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Focus on the Learner

Focus on the Learner
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УДК 37.013 Galina M. Kuzenko
Focus on the Learner
Each teacher must deal with a class - a group of individuals with different needs often growing out of their different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. ESL students have widely different needs, because of differences in cultural background, age, and previous education. Even if the students in one class are all from the same language group, they inevitably have different learning styles and needs. It means, that the teacher needs to be aware of the difficulties involved in teaching students. Their social needs, their assumptions about school, and the academic needs peculiar to each group also need to be taken into account. One way to deal with these differences - perhaps the only way to do so creatively - is through individualized instruction.
In Handscombe's article we can find a number of practical suggestions for individualizing ESL classes for adults, high school students, and elementary school children. Handscombe and his colleagues suggest that teachers should individualize ESL instruction so that they teach in the ways in which students learn. They should assess each student's needs, recording a profile with such items as age, previous education and attitude toward education, preferred learning style, previous language learning, personality, occupation, and home environment. The teacher can assess student needs through observation, class discussions, individual talks with students, and assigned essays or questionnaires. Then, ideally, the teacher will have some notion about the student's needs, including these aspects of their learning style: preference for learning alone, in small groups, and in large groups, ear / eye preference, preference for observation vs. participation, use of language analysis, rules, and explanations, preference for immersion, use of translation, use of visuals, uses of rote learning.
When the teacher has some idea of his / her students' needs and learning styles, he/she suggests a variety of individualized activities. Students could use the language lab alone during and out-side of class. Even at the very beginning level, they could observe and note down the words they see on billboards and bring them to class for discussion. More advanced students could be assigned to find out prices and other information from restaurants or airlines, and later report back to the class. A variation of this would be to have students interview people in the community, such as personnel managers for a factory or a social worker at a clinic, and report back to the class or what they find out.
Teachers have to be concerned with the different emotional needs of their students and the importance of meeting these needs. To have some idea about a student's social needs, emotional needs, and learning style, observation and intuition may be more productive tools than assigning questionnaires or essays to the students. Contrastive analyses may be very helpful for the teacher, not just in pointing out phonological, syntactic, and semantic problems, but sometimes in describing areas of cultural differences or discourse differences. Teachers can take social and emotional needs into consideration when they pick topics for discussion and assign students to groups. Every teacher must remember that every ESL student is unique because of his / her background. Some factors which combine to make students unique are native language, cultural background, age, emotional and social needs, learning style, level of education, and previous instruction in English. Teaching English the teacher has to remember that some students have a strong need for an authoritarian classroom atmosphere. Because of personality, age, some students want to be told exactly what to do. They feel tha a class is a place not for learning but for being taught. Other students want a democratic atmosphere; they want to contribute to discussions, give presentations, and make suggestions about what activities should go on in class.

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