It. InformED. Fernández-Santander, A. 2008. Cooperative learning combined with short periods of lecturing: A good alternative in teaching biochemistry. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 36: 34–38. Katims, D. S., Harris, S. 1997. Improving the reading comprehension of middle school students in inclusive classrooms. Journal of adolescent & adult literacy 41: 116. Klosterman, S. R. 1970. The effectiveness of a diagnostically structured reading program. The Reading Teacher: 159–167. Orpen, C. 1982. Student versus lecturer assessment of learning: a research note. Higher education 11: 567–572. Scruggs, T. E., Osguthorpe, R. T. 1986. Tutoring interventions within special education settings: A comparison of cross-age and peer tutoring. Psychology in the Schools 23: 187–193. Shaver, J. P., Nuhn, D. 1971. The effectiveness of tutoring underachievers in reading and writing. The Journal of Educational Research 65: 107–112.