Keeping ESL, EFL courses relevant

A recent thread on the TESL-L discussion list (a fantastic resource that everyone should subscribe to) centered around a course that many students got bored with a few weeks into each term. The course was an udergraduate class in study skills, and the instructor was looking for ways to make it more interesting for the students.

This is an issue that most ESOL programs should raise periodically. It’s important for courses to be engaging not just because that makes for happy students who will likely sitck around in your ESL program for another term. Rather, high student interest leads to better learning in and out of the classroom.

Student interest is often directly related to course relevance. Learners have their own sets of goals to accomplish when the English class is finished. They need to see that what they study in a given ESL program is likely to help them meet these goals.

As cliched as it may sound, allow me to recommend a refocus on the learner. Rather than choosing language objectives based on some preconceived idea about the order that a language should be taught in, it is critical to assess the real-world goals that a school’s learners have. This can even be formalized in an annual or biennial survey of specific student goals. The results of this classroom research can then inform regular assessments of the ESL program’s entire curriculum.

By focusing on what learners need and on their goals, ESOL programs can better ensure that their courses are relevant to their students.

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