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
However, the enthusiasm that these dedicated ESL educators expressed
FS is positive evidence that the approach has considerable merit.
as the Teachers See It
|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
I taught in three different FOCAL SKILLS programs
(University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Dallas, and
I found it exhilarating to connect with the students on both the
and affective levels, and it was very rewarding to see their English
grow rapidly. Teaching in non-FS programs was never as satisfying.
My ESL teaching days are probably over; however, if the opportunity
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
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
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
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
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
FOCAL SKILLS seems to create a very cooperative environment in which a
sense of collegiality develops among the teaching staff and the
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.