All of us give plenty of thought to what we do and how we do things in our ESL classroom.
We carefully plan things like, content, techniques and even what material to use in each lesson. However, where activities are concerned many teachers suddenly become plagued with uncertainty regarding fluency and accuracy. Which of them has more priority? Should we always balance them out equally or is one more important than the other in an ESL lesson? It does seem tricky, after all if the activities are to fluency-based you run the risk of having your students disregard the proper use of structures, for instance. On the other hand, if the activities are too accuracy-based they might become to obsessed with precision and might need too much time to communicate. As with everything in life, neither one extreme is better than the other. It is all about the balance, but the good news is, there are ways to tell when fluency should preside over accuracy and vice versa. Take a look at these useful tips.
Use These Ideas for Accuracy- Fluency Balance
Consider Your Students' Age
Teaching kids is not the same as teaching adults. So, as we all know, the techniques, material, activities, etc all need to be age appropriate. Regarding fluency and accuracy, many ESL teachers that have young learners believe that over correcting and focusing too much on accuracy does not encourage children to learn to communicate. Instead they become prone to limited language use in order to have better control over their responses. Kids need to feel relaxed about language learning and using games where they can build on fluency will help them feel they are capable of more. This does not mean mistakes should be ignored, but that they may need to be addressed individually perhaps later on while the other students are working on an assignment. Also, when accuracy-based learning does take place, always try to use activities that are engaging so that kids ease into them.
In the case of adults, many of the same considerations apply, however since adults understand the role accuracy-based learning plays, what we should consider the most is the students' levels, needs and what the lesson goal is at that point.
Consider Your Students' Level
At different levels students have different goals. Naturally, beginners will have fewer, more limited fluency-based activities than students in higher levels. They are learning to communicate. The more students know and are able to use, the more their performance will enable them to become increasingly fluent. We need to keep in mind that when students communicate fluently, it means that they are comfortable using the language and can be understood by others. This does mean that there are no mistakes in their communication, but that those mistakes do not affect what they are trying to get across. Accuracy is also present in higher levels though many teachers tend to place a bit more emphasis on fluency. The reason for this is that accuracy refers to the correctness of the language being produced. If students focus too much on accuracy, it doesn't mean they will be capable of producing effective communication.
What Part of the Lesson It Is
For most teachers, each lesson is divided into parts or stages depending on how it was planned out. We usually begin by introducing something new, like vocabulary, structures or even expressions. After that, our students move on to practice what they have learned. Different parts of the lesson have different needs in terms of fluency and accuracy. The introduction phase is when our students need to be more accurate. At this point the teacher focuses on what is correct or incorrect and ensures her students can understand and are ready to begin to use what they have learned. As we move into the practice and student initiative phases, students are granted more control over what and how they say things. It is at this point fluency becomes more necessary.
Specific Student Needs
Age and level aside, students sometimes have very different needs. This is why most of us often ask our students why they are learning English. Their specific needs are very important when making important decisions about the lesson. In most cases, adult students need to learn to communicate. Communicative competency refers to the ability of a speaker to communicate effectively in the language. This ability is based on more than just grammatical knowledge, the objective is for students to be able to communicate effectively, not to emphasize on the precise use of the language.
Remember, always stay away from extremes, balance is what should always prevail.
Do keep in mind though, leaning one way or another is sometimes necessary depending on your students.