The improvement of Oral English Skills at private Language Schools. Strategies for teachers

Thesis (M.A.), 1998

70 Pages




Problem Statement

Discrepancy Statement


Solution Strategy

Implementation Plan



Chapter I Background

The target school is a subsidiary of a publishing company. The target school has been in existence since the spring of 1993, a few months after the inception of its parent company. The target school operates as a private language institute, serving its culturally diverse community. It is located in an urban area of Southern Florida. The purpose of the school is to provide instruction in English to students who speak another language. It is one branch of many that includes schools and programs already or newly established in countries and cities such as Brazil, South Korea, Kingston, Jamaica and Mexico City, Mexico.

The total enrollment at the target school is approximately (or over) eighty students. The target school’s policy is that no Spanish is to be used within the classroom environs. The target school services an upper-class population of mostly adults. [The target school does not intentionally service the upper-class but due to its (the target school’s) location, most of the students happen to be in that economic branch.] The majority of the students are from the countries of Cuba, South America, Central America, and European countries such as France and Germany.

Some of the students have participated or completed English Language intensive programs within their native country. There are also a few elementary, middle, and high school students who have travelled from mostly the South American countries to participate, briefly, in the target school’s regular intensive program of study. At least twice a year, the target school receives students from Brazil for a two-week intensive course in English. The class level starts at Level 1 through 14. The classes are structured somewhat to the target school’s local curriculum, but the higher the course level the less grammar instruction is used and more of oral/listening video presentations are given. For example, at Level 14 that class is given various commercials on which the class will discuss the main idea or meaning of the viewed program.

Attendance varies in the target school, and has been known to be called (by the administration) as a type of “transient school” because of those students who abruptly leave, or those who come into the United States for a brief study of the English language. Adult learners enter and exit the program on their own--attendance is desired, but not compulsory. Therefore, target students do not remain in class on a consistent basis, for example, as in a public school. The grades of two students who have been with the target school on a more consistent basis reflect average achievement of the target group as a whole. The other eight have attended one, two, or three classes. Their grades range from 54 to 79 in oral English; and, 25 to 63 in written English.

Most of the administrative staff is Cubans, or Cuban - Americans. They have been with the target school since it first opened. About half of the target school’s administrative staff has been educated here in the United States and have received Bachelor degrees in their area of study. The other half has received their education in the United States as high as some college experience.

The teaching staff consists of Hispanics, one Anglo-American, and a West Indian - American. Most of the target school’s teaching staff has been educated here in the United States and have obtained degrees as high as a Bachelor’s.

The writer has taught in the countries of Jamaica, South Korea, and in the United States. Most of the writer’s teaching experiences, for the non-native English speaker, has been within the State of Florida for almost ten years. The writer has worked in the public, private elementary schools; private and public community colleges, and institutions.

The writer is certified in English by the State of Florida, and is currently working as a Level 5 English Language teacher for the target school.

Problem Statement

The target school’s curriculum consists of video and audio instruction exercises, as well as teacher - student oriented tasks. Videos are used to introduce vocabulary followed by a question and answer period. A CD-ROM is used to provide oral English instructions. However, most of the time it is necessary for the teacher to repeat the words (or sentences) and to provide additional oral classroom exercises.

At the end of one month of classroom instruction the students participate in a two-hour one day writing, listening, and oral examination administered by the teaching staff. For that particular day, the teachers act as examination monitors for an assigned classroom not their own. The target school believes that this method of interchange will enable the scoring outcomes to be a true indicator of each student’s acquired knowledge for their completed level of study.

The target school’s director indicated that there is a discrepancy in the oral scores--in that they do not truly reflect students’ past in-class oral testing scores; or, that the oral testing grades given by the monitoring teacher does not reflect what the student did in the past and present--in other words, the teacher may feel it necessary to pass the student for some or any particular reason(s). Also, those students who do pass or fail the examination, the school’s director indicated that to compare their classroom scores to those scores on the examination showed the discrepancies the target school needs to eliminate with a thorough administrative or investigative report. In addition, some of the reasons given for the discrepancies were that: (i) teachers may be “too easy” in scoring; (ii) the problems may lie with the test itself; (iii) the target school administration may need to undergo an “internal investigation or evaluation” to determine what role they may, unforseenly, played in any problem that the school is undergoing.

Ten teachers were surveyed by the writer. In answer to the question: “How well do you feel that your students read English?” Two teachers said “Very Well”; three said, “Well”; while five said “Fair”. No teachers selected “Poor”.

In answer to the question: “How well do you feel that your students write English?” One teacher said “Very Well”; two said “Well”; six said “Fair”; one said “Poor”.

In answer to the question: “How well do you feel that your students read English” Two said “Very Well”; three said “Well”; five said “Fair”. No teachers selected “Poor”.

In response to the question: “What is your students’ greatest learning need?” Most of the teachers answered, generally, in both verbal and written surveys that the students need more time in oral practicing; that the four hours and the three days allotted to teach grammar, reading, and listening skills are not sufficient to meet curriculum objectives pertaining to the students. One teacher indicated that: “These students need to practice speaking, answering questions, and constructing sentences, in conjunction with studying grammar and immediately putting these lessons to work. The danger is that they mostly revert to their native tongue on days-off and on weekends.” All teachers indicated that the curriculum and textbooks were satisfactory in meeting the target school’s goals.

Ten students were surveyed by the writer. In answer to the question: “How well do you feel you speak English?” Five indicated “Well”; four indicated “Fair”, and one “Poor”.

In answer to the question: “How well do you feel that you read English” One said “Very Well”; three said “Well”; five said “Fair”; one said “Poor”.

In answer to the question: “How well do you feel that you write English” No one said “Very Well”; five said “Well”; four said “Fair”; one said “Poor”.

(No open-ended question was asked of the students because of their limited skills in writing English sentences.)

Student achievements in classroom instructions are kept by the teacher daily (and weekly) in a log. The logs are filed with the administration every completed month of the semester at the target school. The target students scored passing in writing, listening, and oral English in the classroom but do not do that well on the (end of month) examination; or, the scores obtained by students who take the test are questionable. For example, those

students who are expected to do well, amount to only about ten percent of each level; while those who are expected to obtain close to average scores either get higher than expected scores, or come close to the failing grade (below fifty percent).

The problem is that the target group has failed to achieve their personal goal--to speak the English language well. They feel that the time allotted is not sufficient enough to cover oral exercises, class discussions with questioning and answering exercises, grammar exercises, and writing.

When the time arrives for their participation in their final assessment at a given level of instruction, they feel unprepared and less confident in their abilities to succeed especially in their oral examinations monitored by some other teacher than who they have become accustomed to in voice or speech patterns.

The target group consists of ten students--nine women and one male--and who have indicated in class discussions that they are seeking to upgrade their standard of personal, business, and employability worth by learning to speak the English language well. All the students of the target group have completed high school, and most of them have completed college in their own countries. Their occupations in their native lands ranged from a manager, engineers, chemist to systems analysts. Some are currently not working in their fields and have chosen to remain at home, or operate their own businesses; except the male student who is currently working as a manager trainee with a large corporation in Brazil.

Some of the birth countries of the target group students are Spain, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. [Appendix I: 61] Ages vary of the students in the target group. The youngest student of the target group is twenty years old; while the others range up to forty or fifty years old.

Discrepancy Statement

The target group demonstrates passing scores in oral English in the classroom. They consistently received “passing” grades on the monthly oral English examinations; however, the school administration indicated that the scores are not a true measure of their oral English skills. A new oral skills test is being considered--one that the administration deemed “... would be more difficult...” a test that would have the monitoring teacher being “less generous” and “more objective” in the application of oral test grades.

Regardless of the test, the target group, must achieve a passing score of fifty percent or more, on the monthly examination.


The following objectives were selected as concrete methods to test the oral, reading, and listening skills of the target students. The use of teacher-made tests assured an exact resultant of each of the target student’s classroom or comprehensive achievements.

Objective #1: After twelve weeks of instruction and classroom exercises, ninety percent of the target group will improve their oral English skills by ten points as measured by pre - and post - teacher-made written tests.

Objective #2: After twelve weeks of instruction and classroom questioning and answering methods or exercises, ninety percent of the target group will improve their listening comprehensive skills by ten percent on a pre- and post- teacher-made test.

Objective #3: After twelve weeks of oral instruction and testing through the use of basic questioning and answering exercises, ninety percent of the students will improve their oral English skills by ten points as measured by pre- and post- teacher - student questioning and answering exercises.

Chapter 2 Research

There are varying schools of thought on most appropriate best curriculum and school administration should be organized and applied for the adult language student who’s learning to hear, read, and speak English. All of the researched reading materials of other writers such as:

Yogman, et al [1997:318, 322] indicated that having a language program should provide students with “ opportunities for interaction in the language...” . They believe that a school that provide classes to non-native speakers of English should be provided with short-term support programs such as using (a) technology - using video, word processors and e-mail; (b) provide social interactions with native speakers; (c) keeping textbooks (not required) to a minimum; (d) provide subtasks for mini-projects; (e) student portfolio to observe, holistically, student gains; (f) elicit summative evaluations of program; and (g) provide an outline of “...basic program and curriculum goals...” .

Aydelott [1995:30, 31] focused on the need to organize a curriculum based on a school’s resources. He strongly indicated that “...A curriculum cannot operate without resources...” He mentioned that a daily schedule per student group level be implemented; no preferential treatment for any teacher(s) based on seniority; instructional materials, including outside resources; and an adequate financial support system. Aydelott also went on to talk about a school having a “monitoring process” by which a school can carry-out a more successful curriculum by ensuring that the goals are meeting the needs of the school and the “...expectations of the learner...” .

Pennington [1991:24] stated that any school or private adult institution should undergo a self-study to deplete any problems that may exist within an organization. Pennington gives the following suggestions on organizing a self-study:

(1) clarifying the goals of the program;
(2) identifying any problems that may exist;
(3) reviewing programs, procedures, and resources ; and
(4) identifying and producing needed changes.

To further review assessment procedures so that they may work well for administration, staff, and students--McGroarty, et al [1993:4] stated that:

...Both workers and employers may demonstrate either skepticism or unrealistically high expectations about what can be accomplished during instruction. Employers need to acknowledge the concerns of employeesto fire or demote employees whose skills fail to match those...required”

The goal of any adult education language program should:

...equip students with the language and cultural proficiencies required for the eventual fulfillment of personal, vocational, academic, and citizenship goals so that they may participate fully in American society

...Provide learning environments that foster low anxiety levels

...Integrate language acquisition with relevant life experiences stressing the importance of critical thinking, problem solving, and self-sufficiency

...Use language proficiency levels for assessing the major accomplishments of the students

...Develop students’ receptive English-language skills of listening and reading comprehension

...Develop students’ productive English-language skills of speaking and writing

...Provide speakers with the ability to use English that is accurate and appropriate in a variety of academic and nonacademic settings

[Thornton, et al: 8]

Thornton, et al [1992:8] created an education/curriculum model which they suggested should be used as a standard for most language programs. They stated that the goal of any program is to “...equip students with the language and cultural proficiencies required for the eventual fulfillment of personal, vocational, academic, and citizenship goals so that they may participate fully in American society.”

They outlined what they believed should be a school’s program/curriculum objectives:

- that to provide learning environment that foster low anxiety levels;
- integrate language acquisition with such things as relevant life experiences, stressing critical thinking, and problem solving;
- developing students’ listening and reading comprehension;
- developing students’ speaking and writing skills;
- provide students with a variety of vocabulary words that would be appropriate in academic and non-academic settings.

Roberts, et al [1994] indicated that an instructor must provide a satisfactory learning environment for the non-native speaker (or the English language learner), through some type of self-assessment procedures. One factor may be to use a “student performance data” analyzed through a system of completed class tests and/or assignments--as one factor in obtaining immediate assessment outcomes per student by the teacher.

In addition, Pinson [1995] indicated that a school’s staff (the school, or its students) should undergo some type of self-evaluation so as to monitor the progress (or not) of students’ proficiency levels--as the true reason for a school to use technology as part of its language curriculum program. After all, as Beyersdorfer [1995:2] states, “ not a revolutionary trend...” Both authors indicated that computers are an essential tool in enhancing the skills of the “changing student”--who has to continually upgrade skills, and adapt to societal changes. Technology provide students with “...personal, immediate, and interactive responses...” O’Malley [1992] also strongly linked technology to an enhancement of learning for the language learner.

Guglielmino [1991:103] also noted that a working adult language or instructional program must meet ALL the needs of the foreign learner. That statement included the fact that the teacher who teaches the non-native English speaker should be provided with guidelines as well as being studiously prepared (or certified) to teach such students.

Brindley [1990:13] focused on the “effective “teacher and their procedures to meet the goals of the student to learn.

He wrote that there are found two types of teachers: “the effective teacher vs. the ineffective teacher”. He stated that the effective teacher usually:

- carries out instruction, guided by a pre-planned curriculum;
- has high expectations for student learning;
- instruction is clear and focused;
- students’ progress is closely monitored;
- students are retaught a lesson if comprehension is not yet achieved;
- class time is used for learning;
- there are smooth, efficient class time routines;
- standards for classroom behavior are high;
- teacher - student interactions are positive;
- incentives are used to promote excellence.

The “effective teacher” helps to influence positive, learning classroom experiences for the language learner.

Mendelsohn [1994:36] focused on a school’s curriculum which is strategy-based--that means that the goals of a school are to teach students “ to do something...” The author focused primarily on the “effective teacher” using listening strategies as part of class(room) objectives. Teaching students how to listen can result in mentally aware learners.

Rost [1991:2] defined listening as being able to:

- discriminate between sounds;
- recognizing words;
- identifying grammatical groupings of words;
- identifying the different functions and meanings of expressions and utterances; and
- recalling important words and ideas.

Rost supplied samples of lesson plans, and suggested learning or teaching methods that included role play, reading, and dictation.

Geisinger [1992:3] stated that assessment of the language learner should be evaluated for reliability and validity; and that those administrators who have developed a test for language schools should “...provide useful guidelines on how to use test scores in certain contexts ...”


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The improvement of Oral English Skills at private Language Schools. Strategies for teachers
Nova Southeastern University
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Dr Jeanette Alcock Mughal (Author), 1998, The improvement of Oral English Skills at private Language Schools. Strategies for teachers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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