FOCAL SKILLS teachers have at least two major sources of job satisfaction. One is the rapid progress their students make. The other is the wide scope for creativity that goes along with teaching in this kind of program.
It must be admitted that the creative aspect of FOCAL SKILLS is not for everyone. Some ESL teachers are much happier using materials prepared by others, following lesson plans designed to accompany the materials, and in general serving as conveyers rather than producers of pedagogy. There is nothing at all wrong with this; in fact, this style of teaching is absolutely necessary in many programs and curricula.
In FOCAL SKILLS, however, the successful teacher is one who
- finds large quantities of interesting materials
- becomes extremely familiar with the materials
- plans appropriate ways of using the materials
- presents the materials in an effective, engaging, professional manner,
all within the framework of the FOCAL SKILLS curricular guidelines.
For example, a Listening Module teacher may use 2 or possibly even 3 feature-length movies each week. This entails the following steps. First, prospective movies must be previewed. Usable movies must be selected, taking the personality of the teacher, the make-up of the class, and perhaps local cultural constraints into account. Each movie that has been chosen must be viewed carefully, a number of times, until the teacher knows the movie well enough to recall the names of the characters, anticipate what is coming from scene to scene, and explain the plot, the motives of the characters, and other vital elements in clear, simple language. The illustrative potential of scenes must be evaluated, and plans made for the use of freeze-frame, rewind and review, slow motion, silent replay, and similar techniques that might be used to accompany narration, paraphrases, and simple questions. Finally comes the actual use of the movie in class, which requires energetic delivery, smooth transitions, attention to detail, awareness of student response, and the ability to improvise on one's feet.
Is this more or less difficult than using packaged materials and lesson plans? For some teachers, it is probably more difficult, and for others, it is probably easier. In any case, it is here, where the teacher creates meaningful language experiences for the students, that the real work of the FOCAL SKILLS approach is done.