FOCAL SKILLS
as the Teachers See It


Ashley Hastings
Shenandoah University
July 2003

Copyright © 2003 by Ashley Hastings. You may freely download, print, copy, and distribute this material, but do not alter, add, or remove any content, including this copyright notice.

 I taught in three different FOCAL SKILLS programs (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Dallas, and Shenandoah University). I found it exhilarating to connect with the students on both the cognitive and affective levels, and it was very rewarding to see their English skills grow rapidly. Teaching in non-FS programs was never as satisfying. My ESL teaching days are probably over; however, if the opportunity ever presented itself, I would be delighted to go back into a FS classroom.

But this is just one person's experience. To provide more perspectives, I will quote ten experienced FOCAL SKILLS teachers who appeared in a short video called "FOCAL SKILLS as the Teachers See It" (International Center for FOCAL SKILLS, 1998). Four of the teachers were on the staff at Shenandoah University (which had an IEP using FS at that time); the other six were veterans of the original FS program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. These comments have been transcribed, condensed, and edited for style.

Focal Skills puts the right students in the right class at the right time.

I like the fact that a student studies only the skills that he or she actually needs.

The skills build on each other. Even though a student may be focusing on listening, we find that his reading also improves.

From the teacher's perspective, it's great to know that your reading students, for example, are guaranteed to have a certain level of listening ability. This makes the class go much more smoothly; you can have discussions, give explanations, etc., and know that you will be understood.

By choosing your own materials to suit the students' needs, the season, and so forth, you keep your classes interesting and exciting.

It's actually easier to work with materials that I've chosen myself than it is to be assigned a text that I have to be
constantly adapting.

FOCAL SKILLS gives me the freedom to pick and choose materials that I am genuinely interested in, and students generally respond well to my enthusiasm for the materials I've chosen.

FOCAL SKILLS is very user-friendly.

Students in the Listening Module make rapid progress, which is very gratifying to me.

I really like using movies in the Listening Module. Movies are excellent for building vocabulary. They have a story line, which builds and maintains interest, not only for the students, but for the teacher as well.

FOCAL SKILLS seems to create a very cooperative environment in which a sense of collegiality develops among the teaching staff and the students.

The fact that we have a clear focus in each module keeps us, as instructors, aware of our goals.

The FOCAL SKILLS structure establishes common goals but gives teachers flexibility and freedom.

It's more interesting to be communicating all the time about real topics, rather than talking about the language.

FOCAL SKILLS is authentic in every sense.

The students progress faster. They aren't stuck in one level until the end of the term; they can advance when they're ready.

Before we switched to FOCAL SKILLS, students often seemed bored with their classes. Now, our students seem to be happier. If you have the goal of keeping your customers happy, FOCAL SKILLS is great!

Listening is just a joy to teach. It's also very enjoyable to teach Immersion and see the students get the finishing touches they need before going on to university studies.

I recommend FOCAL SKILLS to anyone who wants to grow as a teacher.

I calculate that these ten highly qualified ESL professionals had a total of 65 years of experience with FOCAL SKILLS at the time they made these comments. All of them had also experienced other approaches to ESL, so they were well positioned to identify and weigh the factors that distinguish FS. Their statements about FS can, I believe, be taken at face value. No one should imagine that FS is perfect, or that there are never bumps in the road. However, the enthusiasm that these dedicated ESL educators expressed for FS is positive evidence that the approach has considerable merit.