teachers address English as a second language must be considered. Traditionally, teachers of English as a second language (ESL) have used grammar exercises in an effort to teach children how to speak, read, and understand English (Adesope, et al., 2011; Iwai, 2011; Kumaravadivelu, 2012). While that may have seemed like the best choice, it has been shown in multiple studies not to be an effective means of actually teaching students to speak English as their second language (Adesope, et al., 2011; Allison & Rehm, 2011; Mukoroli, 2011; Oxford, 2013). That is important for the students, but this paper does not focus on the learners. Instead, the teachers themselves and how they are going to handle teaching students is the issue at hand. While it is true that this also directly relates to the value the learners receive, it is significant to note that teachers who do not have effective strategies for teaching ESL harm not only the learners, but themselves as well (Haley & Austin, 2013). They are not seen as valuable as teachers if they are not able to teach ESL correctly, especially in countries where ESL is very important and/or a high number of children need to be taught (Adesope, et al., 2011).
Studies that focus on ESL issues have indicated that the Communicative Approach is a much better choice for both teachers and students, and is the best strategy that teachers can and should use in order to make sure they are able to teach students what they need to know (Iwai, 2011; Kumaravadivelu, 2012). When students do not learn properly there is generally a significant reason for that, especially if the lack of learning affects a large number of students. In numerous cases, that reason has been shown to be inadequate teaching of ESL (Adesope, et al., 2011). This does not affect just English classes, as a student who needs to communicate properly in English in other classes through verbal expression and/or reading and understanding the material will not be able to do that effectively if he or she has not learned ESL properly (Hinkel, 2013; Oxford, 2013). Teachers who are not capable of handling ESL should either change to teaching another class or find ways to improve their own English skills so they can properly help their students.
In Puerto Rico, one of the most serious problems with ESL teachers is that they do not have a good grasp of English. When they do not properly understand the language, it becomes extremely difficult to teach that language to others -- and that is where the vast majority of the issue lies. However, there are ways in which teachers can learn to be more effective with ESL, so they can provide their students with the information they need and help them become successful in the rest of their classes, as well. The Communicative Approach is one of the ways in which that can be done. This approach is used in order to create a dialogue between students, and also with the teacher. Instead of focusing solely on the issue of grammar, the Communicative Approach encourages students to talk to others in English even if they make mistakes or do not always get the grammar correct (Oxford, 2013). Without the pressure of needing perfect grammar, there are fewer worries for these students and the teacher is able to create more of a dialogue with them and get them using their second language.
However, mistakes must not simply be ignored forever, or nothing would really be "taught." It is recommended that teachers who use the Communicative Approach get students comfortable with using ESL first, because the students need to understand that learning takes time and that it is acceptable to make mistakes early on in the process (Haley & Austin, 2013). Even people who speak English fluently as a second language did not get there overnight, and even the best teachers can only teach students a certain amount of information before the students must also work to become responsible for what they are learning. The more a teacher can make students comfortable, the more those students are likely to learn, and the Communicative Approach works very well at that. It helps to make the oral communication of the language the most important issue and allows the teacher to work with his or her students in such a way that everyone involved becomes comfortable conversing in English (Oxford, 2013). Only then does the teacher work toward grammatical correction.
Once a teacher begins to move toward grammatical correction, however, there are other issues that have to be considered. One of the most important of those is showing how the grammar of English compares with the grammar of the children's native language (in this case, Spanish). A clear understanding of the differences in grammar is important, but it is not the right way to approach the issue of a second language from the beginning. Too much pressure on grammar right away makes students unresponsive, clearly showing that teachers need a different type of focus (Foote, Holtby, & Derwing, 2011). This is why the Communicative Approach can have such a high level of value for ESL teachers, no matter what age group they are teaching. Another strategy the ESL teacher must carefully consider is the way in which correction is handled. Teachers who work with students instead of always telling them they are wrong are going to provide more value to those students (Adesope, et al., 2011). They will also generally see more success as teachers, allowing them to help more students and have greater opportunities.
The teacher should be very direct when giving feedback or making a correction, but he or she should also focus only one error when feedback is given (Allison & Rehm, 2011; Iwai, 2011). Feedback on several errors at a time can mean that a teacher overwhelms the students and does not get his or her point across accurately. However, teachers who are carefully focused on just one correction or error each time student feedback is given will be more likely to provide proper information to the students who need that feedback and correction (Oxford, 2013). The teacher can also provide feedback that is more likely to be taken well by students if he or she uses questions instead of statements (Hinkel, 2011). For example, the teacher can ask a student to repeat something, or ask if the student said a specific word or phrase. It is also possible for a teacher to ask a student if they meant a particular word or phrase, when they actually said something else. When done in a matter-of-fact manner, these kinds of questions help the teacher correct any problems the students may be having, so those problems do not become worse (Kumaravadivelu, 2012).
Once a teacher has helped students to express themselves in the second language in a way that is comprehensible, he or she can begin to put more emphasis on issues such as grammar. At that point, the Grammatical Approach, which is also often called the "garden path," can be employed (Oxford, 2013). This helps the teacher explains ESL issues together and in context, instead of asking a student to learn a number of grammatical rules and guidelines for a language that student does not yet understand. Teachers can move that context into the assessment phase of instruction, as the assessment of students who are learning ESL can be ongoing in many ways (Haley & Austin, 2013). While tests and other ways of assessing students are necessary, the ongoing style of assessment that comes from the Communicative Approach is highly valuable to both the students and the teachers. With the right strategies, even teachers who are not always clear on the rules can discover them and help their students be more successful, as well. Teachers and students learn together somewhat, enriching their experiences.
Teachers should assess ESL students orally, as learning to write in the second language is often less important than learning to speak it properly. The writing of it, with correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation, can come at a later date. A teacher cannot expect a student to be able to write comprehensibly in a language that he or she cannot speak reasonably, however, so a focus on oral assessment is the most important part of the testing process for ESL teachers (Mukoroli, 2011; Oxford, 2013). This process also greatly helps the teacher when it comes to determining whether the students are ready to move forward with more grammar lessons or whether the lesson plan needs to be rearranged so the students can learn properly and at the pace that truly helps them process and retain the ESL information (Adesope, et al., 2011). Learning information in an ESL classroom is only valuable if it is remembered and actually used in the future. Otherwise, it is a waste of time for the teacher and for the students, which is best avoided for a variety of…