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The classroom is a social construct that is designed to facilitate learning. While learning can occur even when the only active participant is the student--as is the case when a person is reading a user manual--the most effective learning scenarios are those that involve the proactive involvement of both instructors and students. The fundamental benefit of a personal student-teacher type of interaction is that the feedback and control mechanism is firmly established and can always be invoked to maintain the learning direction towards pre-set objectives. Moreover, the learning process is essentially affected by peer-group relationships within the classroom environment. That is, the interactions between teachers and students as well as among students constitute the learning network within which lesson concepts are shared, affirmed, and built upon.
In a classroom environment, the teacher's primary role is to impart information and orchestrate experiences that enable students to develop new skills or improve existing competencies. Additionally, teachers also have the responsibility to assess whether students are learning as intended based on lesson objectives, and make the necessary adjustments whenever challenges that hinder the attainment of these objectives are encountered. On the other hand, students are tasked to absorb new information, participate in new experiences and to take different types of assessment tests that determine whether they have correctly appreciated the lesson concepts. Without their active involvement in the learning interaction, students will find it difficult to learn new concepts even when their teachers are competent subject matter experts.
When a disconnect occurs between teachers and students, the class dynamic becomes ineffective. Learning ceases to take place. In an ESL or EFL classroom, the lack of adequate student involvement almost certainly spells cognitive failure, especially when the opportunities to learn and practice English outside the classroom are rare or isolated.
Group or collaborative interactions are critical in the success of contemporary learning engagements. Effective teaching always adopts innovative techniques that encourage feedback, teamwork, and the creation of a highly conducive classroom climate. This means that open, empathic communication between teachers and students should be established as early in the learning engagement as possible. In addition, students' interpersonal skills and attitudes should be developed in a way that makes the learning process more compelling, collaborative, fun, and effective.
As it is, one of the most common challenges encountered by ESL/SFL educators are students who are unresponsive and who always tend to avoid any interaction with their teachers. Such a passive scenario can cause considerable frustration and disappointment among both teachers and students. For example, a teacher initiating a dialog in English may inadvertently be performing a monologue instead as students refrain from sharing their inputs. The reasons for the students' hesitation or aversion to participate are many, including the fear of being wrong and subsequent ridicule from their peers. The reason can also be as fundamental as students not knowing what the teacher expects simply because the objectives are not clear or that a linguistic break in communication occurred. However, there are instances when students still choose not to participate even when they clearly appreciate the objectives, understand the question, and know the answer. The chance of drawing questions from this type of students, much less constructive feedback, is almost always nil.
ESL/EFL teachers who experience minimal, poor, or zero student involvement in their classroom interactions should immediately deploy various measures that encourage student participation and develop strong motivation for learning. Otherwise, the investment put into the classroom interaction by all its stakeholders will just go to waste. In many cases, the time, effort, planning, and money infused by teachers, students, and institutions to establish the learning environment are considerable such that simply proceeding with a flawed student-teacher interaction is almost criminal.
If you are a native-English speaker who have decided to teach ESL or EFL classes, the following tips will help establish an open classroom atmosphere, which will allow you not only to generate strong class participation but will also make it easier to draw in constructive feedback from your students. Based on several research conducted by educators around the world, these practical methods were demonstrated to have improved the level of student involvement in ESL/EFL classes.
1. Develop and demonstrate your own enthusiasm and motivation. There is only one thing that is more contagious than having a strong, positive attitude towards language learning: the lack of it. If your students discern that you are not excited about what you teach, what will make them be interested in it? At the onset, radiate your positive attitude about English learning. Think of why your students need to know what you are teaching them. Speak to students about how learning English can tangibly enrich their lives. Research about anecdotes and news reports that showcase the value of language learning and then enthusiastically share this information with your class.
2. Build positive, nurturing relationships with your students. Never give them a reason to fear you or be intimidated in any way. Natural shyness and the fear of saying something wrong are already obstacles your students are dealing with. Adding an intimidating teacher image into the brew will further discourage your students from opening up, thereby lessening their chances of attaining your lesson objectives. Speak to them using their names and learn their customs, hobbies, and interests. Nothing shatters language barriers better than common interests.
If there are unusually unresponsive students in your class, take time to engage them individually. Use email or other means to encourage them to communicate.
3. Hold students accountable for their learning progress. To get this properly accomplished, you may need to give occasional home works, assignments, quizzes, and exams. Make the process more exciting and enjoyable by integrating games and interesting group activities that require their full involvement.
4. Adopt different activities that are highly relevant to their own socio-cultural contexts. Remember that the more knowledgeable a student is about a subject, the more things they can communicate about it.
5. Encourage collaborative dynamics inside your classroom. Whenever possible, form students into pairs or groups wherein a balance between active and passive learners is maintained. This way, passive students may be encouraged to participate more.
6. Use humor whenever possible. Humorous situations generally reduce the level of inhibition among people, and feeling light about the seriousness of the lesson can draw more positive feedback.
7. Give your own objective but positive feedback. Promptly correct students when they commit mistakes but never in a way that embarrasses them. Give due credit or praise whenever possible in order to develop confidence and reinforce learning.
8. Practice variety in your teaching approaches. Nothing builds boredom than doing the same thing over and over in the same way. Games, contests, group projects, film viewing, art and music appreciation, and other activities should be used to enrich your class' learning experience,
Due to their very nature, ESL and EFL classes strongly require active student participation. As language proficiency is highly dependent on practice and reinforcement, encouraging students to be more involved in the learning dynamics is critical in meeting all course objectives. The bottom line is for teachers to project a positive but unintimidating image and to design lesson plans that clearly establish the benefits of participation to students.