Monday, 24 November 2014

Transferring skills beyond the walls of the classroom

Our ultimate goal as teachers is to enable learners to make use of the skills that they develop in the classroom beyond its walls in their real lives. Adult ESL literacy learners may need initial support in order to connect the dots between what they are doing in the classroom and how these knowledge and skills may be transferred in their real lives. Once they are able to do it, their learning experiences will become more meaningful and enjoyable.

 This month, I facilitated a webinar at ESL Literacy Network, “Self-discovery activities in a learning-centred classroom”, in which I looked at the classroom activities to build self-awareness in adult ESL literacy context focusing on the needs assessment, goal-setting, self-evaluation, and learning reflections. The webinar recording is here: 

| ESL Literacy Network

Teaching with the learner’s real life in mind is often a two-way street. On one side, adult learner’s life experience is a valuable resource right there to be appropriated in successful classrooms, but on the other side, we may need to explicitly teach learners to utilize the strategies rehearsed in the classroom in their real-life circumstances. Below, I’d like to share some possible ideas of scaffolding the transfer of the strategies and skills developed through self-discovery activities in the real-life context.


To encourage strategy transfer in the areas of the needs assessment and goal setting, talk to the students to identify what their life concerns are at the moment, try to see whether there are needs other than communication that require immediate attention, and encourage them to use needs assessment techniques learned in class in appropriate real life situations. For example, some of the needs that have been previously identified in my class were the need to buy a new bed for a child, lose weight, and get more exercise, etc. Once the needs have been identified, encourage learners to use goal-setting techniques practiced in class for their real life needs.  Thus, the need to buy a new bed for a child may result in a goal to save a certain amount of money by a certain date and can be supported by keeping a record of the savings. Similarly, the need to lose weight may be turned into the goal of reducing sugar and salt intake, and therefore checking food labels more carefully and possibly recording sugar and salt intake in a personal diary. The need of getting more exercise may lead to identifying appropriate opportunities such as taking stairs and walking to school, etc. In my class, I had one interesting case with a young mother of two children age 4 and 2. In a discussion about daily routines, we (the teacher and the classmates) surprisingly found out that the children were put to bed at 2 a.m. (partly because she had too many errands to run, her husband worked shifts, and they put the children to bed together after he arrived home past midnight). We all agreed it was not acceptable: next year her older child was going to school and needed rest appropriate for his age. Everybody pitched in to create an action plan to help this mother in setting an appropriate sleep and bedtime routine.

Finally, always take time to debrief and follow up on the learners' accomplishments, cheer them up when necessary, celebrate with them, and encourage them to set a new goal.

Seeking language learning opportunities in the community and SELF-EVALUATION

Suggest and elicit existing real-life learning opportunities in the community (for example talking to a shop assistant, pharmacist, bank teller, librarian, etc.) and gently encourage learners to take those risks and report back to you on how it went. Support leaners by teaching them to plan for a task that they have to complete in their daily lives (grocery shopping, cook dinner, banking, filing an application form) by writing a to-do list.  Show learners how to make sure that the task has been completed successfully and that they haven’t forgotten anything by going over the previously made to-do list and checking off the things that were done. Assign learners to notice and record language that they encounter in their daily lives and bring language examples in the classroom to discuss.


Keeping little logs of daily expenses, nutrition, symptoms, and new things experienced in their new life in Canada are just a few examples that can serve many of the learner’s personal goals and come in handy while coping with the pressure of the settling in a new country. Encourage learners to give you a call (if appropriate) in case they are not able to come to class, or write a short note or fill in a template if they know that they have an appointment coming up and will be missing their classes.

If you wonder, where to take time for all these, the truth is that ‘Good things take time’, and it’s always a matter of what’s important to our learners and us and what’s appropriate in our teaching context.

If you have more ideas on integrating real-life in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you!

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