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Studies indicate that countries like the US and other developed countries are experiencing huge demographic changes (Terrazas and Batalova, 2006). This has consequently increased the number of English Language Learners (ELL) students. Studies by Terrazas and Batalova (2008) indicate that the population of ELLs students in US schools is tremendously increasing with their number doubling between 1980s and 2006. Terrazas and Batalova further indicate that the overall number of US students who are categorized as ELLs rose from 6.8 percent to 10.3 percent between 1996 and 2006.
Studies have also indicated that ELLs students usually score poorly in other subjects. This fact has been attributed to their lack of proficiency in English language which makes it difficult for them to understand learning materials for other subjects (Terrazas and Batalova, 2008). Therefore building language proficiency will be of paramount significance in boosting overall performance among ELLs students.
Teaching ELL students is an intricate process that requires well defined strategies. Therefore, this will require an instructor to incorporate different concepts and strategies. This paper will try to highlight some of the most critical strategies and concepts that can be employed by instructors in promoting proficiency of English language among ELLs students. The following are vital strategies that can be employed in enhancing acquisition and proficiency of English language among ELLs students:
This hypothesis was postulated by Krashen and puts emphasis on ‘input’ that causes language acquisition. This hypothesis states that; for second language acquisition to occur, the acquirer must receive comprehensible input through hearing and reading language structures that are above their present ability (Krashen, 1985).
The input theory explains how the acquirer moves from his or her current level (represented by (“I”) of competence to the immediate next level (represented by “i+1”). The necessary condition (but not sufficient) for an acquirer to move from his current level of competence to the next level is based on understanding inputs that contains “i+1”. “Understanding” means the acquirer is focused on the meaning and not the form of the message (Krashen, 1982).
Therefore according to the comprehensible hypothesis, it is vital for the acquirer not to receive inputs that surpass his or her level of competence. Hence for effective English language acquisition to take place, the acquirer must receive comprehensible inputs that are challenging enough so as to improve his or her linguistic proficiency. Therefore this hypothesis puts emphasis on the need to occupy the classroom with acquisition activities or tasks as opposed to learning activities or grammatical structures. This suggests that instructors can serve their students better in English language lessons among ELLs students by introducing various acquisition tasks in classrooms (Ellis, 1997).
This hypothesis also postulates that the acquirer must not be forced to speak too early. It is required that certain quantity of comprehensible input be built first before the acquirer is allowed to speak in classroom. According to Krashen (1982), most second language students will go through a stage referred to as “silent period” during which the learners progressively acquire and built enough comprehensible inputs that will be vital in helping them create their own structures. Therefore language acquisition occurs when the acquirer feels ready (after being exposed to enough “i+1” comprehensible inputs) (Krashen, 1982).
According to comprehensible input theory, when acquirers receive second language inputs that are one step above their current competence, they are able to improve and progress in “a natural order”. This can be made possible with the assistance of extra-linguistic or context information. This means that the acquirers must use more that their knowledge, linguistic competence, context about the world in understanding language that contains structures that are beyond their present level of competence (McLaughlin, 1987).
Therefore the role of ELLs instructors is to ensure that students are provided enough comprehensible inputs as much as possible. According to this hypothesis, comprehensible inputs are characterized by the following elements: interesing and relevant, comprehensible, sufficient (“i+1”) and not grammatically sequenced (McLaughlin, 1987).
On-going, specific, and immediate feedback
One of the instructional strategies that can be employed to ensure English learners become proficient in the language is ‘enhancing different or varying feedbacks’. This strategy requires teachers to study the content of their students’ response. Feedback can either be verbal or non-verbal and is a vital element of demonstrating comprehension of the materials presented to them either verbally or in a non-verbal manner (McLaughlin, 1987).
Feedback will assist the instructors in analyzing if students have comprehended or if they are experiencing language barriers. Therefore it is vital for English instructors to be in a position to distinguish between negative and positive feedbacks which occur when students misinterpret or fail to comprehend materials presented to them. Usually in a class of ELLs, students will give a negative feedback wherever they are experiencing language barriers. Therefore the role that the instructor should play in this case is to break these barriers. The type of feedback will vary depending on the level of second language acquisition and developmental level the students operate at (Ellis, 1997).
Immediate feedback is one of the most efficient types of feedback which is provided immediately after executing a particular learning activity. This type of feedback is indispensable in cultivating communication skills and in building confidence between the young learners and the instructor. Young learners need to be certain that what they are learning is correct or incorrect with no delay. This is because they do not posses enough knowledge to make their judgments regarding their levels of proficiency. When a learner gives an answer that is incorrect, the instructor has the responsibility of providing a corrective feedback which will lead to correct and independent understanding of materials. Therefore according to this strategy, young learners are more likely to be successful with word selection and vocabulary. Young learners at an early production stage will benefit from feedback that mould correct language acquisition. This means that these learners will require varying amount of listening and correction to correctly formed language (Hill & Flynn, 2006).
On-going feedback applies to older learners who are in a position to assess their degree of proficiency in language. Also according to Hill and Flynn (2006), learners who are at intermediate and advanced levels of fluency proficiency require specific feedback. This feedback tends to be similar to that of ‘Native-English’ speakers. Students at this level will require greater exposure to sophisticated models of second language. They should also be encouraged cope with concepts that present some difficulties to them. Also according to this instructional strategy, more emphasis should be put on the content rather than the form of expression at this level. Interactive lessons can help in ensuring specific feedback by building self confidence and also enhancing the level of knowledge (Hill & Flynn, 2006).
Grouping structures and techniques
According to McLaughlin (1987), this method requires instructors for ELLs to put more emphasis on techniques of enhancing interaction through implementing group structures while introducing instructional strategies. The first grouping method that will ensure ELLs students are motivated and effectively corroborate is to group them with their peers who are ‘Native-English’ speakers. This will give the learners a chance to observe the degree of language proficiency they should aim at and also to have a chance of building on their own language skills.
Another form of grouping according to Lessow-Hurley is creating small groups of ELLs consisting of three- five learners. Lessow-Hurley states that, this will be indispensable in enhancing communication in a safe and relaxed environment in which students have no fear of taking risks. Therefore creating small groups helps in driving out nervous tension among learners because each learner in a group will be surrounded by fellow classmates with approximately the same level of English language proficiency. Moreover, this grouping procedure will be vital in helping the instructor to meet diversified needs of a large classroom. Lessow-Hurley further suggestss that, when creating these groups, instructors should take into account the differences between learners. Therefore the instructor should take into consideration the following factors when creating these groups: personal characteristics, levels of knowledge and abilities of the learners. It is also required that the tasks assigned to each group by the instructor should be collective-oriented. Also learners should be made to feel that the success of the group will depend on their personal efforts. This will be vital in not only developing language skills but also in building their personal traits such as communication skills and responsibilities (Lessow-Hurley, 2003).
Building background and vocabulary
According to Ellis (1997), this strategy requires that, in order to enhance better comprehension of the material through a supportive classroom environment, instructors should take into account learners’ experience and background. Ellis further suggest that, in order to overcome background barriers, instructors should assist the students in establishing conscious connections between language materials presented to them and their own experience. According to McLaughlin (1987), the best approach in establishing these connections is by making visual (writing main ideas on blackboard) or audio (intonating and pronouncing sentences in a proper way) emphasis on key concepts acquired. McLaughlin further suggests that instructors should ensure that vocabularies to be learnt are selected in a careful manner. According to Ellis (1997), the following are some of the strategies that can be employed to enhance vocabulary development: multiple exposures to new words and opportunities to new words, intentional word selection and giving direct instructions in word meaning and strategies that will aid in learning new words. Instructors should ensure that these strategies are modeled in accordance to learners’ needs. Instructors should also ensure that learners are effectively exposed to a system of independently tracking new vocabulary (Ellis 1997).
One of the most indispensable strategies that are employed in teaching ELL students is student engagement. Student engagement is critical in ensuring successful execution of various learning activities. Various researches have indicated that there is a correlation between the performance of a learner and his or her degree of engagement in learning activities. Therefore this suggests that, when students are actively engaged in learning activities they are likely to achieve more. According to Echevarria et al (2004), the strategy to ensure effective participation by learners greatly depends on the instructor. This will therefore require teachers to effectively manage classrooms in a manner that enhances active participation.
Hill and Flynn (2006) argue that, implementation of engaging instruction will consist of cooperative grouping, thematic instruction, and project based learning. They further suggest that incorporation of hand-on and manipulative activities, stimulations and modeling into learning activities will be vital in enhancing student participation. In addition to ensuring that learning materials are better understood, these techniques will play a vital role in motivating students into actively engaging in the learning process which will be essential in creating proficiency in English.
Therefore for countries characterized by huge demographic change such the US and other developed countries, Proper application of instructional strategies will be vital in ensuring that ELLs students acquire English language proficiency. This will be vital in boosting their overall academic performance. Application of “comprehensible input hypothesis” as postulated by Krashen will ensure that appropriate inputs are used in a manner that will lead to high levels of language acquisition. The use of “grouping structures and techniques” will facilitate learning in a more efficient and collaborative way. Instructors can also improve acquisition of English proficiency among ELLs student by enhancing varying feedbacks. The strategy of “building back ground and vocabulary” and “student engagement” will be vital in breaking barriers to language acquisition and in ensuring that students actively participate in the learning process.