The task of developing an effective methodology for ESL program evaluation is a point of contention in academic and administrative circles. Seeking to create one system, which can be applied across the board to all L2 (ESL) learners, is a process that quickly runs into challenges.
Diverse Student Population
There are numerous important factors at play in the ESL classroom, but none more significant than the increasing complexity of the ESL demographic.
- Not all ESL students speak the same native language. The interlanguage developed by a student whose native language is Russian, for example, will differ greatly from the interlanguage developed by a speaker of Korean.
- Students arrive in ESL classrooms with varying levels of proficiency in their native language.
Those with a low proficiency in their native language will face greater struggles learning English.
Guidelines to Consider
In the face of such challenges, it is paramount to develop guidelines that can help support student and teacher efforts towards second language proficiency.
- Class Size – The process of learning to read and write in a second language is very time and energy intensive for both the student and the teacher. ESL students, in particular, benefit from more individualized guidance and support. Comments made on student writing need to be specific to the individual’s needs and must be delivered in a way that the student can understand if improvement is to be made. Enrollment in ESL courses should be carefully monitored and adjusted accordingly.
- Placement – ESL students should be placed in classrooms based on their reading and writing abilities alone. Issues of culture, politics, race, and immigration status should not dictate enrollment. Ideally, criteria for placement should not be exclusively based on standardized tests, but on a wider sample of factors including multiple writing samples.
- Assessment – In order to increase the effectiveness of placement strategies, student assessment needs to be conscious of avoiding culturally specific tests and writing prompts. Being aware of the potential pitfalls helps ensure that evaluation of students is on their skills and not on their knowledge of a specific cultural ideology. Present students with multiple choices when they are prompted for writing to minimize these potential problems.
- Teacher Development & Support – Teachers who are assigned to teach reading and writing in any course that has ESL students enrolled in it should be adequately prepared. Teachers must be equipped with the tools and background theory to identify and implement ESL-specific pedagogues. Departments should actively encourage and provide incentives for the attending of workshops and conferences on teaching ESL.
- Process – ESL students benefit from writing curricula that are process oriented. These programs focus less on the technical features of language and sentence construction and instead focus on the process of the production of written discourse. Varied invention strategies, multiple drafts, constructive teacher feedback, and peer review are all crucial to fostering process awareness.
- Genre – An awareness of the specific contexts in which language is produced is also critical for ESL students. An understanding that students are using the English language for specific academic purposes allows ESL students to better focus their efforts towards a specific goal.
Challenges of ESL Program Evaluation
Globalization continues to change the demographics of schools nationwide. While urban areas have been researching ESL students and their needs since the 1960s, smaller, rural areas increasingly have to adapt to the needs of a more diverse student population. Therefore, educators are faced with the difficult task of navigating the many interlanguages ESL students develop.
This nuanced and complex landscape makes implementing one unified ESL program evaluation system problematic. Second language fluency is a lifelong occupation for students. Intensive ESL programs help set the groundwork for future learning, but students must immerse themselves in the study of English through their reading, writing, and speaking activities both inside and outside the classroom.
Being mindful of what has been known to work with regards to class size, placement, assessment, etc. is an effective way to create an environment for ESL student success.