Abstract

        The purpose of this paper is to explore the issue of teaching EFL students with low proficiency and learning motivation. The instruction of such students has been frustrating hundreds of English teachers in Taiwan for a long time. It is indicated that EFL teaches’ misconceptions about the nature of teaching such students are the major cause of the long existing and widespread problem they experience in their teaching. Although many teachers believe that the problem is the students themselves, the author argues that the key to the solution of the problem is the decision-making teachers, not students. He also argues that no learner’s English proficiency is too low to learn from the point of view of SLA. Students with whatever English proficiency can learn effectively if they are provided with the teaching and learning materials that match their proficiency levels, and if they are trained to be independent learners. Almost all English teaching in the local elementary and high schools relies on a single set of textbooks. Nevertheless, research literature from SLA supports the idea that a fine-tuned text alone is not sufficient for a group of learners with various proficiency levels to develop their interlanguage. Extensive learning or reading materials are also critical for successful teaching. The misconception of the relationship between curriculum goals and student-centered teaching held by many local English teachers is also clarified. Based on empirical evidence from the English program of a local bilingual elementary school and an experimental study in a high school, it is suggested that in contrast to uniform textbooks for each grade level, multiple-leveled textbooks based on students’ proficiency levels, an array of leveled learning materials, and task-based teaching activities, which lead to the promotion of independent learning, are necessary for efficient EFL teaching in Taiwan.

 

Key Words: Proficiency levels, Matching, Teaching materials

 

 

1. Introduction

 

Many English teachers I met, be it at the primary, secondary, or college level, have complained to me about their students’ having low English proficiency and low motivation, which made them feel frustrated in their teaching. Some believed that they could not teach students with a proficiency level lower than what they had expected. Some English teachers also indicated that one of the major difficulties for their students to satisfactorily complete their class assignments is that their students have not learned enough vocabulary to read the assigned texts. This is also the research finding of many reading specialists.[1] Statements or complaints such as these seem to make an assumption that their students’ English proficiency should be homogenous and of only one designated level, and that teachers can only choose to use the texts of the same difficulty level; and therefore, in turn, they can only have one approach in their teaching. It is such an assumption that makes them feel frustrated and helpless. It’s not difficult for us to realize that except at the very beginning level of EFL learning, it is quite normal that the proficiency of students in a class of 35 or 40 can vary greatly. There can hardly be an EFL class with a very homogenous proficiency, unless the class is placed out of a relatively large group of students. Even so we still often found that students’ English proficiency varies across a wide range.[2] Therefore, unfortunately, such a problem exists across every geographic area and every grade level in Taiwan; and I heard it almost every time when I went visiting, observed, or spoke to English teachers.[3]The purpose of this paper is thus an attempt to inquire about this prevailing and long-existing problem in teaching students with low English proficiency, low learning motivation, and “insufficient” English vocabulary.

 

In this paper, the problem in question is first identified in section I; then the nature of the problem is described in section II. Section III concerns the sources of the problem. The possible solutions to the problem are proposed in section IV. In Section V, two successful examples adopting the proposed teaching model will be provided. Then some concluding remarks are provided in the final section.

 

2. The nature of the problem

 

The problem indicated above cannot be solved with any single approach because many conditions have intertwined to create such a problem. However, I believe there exists a line of thinking that can at least lead us out of the center of the problematic whirlpool, if not completely out of the problem.

Before any plausible solutions to the problem are attempted, let’s first briefly describe a typical EFL teaching activity:

 

A teacher uses certain teaching materials (and/or other teaching aids), adopting a particular method (or methods) to assist an assigned group of learners to achieve a designated curriculum goal, (or proficiency level,) in a given period of time.[4]

 

Following from the above description, in a typical EFL teaching activity, (or a program if its phase is extended), there are three major parties involved, i.e., the constant (time and curriculum goals), the independent variable (teacher, teaching methodology, and materials), and the dependent variable (learners). In such a scheme, normally it is the independent variables that are expected to exert the influence on the dependent variable. In other words, whether the learners have any gains from the learning or teaching activity depends primarily on what the teacher does to the learners through the use of whatever appropriate teaching methods and materials.

 

Such an analogy is obviously over simplistic for any real EFL teaching activity. However, it suffices to make the point that it is the combined effect of the teacher, the teaching materials, and the methods adopted that result in achieving a given teaching goal. Thus, what kind of materials are used and how the teacher teaches, even what the teacher believes in terms of the nature of her/his teaching, will directly and crucially determine the results of the teaching. If such an argument is acceptable, the nature of the whole problem becomes more transparent, and thus, we can move one step forward to solve the problem of the teachers’ helpless condition.[5] In a nutshell, whenever a teacher is facing a class with low English proficiency and low motivation, it is mainly the teacher’s, not the students’, problem to solve. Students should not be the major targets to be blamed as it seems to many teachers.

 

3. Where does the problem come from?

 

As indicated above, many English teachers feel frustrated due to the low proficiency of their students because their teaching approaches are (or we should say their belief is) confined by the assumption that students in their class should have the same English proficiency, and that their proficiency should meet their grade or age level, or they cannot teach effectively. If such a class cannot be found, they believe that they are doomed to fail. To clarify such a misconception, we need to realize that no student’s English proficiency is so low that she/he is un-teachable. This can be accounted for from two lines of thinking: one theoretical, and the other realistic.

 

Let’s begin with the first. Unless a learner is mentally handicapped, it is the consensus among most linguists and researchers in SLA that every human being is endowed with language acquisition ability, which enables the child to learn any human language with ease, and that such a way of learning is different from cognitive learning. (Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991; Ellis, 1994; Newmeyer, 1998). Although SLA is different from FLA (Birdsong, 1999), it is still very likely that our students’ English learning can be successful in certain aspects (e.g., reading), if not in all aspects, and to a very high level (e.g., in the aspect of academic language learning) (Marinova-Todd et al, 2000).

 

From the realistic point of view, most of the teachers who complained to me that they were unable to teach have all learned to a certain level, (at least to the level of being a certified EFL teacher), and they are the very ones that began with a very low or no proficiency of English. They may argue that their students do not have as high motivation as they had. However, is it the inflexible teaching and the frustrating learning conditions that have drained away the students’ motivation, or is it the students’ low motivation that has made the teaching difficult? Obviously, students can be highly motivated by their sense of achievement and teachers are supposed to motivate them through appropriate teaching materials and teaching methods as discussed in Section II.[6]

 

I realized that when we were talking about students’ English proficiency, what those teachers really meant is that given the grade or age level that the students belong to, their proficiency is too low. However, this is exactly the point of departure for solving the problem since English is a foreign language to our students, and their English proficiency can be of any level, no matter what age or grade level they belong to.

 

We should notice that in any given instruction group, L2 language learners’ proficiency is a relative matter, and that an individual learner’s L2 proficiency is a continuum without an absolute value. This is especially true if looking at it from the nature of the learner’s interlanguage (IL). One of the most prominent characteristics of IL is that it is a continuum, which is transitional and dynamic (Seliger,1988; Ellis, 1994). This would mean that a learner’s IL is subject to change at all times as long as the learning continues to occur. Otherwise, the learner’s IL development is fossilized. (Larsen-Freeman, & Long 1991). Another aspect that can be inferred from the nature of IL is that since each individual learner’s IL development follows her/his own continuum, it can be expected that the English proficiency, (of whatever language mode,) of a group of students of whatever level may vary from low to high across a certain range. Therefore, EFL teachers can hardly expect to teach a class with a uniform English proficiency level since there can be as many IL continua as the number of their students. Therefore, the right question to ask is how we can teach a class with various English proficiency levels, instead of how we can find a class with homogeneous proficiency levels, or weather we should abandon the class altogether due to their low proficiency.[7]

 

With respects to motivation, it is commonly agreed upon that lower achievers tend to have lower motivation. While learners’ low achievement may be attributed to a variety of reasons, learners’ not being able to be motivated to accept the challenge of a given learning task is most likely the result of being required to complete a task that is beyond their ability or a task that is uninteresting to them. Low motivation may not necessarily be attributed to low proficiency; however, low proficiency learners are more likely treated inappropriately, especially those learners whose proficiency is significantly lower than their peers in the same class. This is the very kind of learners we should make efforts to help. Next we shall see what we can do to teach students with low proficiency and low motivation.

 

4. How to teach a class with various proficiency levels?

 

So far we have made three points: 1) A teacher in an EFL class should hold the major responsibility for effective learning. 2) No student’s English proficiency is too low to learn. 3) Do not expect a class with an ideal, single English proficiency level.

 

        Given that students with whatever English proficiency level are always teachable, the problem is then shifted to how to teach such a class. I believe matching is the key to the solution. Appropriate matches between learners, (i.e., the dependent variable,) and teachers, teaching materials, and teaching methods, (i.e., the independent variable,) should be tactfully devised. In other words, since there may be a wide range of IL continua, (and thus various levels of proficiency,) in a learning group, in addition to the uniform text used for everyone in a class, we should also provide them with an array of learning materials, accompanied with a variety of methods, which match the learners’ levels. The concept of matching is not new at all. It is one of the most prominent principles of teaching proposed long ago by the great educator and philosopher, Confucius. It is also one of the central principles of Buddhists’ methodology of enlightening. In the current EFL sense, it is compatible with the kind of teaching that is based on learners’ needs.

 

Following from the previous discussions, two other independent variables await our further discussions: teaching materials and teaching methods. We will first deal with teaching materials and then teaching methods. The nature of IL development will be further discussed to justify the proposed ideas for these two independent variables in a teaching activity.

 

4.1 Teaching materials

 

        Probably many of us ELT professionals still remember and picture a laborious scene of learning, in which the reading (or ‘studying” to be more precise) of an English text depended heavily on the consultation of a Chinese-English bilingual dictionary during our high school days (although now students would most likely use an electronic dictionary). Trying to investigate the efficiency of using a dictionary by ESL college students to build vocabulary, Gonzalez (1999), by citing the findings of Parry’s study (1991, 1993), indicates that “the ESL subjects … demonstrated a tendency for misinterpretation whether inferring meaning for context or using the dictionary.”(p 266). Gonzalez’s (ibid) own finding shows the positive effect of ESL college students’ persistent use of the dictionary. He also mentions the importance of using “interesting and meaningful reading materials” (P 269) as many other educators do, trying to provide students with learning strategies (Johnson & Steele, 1996). However, many instructors fail to notice the critical point of selecting learning materials of the right difficulty level for their ESL students although they can see the laborious and frustrating conditions the students face. This shows the inefficiency of learning due to the mis-matches between learners’ proficiency and the learning materials.

 

When examining the role a factor plays in influencing the acquisition of a language, Long’s (1985) three-level distinction between conditions is very useful. He suggests that a factor can be evaluated by whether it is A) necessary, B) sufficient, and C) efficient. Based on such a suggestion, Skehan (1998) draws evidence from content-based immersion education, and argues that Krashen’s (1985) comprehensible input for driving IL development is “necessary”, but not necessarily “sufficient and efficient.” Therefore, whether a learning material is comprehensible to the learner or not can be considered as the minimum criterion for evaluating learning materials. This is the criterion that has been adopted by almost all textbook compilers when they try to exert their knowledge to strictly control the vocabulary and language structure in their textbooks. The major issue concerned exists right here. That is, however careful the control of the systemic part of language learning may be, it may be simply at the level of being “necessary”, but not being “sufficient”, (not to mention at the level of being “efficient”,) if textbooks of a particular difficulty level are used at one time for a group of learners with a wide range of proficiency levels. In other words, the way textbooks are selected and used plays as important a role as, (or even more important than,) how they are written for effective teaching.

 

If the reasoning remains in this direction, “extensive reading” and “actual reading” become necessary for simply meeting the second level of successful language learning, (i.e., being sufficient.) By doing “extensive reading”, learners are provided with ample and sufficient comprehensive input, (that is necessary for acquisition to take place, and that a single text alone may not be able to provide.) By doing “actual reading,” learners are provided with opportunity for the necessary comprehensible output and interaction (Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991; Wesche, 1994).[8] Furthermore, a fine-tuned text alone may not be sufficient for SLA to take place if regarded from the point of view of the learner’s IL variability. We need both a fine-tuned text and a lot of appropriate supplements for each individual learner’s IL to develop. A similar program is also necessary for beginning readers’ literacy development (Hiebert 1999). What do we mean by appropriate supplements? Let’s discuss this in the following section.

 

4.2 Students need to make their own choices

 

The importance of giving students the power of making their own choices in their learning has been indicated by many scholars, educators, and teachers. For example, Swarts & Hendricks (2000) consider choice by students as “a motivator and a powerful force,” which “allows them to take ownership and responsibility for their learning” (p 608). Following from the principles of the whole language approach of language learning, the “power” for learners to “choose” to use language is one of the major factors that make language learning easy (Goodman, 1986). The significance of giving learners the power and opportunity to make choices is not only related to learners’ cognition, intrinsic motivation, and interest as indicated by Worthy et al. (1999), but “choice” also means the opportunity for selecting the right materials to match the learner’s own language proficiency level given the fact that it is very likely for each individual to have a different level of proficiency as discussed before. Teachers may be doubtful about students’ ability to select the right materials for reading or learning since their language proficiency may be limited. My experience in teaching elementary and pre-school children has convinced me that EFL learners as young as preschool children and first graders are quite capable of making right selections. This is not as sophisticated as it may seem because when they find something that is beyond their ability to comprehend or that is not interesting to them, they simply give it up and find something else so long as they are provided with enough materials close to their language levels and interests. We should not under-estimate students’ ability to make choices. They make choices by intuitively following two simple rules: 1) Do I understand the story/text or not?[9] 2) Is the story/text interesting to me or not? Of course, teachers’ demonstrations and instruction for making good choices are also very helpful. My experience is that younger and less experienced EFL learners rely more on their intuitions in selecting reading materials than more mature learners. Mature learners often make wrong choices due to their past learning experience. They tend to choose materials that are too difficult for independent learning because they are used to textbooks, which are very often too difficult to them. However, the key to the issue is whether they are given a choice.

 

4.3 Effective teaching activities

 

        The well-known input hypothesis by Krashen (1985) states that a sufficient amount of comprehensible input alone leads to language acquisition. Other researchers then claim that output and interaction also play important roles for IL development (Ellis, 1994). Form-focused instruction has also been proved effective in L2 learning. Let’s take a brief look at the literature to find out what may contribute to effective language learning.

 

The role of comprehensive output in promoting IL development, first proposed by Swain (1985), is identified and elaborated by Skehan (1998), who indicates output can 1) generate better input, 2) force syntactic processing, 3) test hypothesis, 4) develop automaticity, 5) develop discourse skills, and 6) develop a personal voice (pp16-19). A study by Izumi & Bigelow (2000) on the effect of output in promoting linguistic awareness and language acquisition indicates that the opportunity of output does not necessarily increase the subjects’ awareness of the target language form. However, it is generally agreed that output is necessary for IL development although we may not be exactly sure how effective it is in the development of IL (Ellis 1994).

 

The role of interaction in SLA was identified following from the modification of the input hypothesis (Wesche, 1994). Input and interaction is generally considered necessary for SLA (Ellis, 1994). A quasi-experimental study by Branden (2000) investigated whether negotiation of meaning would promote reading comprehension. The result shows that meaning negotiation of unmodified written input resulted in higher comprehension than that of the pre-modified written input. This study shows a positive effect of meaning negotiation on reading comprehension. Branden’s study further considered the effect of different types of negotiation, the result of which shows that the negotiation provided by the teacher is obviously more helpful than that of the co-learners. Another study considers age differences in receiving negotiation and feedback, the result of which indicates that negative feedback (provided through negotiation) is used differently by children and adult learners (Oliver, 2000). The effect of meaning negotiation on IL development is still debatable since the conversation discourse may be disrupted. However, what is assured is that the learner gets more opportunities for output through interactions although the quality of the output can be various.

 

Muranoi’s (2000) study on the effect of form-focused interaction activities in EFL students’ learning of English articles shows positive results. This study claims to confirm the claim of the effect of language acquisition of form-focused activities within meaning-focused instruction. A great effort has been made by Norris and Ortega (2000) to synthesize and analyze 49 studies, from 1980 to 1998, on the effectiveness of L2 instruction. The results of their research show that “explicit types of instruction are more effective than implicit types, and that Focus on Form and Focus on Forms interventions result in equivalent and large effects.” (P 417).

 

The studies in the above mentioned areas all indicate that most of these language learning activities work for IL development. It seems that the real issue is not whether each individual aspect of language learning works or not, but in what ways each of them works, and more importantly how well they work together to drive IL development. In other words, the effectiveness of L2 development cannot be attributed to a single type of activity alone. As long as each individual activity is necessary for IL development, the focus of the issue should be on how different types of activities should be combined to make learning most effective. Skehan (1998), arguing from the cognitive aspect of SLA, in contrast to universalist’s (or mentalist’s) approach says that it is the learner’s mental processes that account for the occurrence of language learning, not the learning activity per se, and that input, output, or interaction, are necessary for language acquisition to take place but that none of these are sufficient alone. Therefore, task-based instruction or activity-oriented instruction, as compared with presentation-based language teaching, is the most efficient way of language teaching. This kind of teaching works because it is composed of rich comprehensible input, interaction and output, which work all together to make language acquisition occur. This line of thinking is also supported by the teaching mode suggested by Shi, et al (1999). In their study, teaching activities are mostly centered on well-designed tasks. Presentation and explanation only play a partial role of the whole teaching/learning activity.

 

4.4 Teaching students how to learn/read independently is an important goal of any learning.

 

        Teachers might agree with the ideas discussed so far but have doubts about the practicality of implementing such an approach. We need to be reminded that independent reading/learning is one of the initial and very important goals for both teachers and learners to achieve, even when the learners’ grade level is very low. Fifth graders are quite capable of doing independent learning if they have been guided with the appropriate methods and are provided with the right materials. In addition, providing students with fun and other purposes for reading and learning English other than simply on preparing for tests will also motivate them to learn. A multi-purposed English learning program allows students to learn English for a variety of purposes, but do not forget that making meaning and having fun are of great importance in any kind of learning. The worrisome problem of learning evaluation can be dealt with by adopting the multiple-criterion assessment model, including portfolio assessment, which is suggested by Shi, et al (1999). It is to be remembered that whether learners are able to learn/read independently depends on whether they have been trained to do so and whether they are given the opportunity to do the independent learning/reading. This has to do with the concepts of selecting appropriate teaching/learning materials and of giving learners choices as discussed in (1) and (2) above.

 

4.5 I still cannot do it because I am obligated to achieve the goal clearly set for me!

 

        Up to this point, another concern that has long been bothering our teachers is that they have a designated curriculum goal to achieve for each teaching period. If the curriculum goal is so high, how can they aim so low, supposing they are willing to follow our suggestions to meet with their students’ low proficiency? There are a few points I would like to make to clarify this issue. First, any curriculum goal is the endpoint of a series of teaching/learning activities. It is meant to provide both the teacher and learners with the direction of the teaching or learning activities, especially the long term goals. The endpoint may not be the exact difficulty level of each and every intermediate stage teaching activity. Therefore, even if we want to design our activities with the final goals being closely followed, at the initial or intermediate stages, the content of teaching should still be compatible with, or even closely related to, the learners’ current proficiency level to make language acquisition occur. If the gap between the learners’ current proficiency and the teaching content is too big, the teaching becomes useless. Therefore, without the right matches any perfectly designed activities will be meaningless to the learners. If a certain curriculum goal is too far away, we cannot skip the intermediate goals by making a long jump to arrive at the final goal.

 

I have witnessed that hundreds of our middle school English teachers are enchanted by the misconception that they should follow closely the syllabuses assigned by the county’s education department at the high cost of inflicting on their students and themselves boring, meaningless classes. It is quite common for us to see an English teacher teaching a lesson from book V to a class of students with the proficiency level of, or lower than, book II. Does it make any sense for a responsible and reasonable teacher to care only about the curriculum goals and not her/his students real learning conditions? In fact such teaching has never reached its goals while many teachers have still claimed that they had their goals to achieve. The point here is not whether we should try to achieve the pre-set curriculum goals or not, but rather what is the most effective and efficient way for us to get closer to the common goals of both the learners and the teachers. Ignoring students’ proficiency levels in teaching can never lead us to the final goals!

 

Therefore, what really matters is whether students are learning effectively, not whether the teaching activities have been executed following closely the pre-set syllabuses or final goals of the curriculum. The goals are at the end line of the race, and they cannot be reached in the middle of the race! Only when learning makes sense to learners and when acquisition takes place can the learners reach the final goal, and only when the learners have reached their goal can the teachers claim that they have reached their teaching goals. Although by doing so the pace of teaching may seem slow in the beginning, it is much better than not moving at all.

 

5. Successful examples

 

        Two successful examples will be given to show that the ideas proposed above have proved effective in teaching classes with multiple proficiency levels.

        In a bilingual elementary school in central Taiwan, students came with a variety of English proficiency levels. At the entrance of the school, while students of the same grade were randomly assigned into each Chinese class studying courses on the Chinese curriculum, they were placed into different English classes according to the results of their English proficiency test. Thus, students of each English class have more homogeneous English proficiency than if they are randomly assigned. Each English class uses different levels of texts based on each class’ proficiency level. In addition to the common texts used for the whole English class, the teachers used a variety of supplementary materials, including handouts, trade books, and computer printouts. The materials were selected based on student levels of proficiency. Even within each English class, students were encouraged to read storybooks of their own choice in the library and at home. In the middle of the semester, after the teachers’ evaluation, students may be moved to a new English class if their learning is significantly behind or more advanced than their peers. In this kind of class arrangement, students with low proficiency will be treated differently from their peers of the same grade. Here grade level makes sense, but proficiency level makes more sense in effective teaching. In this school, students of low English proficiency do not have to experience the same frustration as those in many other schools.

 

        The ideas discussed in Section 4 (except 4.3) were attested in an experimental study by Huang (1997). In a senior high school in central Taiwan, two 2nd year classes were randomly selected for an experimental study by the Huang (1997). The purpose of the study was to examine the effectiveness of matching reading materials with students’ English reading proficiency levels. For one hour per week, the experimental group was allowed to freely choose reading materials to read independently among almost two hundred reading books of their proficiency levels while the control group was instructed to read a uniform textbook with the instructor’s explanation and translation. The subjects received six months of treatment. The mean scores of the pre- and post-tests of the reading comprehension test of the two groups were compared. The results of the t-test indicated that the difference between the gains of the two groups’ reading comprehension tests was not significant. This shows that students could be trained to read independently and their achievements can be as good as those receiving instruction using traditional grammar-translation method.

 

6. Concluding remarks

 

Generally speaking, whenever an identified problem has to be solved, it is always the rule of thumb that whoever is the final decision-maker is most likely the person to get the job done, or at least to authorize how the problem should be dealt with, although the solution does not necessarily come directly from such a person. In our case, who decides how the curriculum should be implemented, how the texts should be selected, and what method should be used in instruction in a school setting? It is the teachers and the school administrators, and in some cases the parents, that make most of these decisions. Whoever it may be, students are always the party that has the least say about all these matters. It is beyond doubt that students are dependent on those decision-makers for receiving quality instruction and guidance. Even students’ English learning motivation is directly and strongly influenced, or even manipulated, by these decision-makers. Under such circumstances, how useful can it be to blame students for not having sufficient proficiency or vocabulary foundation for receiving efficient English lessons at certain designated levels? Not only is this an unrealistic way of dealing with the problem, it is unfair to the students because they never have a say. How often do we give them choices? In fact they are the victims who suffer most from problematic teaching. This is why some current EFL researchers and practioners are saying out loud that teachers have to assess or analyze learners’ needs for making right decisions (Skehen, 1998). I believe that in our secondary school English teaching, learners’ needs have often been ignored due to the obvious misconceptions of many of our teachers and administrators.

 

Whenever we mentioned the issue of decision-making, many teachers I met would point their fingers to the administrators of their schools or other educational institutions. We have to stop blaming each other, if we don’t want our children to continue to suffer. All grownups, teachers, administrators, and parents, should work closely together to solve the problems.

        We need to be reminded that there is no single set of texts that is best for every class and there is no single language teaching approach, method, or technique that is always best for every class because each individual is unique, and students are growing, learning, and changing. No panacea can be found in teaching. One of the beautiful things of a teaching career is being able to see the happy and successful learning approaches of our students. They are our central concerns. Student-centered language teaching means every decision is made in the best interest of the majority of our students. Since individual differences exist, if the majority of students’ interests and needs are to be understood and valued, decision-makers have to be flexible and responsible.

 

 

References:

 

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Branden, Kris Van den. 2000. “Does Negotiation of Meaning Promote Reading Comprehension? A study of multilingual primary school classes.” Reading Research Quarterly. 35:3. 426-443.

Ellis, Rod. 1994. Understanding second language acquisition studies. London: Oxford University Press.

Gonzalez, Orsini. 1999. Building vocabulary: “Dictionary Consultation and the ESL Student.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 43:3. 264-270.

Goodman, Ken. 1986. What’s Whole in Whole Language? Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Hiebert, Elfrieda H. 1999. “Text Matters in Learning to Read.” The Reading Teacher. 52:6. 552-566.

Huang, Chuen-Teng. 1997. An Experimental Study of Student-centered English Reading Instruction in High Schools. A research grant sponsored by National Science Council, Taiwan, ROC. NSC86-241-H018-002.

Izumi, Shinichi & Bigelow, Martha. 2000. “Does Output Promote Noting and Second Language Acquisition?” TEOSL Quarterly. 34:2. 239-278.

Johnson, Denise & Steele, Virginia. 1996. “So Many Words, So Little Time: Helping College ESL Learners Acquire Vocabulary-building Strategies.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 39:5. 348-357.

Krashen, Steven. 1985. The Input Hypothesis. London: Longman.

Larsen-Freeman, Diane & Long, Michael H. 1991. An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research. UK: Longman.

Long, Michael. 1985. “Input and Second Language Theory” in Suzan Gass & C. Madden (eds.): Input and Second Language Acquisition. 377-93. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Marinova-Todd, Stefka H.; Bradfore, D.; & Snow, Katherine E. 2000. “Three Misconceptions about Age and L2 Learning.” TEOSL Quarterly. 34:1. 9-34.

Muranoi, Hitoshi. 2000. “Focus on Form through Interaction Enhancement: Integrating Formal Instruction into a Communicative Task in EFL Classroom.” Language Learning. 50:4. 6 17-673.

Newmeyer, Frederick J. 1998. Language Form and Language Function. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Norris, John M. & Ortega, Lourdes. 2000. “Effectiveness of L2 Instruction: A Research Synthesis and Quantitative Meta-analysis.” Language Learning. 50:3. 417-528.

Oliver, Rhonda. 2000. “Age Differences in Negotiation and Feedback in Classroom and Pairwork.” Language Learning. 50:1. 119-151.

Parry, Kate. (1991). “Building a Vocabulary through Academic Reading.” TESOL Quarterly. 25.  629-651.

Parry, Kate. (1993). Too Many Words: Learning the Vocabulary of an Academic Subject. In T. Huckin, M. Haynes. & I. Coady (eds.): Second Language Reading and Vocabulary Learning. 109-129. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Seliger, Herbert. 1988. Psycholinguistic Issues in Second Language Acquisition. In Beebe, Leslie M. (ed.): Issues in Second Language Acquisition. 15-40. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Skkehan, Peter. 1998. A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford University Press.

Shi, Yu-Huei; Chou, Chung-Tien; Chen, Shu-Jiao; Chu, Huei-mei; Chen, Chun-yin; & Yei, Hsi-nan. 1999. A Study on the Teaching Activities and Evaluation Model for Middle and Primary School English Teaching. Taipei: A Research Report authorized and sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Taiwan, ROC.

Swain, M. 1985. Communicative Competence: Some Roles of Comprehensible Input and Comprehensible Output in its Development. In Gass, Suzan & Madden, C. (eds.): Input and Second Language Acquisition. 235-253. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Swarts, Mary Katherine, & Hendricks, Cindy Gillespie. 2000. “Factors that Influence the Book Selection Process of Students with Special Needs.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 43:7. 608-618.

Wesche, Marjorie Bingham. 1994. Input and Interaction in Second Language Acquisition. In Gallaway, Clare & Richards, Brian J. Input and Interaction in Language Acquisition. 219-249. UK: Cambridge University Press.

Worthy, Joe; Moorman, Megan; & Truner, Margo. 1999. “What Johnny Likes to Read is Hard to Find in School.” Reading Research Quarterly. 43:7. 12-27.

 



[1] Examples can be found from the papers presented in the annual national conference on English language teaching in Taiwan, ROC.

[2] A few exceptions may exist in such places as in the Department of Foreign Language and Literature at Taiwan University, Department of English at Taiwan Normal University, and the Taipei First Girls’ High School, in which the students are screened out from the very top percentage(s) of the national pool of students of their level.

[3] Such a problem is especially serious at middle schools and at the vocational channel of our educational systems, such as vocational high schools, junior colleges, and colleges of technology. Readers might question that such an opinion is rather subjective. Although I did not conduct a formal study on teachers’ teaching and students’ learning problems, my understanding of the issue comes from my first-hand field experiences over the past 10 years. I have attended more than 50 seminars for these teachers. I have visited and observed more than 120 schools, and have spoken to hundreds of teachers about their teaching difficulties. Furthermore, I myself have four years experience teaching high school and middle school English, and two years experience teaching elementary school children English.

[4] I do not intend to present a perfect description of an EFL teaching activity here due to the intricate nature of the matter and the sufficiency of my purpose.

[5] Here I am not trying to diminish the role the learners should play in a learning activity. What I would like to indicate is that teachers should not cast the major responsibility for a failed learning onto learners due to their limited proficiency. I realize that teachers alone cannot be held fully responsible for all the difficulties they have encountered. Here, the term “teachers” represents all the decision-makers, which may even include the view and belief of education as a whole by the general public in our society. We’ll further discuss this issue later.

[6] I assume we have established the relationships between the roles of the participants in a normal teaching scenario as discussed in Section II.

[7] I believe I do not need to prove the obvious fact that many of our middle school students abandoned their English learning, or they were abandoned the leaning due to the ways English teaching had been carried out.

[8] The act of reading is viewed as an interactive mental process, in which the reader contributes no less information than the text s/he is reading in the derivation of meaning.

[9] I found that many of our teachers and students’ understanding of “reading comprehension” is drastically different from the definition used here. The definition used here is 95% or higher of understanding of a text without consulting with a dictionary or a person.

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