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This paper proposes a research study that will test and determine the effects of language proficiency, critical thinking, and study skills approach on improving the vocabulary and comprehension skills in English as Second Language (ESL) students. The aim of this paper is to determine and examine the specific advantages and disadvantages of the three approaches mentioned. The purpose of this study is to build new theories in ESL learning and to further contribute on knowledge about ESL learning and teaching.


Statement of the Problem



            Currently in the United States, there is great impetus for ESL programs because of the continuous increase of non-English speaking immigrants in the country since the latter 1990s (Schmidt, 2001; Kuntz, 2003; August, 2003). Immigrants who cannot speak fluent English cannot contribute much to the American society because of their limited capacity to comprehend and communicate with the American people. The effort made by the government to ensure that these immigrants develop the will to learn English is through a constitutional amendment that English is the official language and the state requirements that citizens need to possess proficient English skills (Kuntz, 2003). As a result, there are now many types of ESL programs being implemented by different schools.


            Improving the vocabulary and comprehension of students are ESL teaching strategies that are usually approached with language proficiency improvements, critical thinking, and study skills. However, such ESL programs are still misunderstood and are not yet proven effective (Zen, 2001). Zen (2001), with a number of actual cases reviewed, concluded that ESL education fails because the programs hold no standards or clearly or clearly defined expectations for their learners. Furthermore, Zen (2001) emphasized that ESL students are not well understood and adequately addressed. Moreover, another problem is the lack of qualified and trained teachers to do the job (Zen, 2001).


Zen's (2001) conclusion as well others that will be discussed in the second chapter indicate that continuous evaluation of different approaches on ESL learning and teaching is needed and will continue to do so unless results will show that more and more immigrants are becoming proficient in English with such approaches.


Objectives of the Study



            As mentioned, the aim of the study is to measure the effects of improving language proficiency, critical thinking and study skills of ESL students on their English language vocabulary and comprehension. The following objectives, on the other hand, will be addressed in the study:

1.         To determine if it is important for ESL teachers to focus on the language proficiency, critical skills, and study skills of their students?

2.         To determine the current advantages and disadvantages of ESL teaching instructions in improving the language proficiency, critical thinking and study skills of ESL students.

3.         To contribute to ESL research and discover new theories that may help improve ESL teaching instructions.


Significance of the Study



            The study is important because it may contribute new knowledge on ESL teaching and learning, specifically the importance of focusing on several areas such as language proficiency, critical thinking and study skills.


Furthermore, it is significant to ESL students because it may help them understand more about the skills they need in learning English as fast as possible. It may also help them reflect on their English language skills and may be influenced to improve them.


Also, this study is significant to ESL educators because it will help them identify several issues that they can reflect on their teaching styles. The findings that will be collated from this study may also help them improve their teaching skills by knowing which areas of learning are important for students.






The need for ESL programs is imperative because of the increasing number of immigrants in the United States (Ignash, 1992; Schmidt, 2000; Kuntz, 2003; August, 2003). ESL programs are programs where the primary language of instructions is English and students receive services in various proficiency levels – novice, intermediate, and advance – in program types such as pull-out classes, class period and resource center (ERIC Digest, 1993; North Carolina State Department of Public Instructions, 1995). ESL is different from bilingual teaching because unlike the latter, ESL convey academic content in the absence of the student's native language (Walling, 1993).


            According to Walling (1993), the goals of ESL instructions are simple. They are to: teach students English; maintain and produce academic progress; provide for the student's integration into the mainstream of school and society; and validate and preserve student's native language and culture (Walling, 1993). Walling (1993) also emphasized several important points to remember such as the need for the student to maintain academic skills along with language skills, as well as the importance of parent involvement and validating the culture of the student.


            The Federal Monitoring Guidelines stated that in order to determine the progress of the students in ESL, one must examine the following: the need for proficiency in both primary and secondary language; the ability to comprehend and interpret text at the age and grade-appropriate level; the ability to understand the language of the teacher, comprehend information, and follow instructional discourse; the ability to produce written text with content; and the ability to use oral language appropriately and effectively in learning activities (Grundy, 1992).


            In terms of effectiveness, ESL is still questionable. Zen (2001) stated that there is still a prevalence of poor outcomes in ESL programs and reasons behind those failures include poor quality of teachers, lack of service, and lack of well-established curriculum and assessment system. It does not hold high expectations for ESL learners and teachers have no guidelines to follow when teaching ESL (Zen, 2001).


            Brigaman (2002) also stated the need for effective teachers and learning environment in teaching ESL. The school climate should be supportive of the program and the learning environment customized (Brigaman, 2002). There is also a need for systematic student assessment, staff development, and home and parent improvement (Brigaman, 2002).


             Kuntz (2001) investigated the emergence of ESL instructions in Madison, Wisconsin and found that there is a great demand in the area for such a service. Kuntz (2001) also found that there is indeed a lack of standard on ESL instructions because the study shows that curriculum varied widely in different institutions. Kuntz (2001) stated that some programs provided a text book and a brief curricular plan, while others supplied teachers with a library of materials and encouraged them to develop a curriculum based upon student needs. There are still issues such as lack of Federal guidelines and assessment, as well as licensing and salaries of teachers.


            Braine (1993), on the other hand, investigated the placement options on ESL high school students. Braine (1993) argued that ESL students excel better when placing them in classes that best design their needs. Braine (1993) stated that mainstreaming ESL students is detrimental because they may feel penalized for being culturally diverse and may affect their performance. However, Braine (1993) stated that special classes for ESL students are implemented only by few schools because of barriers such as: lack of sufficient ESL students to justify special classes; special classes may be seen as remedial; can be seen as a form of remediation; and there are problems in creating new programs. There is, however, several types of ESL classes and they often include instruction in listening comprehension, speaking, reading, writing and grammar (Ignash, 1992).


Language Proficiency


            Chen (2000) stated that ESL student writers are frequently labeled as having poor language proficiency skills, poor writing skills and poor organizational skills. However, in Chen's (2000) study, it was found that they have language and writing proficiency, but the writing proficiency is closely related with their native-language writing. Furthermore, the English proficiency of ESL students works with their writing expertise.


            ESL proficiency tests take many forms. Christopher (1993) stated that this may involve placement tests, multiple choice tests with vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension sections; writing tests; and listening tests. However, there are still doubts on whether these tests measure language proficiency among ESL students effectively. Christopher (1993) examined the validity of testing through writing scores and found that they are not effective in measuring language proficiency among secondary and university ESL students.


Proficiency in the English is continuously being pushed by the government as personified by the No Child Left behind Act. In the Reading First program, all schools are held accountable to ensuring that all students know how to read by third grade (Antunez, 2002). It promotes explicit and systematic instruction in: phonemic awareness; phonics; vocabulary development; reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and reading comprehension strategies" (Kauerz, 2002; Antunez, 2002). However, the problem with these instructions is that they are not specifically designed to educate foreign students using foreign language as their first language.


Critical Thinking



            Critical thinking is also being claimed as important tools for ESL students. For instance, Chamot (1995) stated that ESL teachers have to turn the classroom into a community of thinkers. In a particular control group study, it was found that critical thinking skills can indeed make a different for ESL students (Davidson and Dunham, 1996). Critical thinking-based instructions have been found more effective than that of content-based instructions in ESL (Davidson and Dunham, 1996).


            The rationale for critical thinking is that students learn to think about their own thinking and reflect on the ways to which they learn. They basically discover why they learn and why they fail to learn (Sapp, 2002). However, critical thinking instructions are also being criticized in its application to ESL teaching. Curry (1999) explored critical thinking in ESL and found that there are many limitations in its incorporation ESL instructions. For instance, critical thinking is not clearly defined and there is a lack of guidelines that would better explain this approach.


Study Skills



            Peniston (1995) stated that there is a need for educators to improve the study skills of their students to improve problem-solving abilities and study habits. Several study skills that were found useful include: survey, question, read, recite, review; paraphrasing; guided questions or self-questioning; heuristic problem solving; keyword method; pegword method; and first letter mnemonics.


            The Indiana Career and Postsecondary Advancement Center (1996) stated that improving the study skills of students is necessary in earning better grades and making the most of their talents. Study skills basically involve planning and critical thinking as well. It also emphasizes the use of text books, better listening skills, and organizing study tasks.


Sinfield (2000) examined if study skills empower students and the results show positive relationship between the two variables. The study shows that students are often anxious and require support from teachers and classmates to ensure that they are on the right track. Study skills may help keep them on that track and give them the proper skills to execute common academic tasks.

Other Studies

            Hayes and Salazar (2001) conducted a districtwide evaluation of the instructional services provided to English language learners (ELLs) enrolled in Structured English Immersion classrooms in grades 1-3. Two models were used in the study: teaching in English, with the primary language for clarification, and teaching primarily in English, with other instruction in the primary language. They found that the predominant language of instruction was English. Listening, oral reading, oral speech production, and writing were most often observed. There were few English language development lessons or experiential hands-on learning activities, and very little primary language support was seen. Considerable confusion occurred about the definition and implementation of the two Structured English immersion models, resulting in uneven implementation of the program. Teachers noted a lack of resources and training. They also reported that parents could not help students with homework. Seven appendixes include information on the study and tables and charts on ELL education.


            In another study, Ma (2002) concluded that 1 year of English instruction is generally inadequate to prepare ELLs to succeed in general education classes taught only in English. Also, Ma (2001) found that achievement gaps between native English speakers and ELLs are widening, and teachers are seriously demoralized.




Research Design



            The study will use interpretivism as its research philosophy. Interpretivism is the necessary research philosophy for this study because it allows the search, the 'details of the situation, to understand the reality or perhaps a reality working behind them (Remenyi et al., 1998). On the other hand, the design will be deductive, which is dedicated to deducing hypothesis or expressing and testing hypothesis in operational term.


Data Collection


            Data collection strategy will be pretest-posttest control group approach. Here, a group of research participants are randomly assigned to an experimental and control group. Both groups of participants are pre tested on the dependent variable and then post tested after the experimental treatment condition has been administered to the experimental group. This approach controls for all of the standard threats to internal validity. Differential attrition may or may not be a problem depending on what happens during the conduct of the experiment.

Data Analysis


            The latest SPSS software will be used to analyze the results of the pretest-posttest control group analysis.





Implementation Plan



            The study will have four stages of implementation: the preparation stage; the data collection; the analysis stage; and the documentation stage.


            The first stage or the preparation stage will deal specifically with the preparation of materials that will be needed in the study. This stage also involves the search and review of literatures related in the study. This involves choosing the project site, the respondents, and the persons that will help in the control group process.


            The second stage, on the other hand, will involve the whole control group process. The project site will be two ESL private tutoring classes composed of 6 students out of a population of 25 from a private Tutoring Academy. The students will be of a diverse background and will be referred by a local community college. The 6 will be divided into two groups (3 on each). The first group will be the control group, while the second will be the experimental. The control group will take ESL tutoring without emphasis on language proficiency, critical thinking and study skills instructions. On the other hand, the experimental group will be given language proficiency instructions, critical thinking instructions and study skills instructions. A tutor will also be hired and will meet twice a week with the 6 students at a local public library in order to implement the plan that should last 8 weeks. These students must take a placement or Pretest in order to place them in any of five ESL levels for tutoring. The pretest will be administered at the beginning and then a post test will be conducted. The control group will be a double-blind test, meaning the two groups of students.


            The third stage will be the analysis stage and will involve the comparison of the results of the study. An SPSS analysis will be used to compare the grades of the students on the tests given during the control group design process. On the other hand, analytical interpretation will be used on the observations and interview data will the students.


            The final stage will involve writing the conclusion and recommendation for the results as well as the documentation of the project.


Anonymous said…
Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.
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Nivel Johnson said…
This comment has been removed by the author.

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