I have observed that it is difficult for me to communicate instructions and explain the learning intention with ESL students. On my first day of practicum, students were given instructions to work on a reading activity. Some students were not on task, so I approached them and asked if they needed help. They seemed confused and one student spoke up saying “they don’t understand English”.
I hold the personal belief that I cannot teach students if they do not know how to speak English. I feel unable to provide explanations of the lessons I have planned. I sought clarification from my AT who confirmed that a large number of students in this class are ESL with limited English, however, some bilingual students can be used to translate instructions. Additionally, ESL students attend ‘bilingual’ lessons twice a week to help improve their English.
Historically, my own experiences have favoured verbal communication as the primary medium of learning. For example, university lectures often involve the professor talking whilst the students passively listen.
Verbal communication is not the only method of communication. In fact, the nonverbal communication of teachers has been observed to impact the intellectual growth of their students (Knapp, Hall, & Horgan, 2013). Furthermore, graphic organizers are effective tools for ESL students to (1) identify the main idea, (2) find the supporting details, (3) deal with vocabulary and (4) fact and opinion & (5) make inferences (Rajan, 2013).
First, find out what your students already know. Having attended the bilingual classes I now know that the ESL students have a basic understanding of English and will, therefore, be able to understand simple instructions. Also, the use of visual aides and tailoring lessons to their abilities have improved engagement and learning outcomes for ESL students in the class.