Characteristics of a grade 1 ESOL lesson
Neena Julka outlines some lessons that can be learned from recent inspection reports on the delivery of ESOL.
Recent inspection reports on ESOL have been critical of the large number of unsatisfactory lessons observed. However, all is not doom and gloom. The reports also state that there are now more 'outstanding' lessons than in the past. This is good news. It means that more grade 1 lessons are being delivered. This article attempts to identify the characteristics of outstanding lessons, as described by inspectors, and offers some advice to tutors who want to polish their delivery and who aspire to delivering outstanding lessons.
Planning: what will the learners be doing and why?
In outstanding lessons, planning is always thorough. It is not just filling in the pre-formatted lesson plan showing what will be done and when. There is a detailed, thought-through lesson plan, with clear aims and objectives shared with the learners. It not only helps the tutor but, more importantly, it tells the learners what they will be learning and 'doing' in the lesson.
The best lesson plans have a variety of appropriate and engaging activities - speaking, reading, writing and listening in adult contexts. The plan allows time for learners to acquire and then practise skills. For example, enough time is allowed for learners to complete a writing task. Learners are not rushed from one activity to the next. The plan outlines learning content and learner activity. Individual needs of learners are acknowledged and differentiated activities are planned for.
Learners use computers as a natural activity within the lesson, e.g. looking up prices on the internet as part of an activity. There is evidence of previous lessons being evaluated by the tutor and planning for future lessons is modified in the light of previous evaluations.
Structure: tasks, activities and teaching materials
Grade one lessons have a logical structure. They start by questioning the learners about their previous learning. Learners are able to recollect what they have learnt and are keen to respond. They are eager to share their 'news' with the rest of the class. Aims and objectives are shared with the learners. Tasks and activities are clearly explained.
There are differentiated tasks to cater for the needs of individual learners. For example in one lesson, an orally fluent learner needing practice in writing concentrated on written work whilst the rest of the class practised oral language structures.
Learners know what they need to do and work collaboratively. Tasks are relevant, interesting, challenging and inspiring. Learners are given a choice to discuss or research a topic as their project. Tasks and activities build on what has been learnt previously.
There are clear explanations of grammar points and new language structures are practised in adult and/or vocationally relevant contexts.
There is a variety of teaching materials which are attractive and up-to-date e.g using current train timetables from the internet to teach about obtaining information for travelling. The ESOL curriculum materials are used effectively along with other materials. Individual vocabulary books are routinely used to record meanings and spellings of 'new' words.
Learners are encouraged to read books and magazines independently and to keep a record of this. Learners with prior vocational skills and experience are introduced to vocational texts and manuals. Tasks, activities and teaching materials are relevant to the needs and interests of learners.
Outstanding teaching methods totally engage all the learners. Learners are not even aware of language learning but use language as a means to communicate and to accomplish tasks in hand. Learners are in charge.
The lesson is tutor-directed but learner-led. The tutor's role is to guide, at times to introduce new language and teach, but mostly to facilitate learning through tasks and activities that give learners autonomy. Learners know what they are doing and work collaboratively. Learners do most of the talking and the tutor facilitates, introducing new language and managing the process and the activities that help learning. Learners are helped and encouraged to ask questions and to challenge each other.
Good use is made of current affairs to stimulate discussions and increase learners' understanding of current issues.
Outstanding lessons have ongoing and built-in feedback to learners. The tutor is clear how learners will be assessed and gives timely, straightforward and encouraging feedback but is quick to correct, albeit subtly, errors of grammar and pronunciation.
Good use is made of 'incidental learning'. For example, the tutor may ask individual learners to enunciate a word that another learner may have found difficult to pronounce. Thus, assessment creates opportunities for whole-class learning and re-capping. Peer and self-correction is always encouraged.
There is an agreed marking policy that is available in the staff handbook and new staff are briefed on how to use it. Assessment of written work is rigorous. Internal and external moderation procedures are in place and are used to assure quality of assessment.
Overall, feedback to learners identifies their strengths and weaknesses but, most importantly, effective guidance is given on how learners can improve their written and oral language.
Learner attainment and progress
In outstanding lessons, it is clear to see how learners have progressed and what they have attained so far, judging by their oral interactions, level of confidence and accuracy, and by evaluating the written work.
Good use is made of diagnostic assessment to concentrate on the skills most needed by learners and developed through individual learning plans. For example, one reasonably fluent learner made real improvements in writing in English as he needed this skill urgently to complete tasks at work. Progress from letter formation to filling in forms was evident in one term's written work.
Outstanding lessons are no accident. They are the result of individual tutors
being self-critical and constantly trying to modify methods, materials and delivery
to improve their lessons. These tutors are open to new ideas and welcome feedback
both from colleagues and from managers. In outstanding lessons, language learning
is not only fun for learners but tutors enjoy and take pride in helping learners
progress to other courses or to gain employment to achieve their true potential.