Attributes of effective English Language lecturers
Published on: Sunday, February 21, 2021
By: Fung Lan Yong And Melinda Kong
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Credit: theconversation.com
EFFECTIVE teaching plays a crucial role in the acquisition of English as a Second Language (ESL) at college or university.  It requires lecturers to establish a favourable classroom environment, formulate a variety of teaching and learning activities, and utilise instructional materials efficaciously.  Effective ESL lecturers usually demonstrate good preparation based on their students’ interests and abilities, and are capable of creating stimulating teaching and learning environment through effective classroom organisation. They have the attributes, competencies, strategies and skills that can enhance students’ engagement. 

Creative, Critical and Independent Thinkers

Effective ESL lecturers are creative and perform wonders in class with fresh ideas that banish monotony, while encouraging active student participation.  They avoid intellectual recycling, whereby the same knowledge is passed from teacher to student, and back to teacher on a test.  ESL teaching and learning should not involve simply transmitting information, but should also develop imaginative skills that increase students’ knowledge and develop their creative self-expression.  Creative lecturers are aware of their own limitations and constantly examine their own attitudes toward creativity to help themselves grow by searching for alternative solutions.

Creative ESL lecturers often experiment with new ways of teaching in the classroom and treat lesson planning as a creative exercise.  They consider the needs and preferences of specific learners in their classroom and pay attention to new technological tools, fads or current events, and try to weave them into their lessons.  Further, creative lecturers may improve their convergent thinking or enhance their divergent thinking. They often modify their daily routines and challenge their conventional ways of thinking through reading or using an unfamiliar method to do things.  They may change their surrounding environment and escape from habitual thoughts to eliminate their mind’s rut.

Moreover, effective ESL lecturers are critical thinkers with an eye particularly for unsourced claims.  After identifying situations or problems and their influencing factors, they will begin diving deeper for potential solutions.  They conduct independent research when comparing arguments about an issue.  Since facts and figures presented in favour of an argument might be lacking in context or derive from questionable sources, effective ESL lecturers carry out independent verification by objectively evaluating the sources.  As critical thinkers, effective ESL lecturers endeavour to avoid biases.  They evaluate the claims of both sides of an argument, while keeping in mind the biases each side may have.  They also strive to push aside their own personal biases that may cloud their judgement.  Since they have the courage to debate and argue with their own thoughts and assumptions, they are able to see things from different perspectives. Besides avoiding biases, effective ESL lecturers are good at making inferences and drawing conclusions by assessing the information or data presented to them.  They are able to extrapolate and discover potential outcomes when assessing a scenario.  They try to polish their inferencing skills by making a conscious effort to gather as much information as possible before jumping to conclusions.  To evaluate a new scenario, they usually skim for clues first, including headlines, images and statistics, and subsequently ask themselves what they think is happening. The ability to think critically allows effective ESL lecturers to determine the most relevant information.  They usually make a list of data points ranked in order of relevance to ensure that only the most obvious pieces of information will be at the top, while narrowing their focus on less clear-cut topics for further evaluation.   As independent thinkers, effective ESL lecturers use their own lens to filter information and inform their thoughts.  They do not adopt information at face value and may not necessarily allow other people’s thinking to become their thinking.  They often avoid groupthink and may say something that differs from the majority or the loud minority. They may demonstrate originality or accountability by generating their own thoughts. Rather than looking for safety in numbers, effective ESL lecturers may follow the route that allows them to remain true to themselves, and garner credibility and respect. 

Effective ESL lecturers often interact with people who are different from them.  They may socialise with people with differing views, including those of a different age, race or ethnicity, gender, political affiliation or socioeconomic level.  They may find hidden commonalities that they can relate to, which in turn helps them become more tolerant to others’ views and less fixated to their original thinking. As independent thinkers, effective ESL lecturers seek to open their mind to different cultures and experiences. Instead of struggling to be liked, many effective ESL lecturers aim for respect and may take the road less travelled. They exhibit their own thinking instead of constantly choosing the easy or safe option by merely following others.

Possessing Good Competencies, Strategies and Communication Skills

Effective ESL lecturers demonstrate excellent linguistic and teaching competencies. They need these competencies to enthuse students and help them deal with a vast array of topics by providing practical tasks and learning activities, and sourcing and adapting materials to use in the classroom. They often develop their own teaching and learning materials. Besides course textbooks, they constantly try to develop materials that will keep their students engaged and challenged.  They plan their lessons according to the interests of their students, and use a variety of materials and activities to personalise the lessons.  They are able to create relevant materials that generate interest and earn positive feedback from students.  

Effective ESL lecturers also exhibit high awareness of their students’ needs and goals, knowing that those who are engaged and ready to learn are those who will improve the most.  They provide learner-centred lessons to keep students active in class as they learn better by doing things.  They help students set realistic goals and clearly explain the benefits of each class activity to ensure that students can relate to the lesson content to their goals. Students tend to be more enthusiastic if they understand how the lessons are helping them.

Regular feedback is provided, and also received, by effective ESL lecturers because they know that students can only improve if they understand the areas in which they perform well and those in which they find challenging. They try to give their students timely and constructive feedback to help them learn from it.  Effective ESL lecturers not only give, but also receive regular feedback from students; hence, they are aware of their students’ perceptions.  

The ability to equip students with appropriate study skills is another common practice of effective ESL lecturers. They prepare students with the necessary study skills to use and practise their English independently.  They also focus on all skill areas (reading, writing, speaking and listening) as well as grammar and vocabulary to help students develop in a holistic manner.  Additionally, they ensure that students have sufficient practice on different task types. For example, they may assign reading and writing projects that allow students to participate in all aspects of the reading, and writing process which includes drafting, revising, editing and publishing. They encourage peer responses and editing that give students the opportunity to critically examine their peers’ writing.  Effective ESL lecturers often also practise cooperative learning and use learner-centred texts. Cooperative learning encourages students to discuss a piece of work in small groups. It allows students to analyse the assigned reading and participate in a learning process that is much more interactive than a general lecture.  Exploiting learner-centred texts allows students to choose their own reading materials to become lifelong readers.  Students tend to learn better when they can choose their own materials from an age- and level-appropriate reading collection.  These students may be asked to break into groups, after independent reading, to discuss what they have read, followed by journaling.  This strategy enables the students to delve more deeply into the meaning of the text and develop critiquing skills.

Effective ESL lecturers also have good communication skills.  Since they know that the best communicators are always the best listeners, they listen to students without being judgmental or distracted. They respect their students and are vigilant of their needs and unique perspectives when communicating with them. They take time to listen and respond to students’ questions.  Being aware that body language influences communication, they are attentive to the visual signs that their students give, to show understanding, agreement or disagreement with the message conveyed. They maintain good eye contact, whether they are speaking to a large group or an individual student since it builds credibility and demonstrates that they care about their students. 

In order to keep progressing, effective ESL lecturers value continuing professional development. They are focused on their career development and often attend workshops and join in-house trainings. Although many are highly experienced and may have taught English in various contexts, they understand that it is essential to engage in lifelong learning. In order to become better professionals, effective ESL lecturers continue to enhance their attributes competencies, strategies and skills throughout their careers.  

- Fung Lan Yong is Professor at Jesselton College Sabah and can be contacted at [email protected] Melinda Kong is Senior Lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak and can be contacted at [email protected]

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