What are quiet ESL students not telling you?


I think we have all struggled with students that give us the look or often get distracted in class. Now, we as teachers know the real reason behind it. They are simply not understanding. There are many explanations behind WHY they are not understanding. Sometimes it’s their own fear of the language, of not understanding fast enough or failing. But on the other hand, there are also times it’s us. We’re speaking too fast, or not explaining clearly, or giving the class at the pace of those who participate the most and moving forward, not noticing the quiet ones in the back. I think as teachers we should constantly look for ways of finding out these reasons and doing something about it.

Here are some things I do when I start noticing quiet ones in my group:

  • I have one-on-one feedback sessions. This way they are not being compared to the rest and feel more at ease to tell me how they feel their process is going. I know sometimes we have very large groups, but if you do the one-on-one sessions with 5 students every class until you finish the whole group, even if it takes you a month, you will see the reward in your student’s confidence-boost.
  • I always try to have some kind of prepped feedback process. Some teachers like keeping a progress journal, others have worksheets. Depending on the age and learning purpose of your students the HOW can vary, but at the end of the day the important thing is to have a structure. Those quiet students will most likely stare back at you, even in this circumstance, if only asked “How are things going?”.
  • Once I identify the WHY, I start to prepare my classes with this in mind. I know if you have 30 students and each one has a different “why” this can be overwhelming, or even impossible. But, it’s actually not. What I do is that I organize my students by needs (once I’ve done the individual feedback); I will usually get about 3, tops 5 groups. So, now those 30 individual “whys” have turned into 3 or 4 manageable groups that I can prepare my weekly classes for. Once they are in groups I can:
    • Make mixed-needs groups to assure they all have a role that can help them learn in their own way.
    • Recycle certain language or activities in a way I know each group of students is able to really understand and engage.
    • Give projects or role-based assignments, where I can use each student’s strengths to help their peers and raise confidence.

As I said, we are all aware that many students struggle in our classes and depending on the reason they are learning English, it can be quite stressful for them not to see immediate progress. Learning English, and any other language, does have a lot to do with confidence and self-esteem. There are many signs that can help us identify just what’s going on. If you want to know more take a look at this great article I found on Busyteacher.com.

7 Things Your Quiet ESL Students Are Not Telling You.

Until next time.

Some extra links for additional research on giving feedback and keep track of your student’s progress:

Portfolio assessment 

Teaching English Through Daily Journal Writing

Providing Meaningful Feedback

Monitoring and Guiding Student Process

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