The 4 Most Common Learning Difficulties ESL Students Are Facing
2019-02-12 Linda Dunsmore Alumni Experiences Teaching Ideas
In life, people learn throughout the course of their life. There is formal learning, where students go to school or complete a course of some kind. On the other hand, there is informal learning, where one may learn through life experiences, observations, and interactions with others. In both situations, one can encounter learning difficulties. In formal learning, one can encounter difficulties that may be due to a variety of factors which are not limited to: memory, attention, a challenge with a specific skill, or individual factors. Here are the 4 most common learning difficulties ESL students might face in the classroom.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Erin P.
Short-term and Long-term Memory
The first area where one could encounter a learning challenge relates to the short-term memory or long-term memory. To remember something, one needs to remember the information for a short time, which, if practiced and connected to their knowledge, would then go into long-term memory.
In the classroom setting, a short-term memory challenge would be when material is drilled for a few minutes, but then forgotten a few minutes later. In long-term memory, perhaps a child remembers the information until the end of the lesson, however, there is no carry over to the next day.
To overcome challenges of short-term memory, it would help if the teacher made sure to break down material into smaller pieces, used multi-sensory learning strategies and helped the student connect the information to prior knowledge. To further encourage the students to keep the information in their long-term memory, it would be helpful to frequently review the information learned. In some ways, a course book which reviews information from time to time would be beneficial to a learner who struggles with long-term memory.
Another area that can affect learning is one’s attention. Before even remembering the information, a child needs to pay attention to the explanation. One may find a student daydreaming, focusing on unimportant things or not attending to something for a long enough period to remember the information.
Here, it is important that the teacher clearly points out the important information. At times, especially younger students may be focusing on something else and having trouble paying attention to something for a longer period of time. For some students, it helps to have them sit near the front of the class closer to the teacher. Given the EFL teacher may use a different set-up in the class, this preferential seating may be different in each layout.
Again, it is helpful if the teacher uses multi-sensory strategies and uses material that will interest the students. The activate stage may be especially beneficial for some students with attentional concerns. The reason being that sometimes peer interaction and being engaged help students who struggle with paying attention in class. For some students, they will need the activate stage to be highly organized to help them stay focused on the task. Furthermore, the teacher should try to incorporate strategies that will help motivate the students. These are just a few things that may help a student who struggles with attaining taught information.
Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing
A third area where students may encounter learning difficulties is with a specific skill or task. Learning English can be broken into four key skills including speaking, listening, reading and writing. It is important to remember that each student will have different strengths and weaknesses while learning another language. During the course of a lesson, a teacher should always aim to identify which individual area individual students are struggling with. Once the obstacles are identified, the teacher can give further support and provide alternative explanations and help.
One thing to keep in mind is that some students may be lacking the prerequisite skills to learn a new skill. In this case, the teacher can teach the skill that the student missed or reteach the concept the student didn’t grasp the first time around. It is helpful to give the student extra practice, use different strategies until one is found that will help the student and plan instructions in a way that will help the student build that skill.
Lastly, the student may have individual factors which could make learning difficult. These factors are numerous, but may include: difficult living circumstances, a missed period of schooling, negative learning experiences, poor vision, being used to a rote system of learning in a critical thinking learning environment or poor motivation. Each of these factors, which only cover a limited number of individual factors that could impede learning, would require the teacher to take different actions to help each individual student.
It is always helpful to get to know the students and build a good rapport with both students and their parents. Depending on the context, it is important to be aware of the student’s culture and the culture in which one is teaching.
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In conclusion, there are a variety of learning difficulties that could negatively impact a student’s learning progress. When teaching English, the teacher is teaching individual students with each their own strengths and weaknesses. Even when one encounters learning challenges, the teacher can use different approaches to help students learn and make progress. A teacher can positively empower a struggling student but has to make the decision to do so.
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