I have been thinking about my past experience teaching discrete ESL. It is one of those experiences that I wish I could forget – erase out of my head, but the more I try, the more I think about it. Well, I read that the best way to deal with bad memories is to either talk or write about them– so here it is:
“You should not ask students to read aloud! You are only to focus on reading – when they read aloud they are speaking, which is not the focus of the lesson,” said the person in charge.
“No! A cloze exercise will not work for the listening group because you will be asking them to read and write…” said another teacher during a lesson planning meeting.
“Why are you asking students to discuss their ideas with each other? They are supposed to be writing – not talking!” said the person in charge.
“We chose this approach because we want to place students according to their skill level, and they all have different skill levels. If they are level 3 in speaking, they should go to level 3, and if they are level 5 in writing, then they should go to level 5. That way we avoid multi-level groups, which are too difficult to teach,” said another, while trying to explain why the school adopted this (crazy) approach to teaching adult ESL.
“Banking is the theme for this week. Students should only be writing about banking! Why are you teaching them to read graphs?” asked the person in charge.
I tried to explain that ‘discrete’ does not mean isolated. ‘Discrete’ means the focus is on one skill, without completely getting rid of the others. Well! Who said I could speak when I was only to listen! Pfft… Now you know why it is an experience I wish I could forget. I feel better already.
Oxford (2001) explains that discrete teaching is one of those ESL approaches that is not conducive to communicative competence. In an adult ESL context, where the aim is to provide learners with authentic experiences, a discrete approach is counterproductive. Although it might work well for students seeking to hone a particular skill, or for programs offering skill training (business writing, for example), it is an antiquated approach. In real life (not nightmares!), we go about our days interchanging skills as we interact, socialize, and set goals. Maybe multilevel is not as bad as some might make it to be. Think about opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, building from each other’s strengths, and learning from our mistakes. Hey! That just sounds just like life itself.
Have you had experience teaching multi-level classes? Please share a favourite strategy!